Mammal diversity, evolution, and conservation in the Caribbean Archipelago have long been an area of evolutionary biology research interest, particularly within the context of the Pleistocene to Holocene Transition (PHT) at approximately 11,700 BP and associated species extinctions. Rodents are the most diverse group of non-volant endemic mammals in the Caribbean Archipelago. While they had a broader geographic distribution and greater diversity in the past, most endemic rodents today are found only on select islands of the Greater Antilles and within the Bahama Archipelago (composed of The Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands). With their high diversity, endemism, and evidence of rapid extirpation and extinction in the Holocene (early Holocene, 11700 to 8200 cal BP; middle Holocene 8200 to 4200 cal BP; Late Holocene, 4200 cal BP to present), rodents from the Greater Antilles and the Lucayan Archipelago have emerged as model organisms for studying evolution and extinction in an insular context. How many rodent species inhabited the Greater Antilles, and how to distinguish them based on skeletal remains is not always clear. So far there is not there has not been an extensive systematic revision of the group in the region with a detailed description of the anatomy and variation range of each species.

The American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) house one of the oldest and largest collection of fossil rodents from the Caribbean. Thanks to the Florida Museum of Natural History Travel Award, I was able to visit the fossil mammal and modern mammal collections at the AMNH for three week in November of 2023. During this trip I studied, photographed, and measured fossil mammals from Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Anguilla Bank, and Cuba, including holotypes deposited in this collection. Many of this species, particularly the giant rodents Clidomys osborni, Elasmodontomys obliquus, and Amblyrhiza inundata are scarce in most museums, and the remains poorly known in the literature.

Furthermore, I measured cranial and postcranial elements of 128 Caribbean and South American Caviomorph rodents to use it as a baseline to understand the locomotion ecology of extinct rodents from the Caribbean. This, along with data collected at the Florida Museum of Natural History, the National Museum of Natural History, and the Field Museum will be the base for a large systematic revision of the fossil Quaternary mammals from the Caribbean.

The 2023 Fall Student Travel Awards are supported by the FLMNH Department of Natural History, including funds from the Gapenski Endowment. If you would like to help support this fund for future student awards, please go to:

Louis C. and Jane Gapenski Endowed Fellowship