The people of the Caribbean have a long and culurally significant relationship with a group of endangered, endemic mammals called hutias (Capromyidae). The Indigenous Taíno peoples hunted hutias for food and even brought the animals with them to new islands to establish a new food source. Different parts of the hutia body were used for medicine, rituals, and rustic musical instruments.
Many species of hutias and other land mammals went extinct in the Holocene (roughly the last 10,000 years), and scientists are divided over the cause. Natural cycles of climate change following the last glaciation led to changes in sea level and precipitation in the Caribbean that might have impacted the hutias. At the same time, it's possible that the arrival of humans to islands in the same time period led to changes in hutia populations, and even extinctions.
We can use methods ranging from genomics to isotope ecology to qualitative interviewing to understand the broader picture of human impacts on hutias over a period of thousands of years. Knowing which factors contributed most heavily to hutia extinctions in the past will enable us to make informed decisions about their conservation.
Advisor: Liliana Dávalos, Stony Brook University