Wildlife of Puerto Rico

The wildlife (fauna) of Puerto Rico is similar to other island archipelago faunas, with high endemism, and low, skewed taxonomic diversity. Bats are the only extant native terrestrial mammals in Puerto Rico. All other terrestrial mammals in the area were introduced by humans, and include species such as cats, goats, sheep, the Small Asian Mongoose, and escaped monkeys. Marine mammals include dolphins, manatees, and whales. Of the 349 bird species, about 120 breed in the archipelago, and 47.5% are accidental or rare. The most recognizable and famous animal of Puerto Rico is probably the Common Coqui, a small endemic frog, and one of the 86 species that constitute Puerto Rico’s herpetofauna. Some native freshwater fish inhabit Puerto Rico, but some species, introduced by humans, have established populations in reservoirs and rivers. The low richness-high diversity pattern is also apparent among invertebrates, which constitutes most of the archipelago’s fauna.

The arrival of the first people about 4,000 years ago and, to a larger extent, of Europeans more than 500 years ago, had a significant effect on Puerto Rico’s fauna. Hunting, habitat destruction, and the introduction of non-native species led to extinctions and extirpations (local extinctions). Conservation efforts, the most notable being for the Puerto Rican Parrot, began in the second half of the 20th century. According to IUCN, as of 2002, there were 21 threatened species in Puerto Rico: two mammals, eight breeding birds, eight reptiles, and three amphibians.

Mammals – The richness of mammals in Puerto Rico, like many other islands, is low relative to mainland regions. The present-day native terrestrial mammal fauna of Puerto Rico is composed of only 13 species, all of which are bats. Eighteen marine mammals, including manatees, dolphins and whales, occur in Puerto Rico.Fossil records show the existence of one shrew (Puerto Rican shrew, Nesophontes edithae), one sloth (Puerto Rican Sloth), three additional leaf-nosed bats (Macrotus waterhousii, Monophyllus plethodon, and Phyllonycteris major), and five rodents (one giant hutia: Elasmodontomys obliquus], one hutia: Isolobodon portoricensis and three spiny rats: Heteropsomys antillensis, Heteropsomys insulans, and Puertoricomys corozalus). Woods suggests a reason for their extinction: Taxa evolving in isolation on oceanic islands without competition or predators may not be able to adapt to rapidly changing conditions, such as the extensive climatic fluctuations of the Ice Ages or sudden competition or predation from introduced animals.

Birds – The avifauna of Puerto Rico is composed of 349 species, 16 of which are endemic to the archipelago. Almost half of the species (166) are accidental, meaning that they have been sighted only once or twice, and 42 of the species have been introduced, either directly or indirectly (mainly through habitat alteration), by humans. Approximately 120 species, including both native and introduced, breed regularly in the archipelago.

The avifauna of the West Indies is predominantly of tropical North American (southern North America and Central America) origin with aggressive South American species having colonized the area only recently. The South American families occurring in the Greater Antilles are the hummingbirds (Trochilidae), tyrant flycatchers (Tyrannidae), Bananaquit (Coerebidae) and tanagers (Thraupidae), all of which are represented in Puerto Rico. The prevailing theory suggests that bird fauna colonized the West Indies by transoceanic dispersal during the glacial periods of the Pleistocene. The most primitive West Indies birds are the Todies which have an endemic representative in Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rican Tody.

Amphibians and Reptiles – Puerto Rico’s herpetofauna consists of 25 amphibian species and 61 reptile species. The majority of West Indian terrestrial reptile clade is believed to have arrived by flotsam dispersion from South America. Little evidence exists to support the alternative hypothesis of proto-Antillean vicariance. Other terrestrial herpetofauna are believed to have arrived to the West Indies (and Puerto Rico) by the same method and subsequently undergone vicarization by banks or islands. As a result, Puerto Rico, and the Caribbean in general, has one of the highest percentages of endemism among amphibians and reptiles in the world. Amphibian species in Puerto Rico belong to four families: Bufonidae (2 species), Hylidae (3), Leptodactylidae (18) and Ranidae (2). Reptiles include turtles (freshwater and marine), lizards, worm lizards, snakes and a caiman.


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