skip to main content

Title: Ecological Consequences of a Millennium of Introduced Dogs on Madagascar
Introduced predators currently threaten endemic animals on Madagascar through predation, facilitation of human-led hunts, competition, and disease transmission, but the antiquity and past consequences of these introductions are poorly known. We use directly radiocarbon dated bones of introduced dogs ( Canis familiaris ) to test whether dogs could have aided human-led hunts of the island’s extinct megafauna. We compare carbon and nitrogen isotope data from the bone collagen of dogs and endemic “fosa” ( Cryptoprocta spp.) in central and southwestern Madagascar to test for competition between introduced and endemic predators. The distinct isotopic niches of dogs and fosa suggest that any past antagonistic relationship between these predators did not follow from predation or competition for shared prey. Radiocarbon dates confirm that dogs have been present on Madagascar for over a millennium and suggest that they at least briefly co-occurred with the island’s extinct megafauna, which included giant lemurs, elephant birds, and pygmy hippopotamuses. Today, dogs share a mutualism with pastoralists who also occasionally hunt endemic vertebrates, and similar behavior is reflected in deposits at several Malagasy paleontological sites that contain dog and livestock bones along with butchered bones of extinct megafauna and extant lemurs. Dogs on Madagascar have had a wide range of diets during the past millennium, but relatively high stable carbon isotope values suggest few individuals relied primarily on forest bushmeat. Our newly generated data suggest that dogs were part of a suite of animal introductions beginning over a millennium ago that coincided with widespread landscape transformation and megafaunal extinction.  more » « less
Award ID(s):
1749676 1750598
Author(s) / Creator(s):
; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ; ;
Date Published:
Journal Name:
Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Recently expanded estimates for when humans arrived on Madagascar (up to approximately 10 000 years ago) highlight questions about the causes of the island's relatively late megafaunal extinctions (approximately 2000–500 years ago). Introduced domesticated animals could have contributed to extinctions, but the arrival times and past diets of exotic animals are poorly known. To conduct the first explicit test of the potential for competition between introduced livestock and extinct endemic megafauna in southern and western Madagascar, we generated new radiocarbon and stable carbon and nitrogen isotope data from the bone collagen of introduced ungulates (zebu cattle, ovicaprids and bushpigs, n = 66) and endemic megafauna (pygmy hippopotamuses, giant tortoises and elephant birds, n = 68), and combined these data with existing data from endemic megafauna (n = 282, including giant lemurs). Radiocarbon dates confirm that introduced and endemic herbivores briefly overlapped chronologically in this region between 1000 and 800 calibrated years before present (cal BP). Moreover, stable isotope data suggest that goats, tortoises and hippos had broadly similar diets or exploited similar habitats. These data support the potential for both direct and indirect forms of competition between introduced and endemic herbivores. We argue that competition with introduced herbivores, mediated by opportunistic hunting by humans and exacerbated by environmental change, contributed to the late extinction of endemic megafauna on Madagascar. 
    more » « less
  2. The relative importance of climate and humans in the disappearance of the Malagasy megafauna remains under debate. Data from southwestern Madagascar imply aridification contributed substantially to the late Holocene decline of the megafauna (the Aridification Hypothesis). Evidence for aridification includes carbon isotopes from tree rings, lacustrine charcoal concentrations and pollen assemblages, and changes in fossil vertebrate assemblages indicative of a local loss of pluvial conditions. In contrast, speleothem records from northwestern Madagascar suggest that megafaunal decline and habitat change resulted primarily from human activity including agropastoralism (the Subsistence Shift Hypothesis). Could there have been contrasting mechanisms of decline in different parts of Madagascar? Or are we lacking the precisely dated, high resolution records needed to fully understand the complex processes behind megafaunal decline? Reconciling these contrasting hypotheses requires additional climate records from southwestern Madagascar. We recovered a stalagmite (AF2) from Asafora Cave in the spiny thicket ecoregion, ~10 km from the southwest coast and just southeast of the Velondriake Marine Reserve. U-series and 14C dating of samples taken from the core of this stalagmite provide a highly precise chronology of the changes in hydroclimate and vegetation in this region over the past 3000 years. Speleothem stable oxygen and carbon isotope analyses provide insight into past rainfall variability and vegetation changes respectively. We compare these records with those for a stalagmite (AB2) from Anjohibe Cave in northwestern Madagascar. Lastly, odds ratio analyses of radiocarbon dates for extinct and extant subfossils allow us to describe and compare the temporal trajectories of megafaunal decline in the southwest and the northwest. Combined, these analyses allow us to test the Aridification Hypothesis for megafaunal extinction. The trajectories of megafaunal decline differed in northwestern and southwestern Madagascar. In the southwest, unlike the northwest, there is no evidence of decoupling of speleothem stable carbon and oxygen isotopes. Instead, habitat changes in the southwest were largely related to variation in hydroclimate (including a prolonged drought). The megafaunal collapse here occurred in tandem with the drought, and agropastoralism likely contributed to that demise only after the megafauna had already suffered drought-related population reduction. Our results offer some support for the Aridification Hypothesis, but with three caveats: first, that there was no island-wide aridification; second, that aridification likely impacted megafaunal decline only in the driest parts of Madagascar; and third, that aridification was not the sole factor promotingmegafaunal decline even in the dry southwest. A number of megafaunal species survived the prolonged drought of the first millennium, and then likely succumbed to the activities of agropastoralists. 
    more » « less
  3. null (Ed.)
    Climate drying could have transformed ecosystems in southern Madagascar during recent millennia by contributing to the extinction of endemic megafauna. However, the extent of regional aridification during the past 2000 years is poorly known, as are the responses of endemic animals and economically important livestock to drying. We inferred ~1600 years of climate change around Lake Ranobe, SW Madagascar, using oxygen isotope analyses of monospecific freshwater ostracods (Bradleystrandesia cf. fuscata) and elemental analyses of lake core sediment. We inferred past changes in habitat and diet of introduced and extinct endemic megaherbivores using bone collagen stable isotope and 14C datasets (n = 63). Extinct pygmy hippos and multiple giant lemur species disappeared from the vicinity of Ranobe during a dry interval ~1000–700 cal yr BP, but the simultaneous appearance of introduced cattle, high charcoal concentrations, and other evidence of human activity confound inference of drought-driven extirpations. Unlike the endemic megafauna, relatively low collagen stable nitrogen isotope values among cattle suggest they survived dry intervals by exploiting patches of wet habitat. Although megafaunal extirpations coincided with drought in SW Madagascar, coupled data from bone and lake sediments do not support the hypothesis that extinct megafauna populations collapsed solely because of drought. Given that the reliance of livestock on mesic patches will become more important in the face of projected climate drying, we argue that sustainable conservation of spiny forests in SW Madagascar should support local livelihoods by ensuring that zebu have access to mesic habitat. Additionally, the current interactions between pastoralism and riparian habitats should be studied to help conserve the island’s biodiversity. 
    more » « less
  4. A new fossil site in a previously unexplored part of western Madagascar (the Beanka Protected Area) has yielded remains of many recently extinct vertebrates, including giant lemurs (Babakotia radofilai, Palaeopropithecus kelyus, Pachylemur sp., and Archaeolemur edwardsi), carnivores (Cryptoprocta spelea), the aardvark-like Plesiorycteropus sp., and giant ground cuckoos (Coua). Many of these represent considerable range extensions. Extant species that were extirpated from the region (e.g., Prolemur simus) are also present. Calibrated radiocarbon ages for 10 bones from extinct primates span the last three millennia. The largely undisturbed taphonomy of bone deposits supports the interpretation that many specimens fell in from a rock ledge above the entrance. Some primates and other mammals may have been prey items of avian predators, but human predation is also evident. Strontium isotope ratios (87Sr/86Sr) suggest that fossils were local to the area. Pottery sherds and bones of extinct and extant vertebrates with cut and chop marks indicate human activity in previous centuries. Scarcity of charcoal and human artifacts suggests only occasional visitation to the site by humans. The fossil assemblage from this site is unusual in that, while it contains many sloth lemurs, it lacks ratites, hippopotami, and crocodiles typical of nearly all other Holocene subfossil sites on Madagascar. 
    more » « less
  5. Most researchers believe that Madagascar’s megafauna went extinct between 2000 and 1000 years ago. Across Madagascar, fossil specimens of the island’s endemic (and now extinct) pygmy hippopotamuses, elephant birds, giant lemurs, horned crocodiles, and other vertebrates larger in body size than 10 kg commonly date to the first millennium of the Common Era (CE) or earlier; few records date to the second millennium CE. Whereas megafaunal populations appear to have crashed almost simultaneously near the end of the first millennium CE, small populations can survive in remote pockets for centuries after precipitous species decline, perhaps longer. Examining the differences in the population dynamics of declining species and other factors can help to better identify the ultimate timing of extinction. Ever since Etienne de Flacourt traveled to Madagascar in the late 1600s, Malagasy stories of large-bodied wild animals have been recorded. Many include fantastic, clearly mythical creatures, but some provide anatomical or behavioral details which are consistent with legends or even direct observations of real, albeit potentially already extinct, species (including elephant birds, hippopotamuses, and some giant lemurs). In December 1989, at 06:00 hours, one of us (BZF) witnessed a large euplerid carnivoran locally known as fosabe (big fosa) or fosa jobijoby (blackish fosa) who had entered his field tent at Montagne d’Ambre. The animal was “twice the size and much darker than the common fossa” (Freed, 1996, p. 34). The individual was black and weighed approximately 20-25 kg. Freed wrote that the animal was well known to the local people and that “many local people also reported seeing it”. The animal fits paleontologists’ expectations for Cryptoprocta spelea, a large carnivoran known from the fossil record, believed to have been extinct for at least 1000 years. In June 2020, we recorded modern accounts of the big fosa. One of us (ESN) visited villages in four different sectors (Northwest, Northeast, East, and West) of Montagne d’Ambre National Park and the Forêt d’Ambre Special Reserve to examine potential regional differences and/or similarities in the stories of this animal, and whether such accounts include mythical elements, relevant anatomical information, and/or credible recent sightings. We also recorded stories of an Endangered extant animal, the aye-aye of the genus Daubentonia (also known locally as the kakahely). Ultimately, we believe this folklore provides clues that may help elucidate the geography of decline and possible late survival of an “extinct” megafaunal animal on Madagascar. 
    more » « less