Islands are ideal systems to model temporal changes in biodiversity and reveal the influence of humans on natural communities. Although theory predicts biodiversity on islands tends towards an equilibrium value, the recent extinction of large proportions of island biotas complicates testing this model. The well-preserved subfossil record of Caribbean bats—involving multiple insular radiations—provides a rare opportunity to model diversity dynamics in an insular community. Here, we reconstruct the diversity trajectory in noctilionoid bats of the Greater Antilles by applying a dynamic model of colonization, extinction and speciation to phylogenetic and palaeontological data including all known extinct and extant species. We show species richness asymptotes to an equilibrium value, a demonstration of natural equilibrium dynamics across an entire community. However, recent extinctions—many caused by humans—have wiped out nearly a third of island lineages, dragging diversity away from equilibrium. Using a metric to measure island biodiversity loss, we estimate it will take at least eight million years to regain pre-human diversity levels. Our integrative approach reveals how anthropogenic extinctions can drastically alter the natural trajectory of biological communities, resulting in evolutionary disequilibrium.
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We thank A. Phillimore for discussions regarding DAISIE. We thank M. Lim, A. Phillimore, D. Rojas and L. Yohe for comments on the manuscript. Illustrations were produced by A. Tejedor. L.V. was funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Brandenburg Ministry of Science, Research and Culture and the German Research Foundation (DFG Grant VA 1102/1-1). L.M.D. was supported by the National Science Foundation (DEB-1442142). R.S.E. was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) through a VICI grant.
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
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Valente, L., Etienne, R. & Dávalos, L. Recent extinctions disturb path to equilibrium diversity in Caribbean bats. Nat Ecol Evol 1, 0026 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41559-016-0026