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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Dec 11;104(50):19897-902. Epub 2007 Dec 5.

Exceptionally well preserved late Quaternary plant and vertebrate fossils from a blue hole on Abaco, The Bahamas.

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  • 1Florida Museum of Natural History, University of Florida, P.O. Box 117800, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA.


We report Quaternary vertebrate and plant fossils from Sawmill Sink, a "blue hole" (a water-filled sinkhole) on Great Abaco Island, The Bahamas. The fossils are well preserved because of deposition in anoxic salt water. Vertebrate fossils from peat on the talus cone are radiocarbon-dated from approximately 4,200 to 1,000 cal BP (Late Holocene). The peat produced skeletons of two extinct species (tortoise Chelonoidis undescribed sp. and Caracara Caracara creightoni) and two extant species no longer in The Bahamas (Cuban crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer; and Cooper's or Gundlach's Hawk, Accipiter cooperii or Accipiter gundlachii). A different, inorganic bone deposit on a limestone ledge in Sawmill Sink is a Late Pleistocene owl roost that features lizards (one species), snakes (three species), birds (25 species), and bats (four species). The owl roost fauna includes Rallus undescribed sp. (extinct; the first Bahamian flightless rail) and four other locally extinct species of birds (Cooper's/Gundlach's Hawk, A. cooperii/gundlachii; flicker Colaptes sp.; Cave Swallow, Petrochelidon fulva; and Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna) and mammals (Bahamian hutia, Geocapromys ingrahami; and a bat, Myotis sp.). The exquisitely preserved fossils from Sawmill Sink suggest a grassy pineland as the dominant plant community on Abaco in the Late Pleistocene, with a heavier component of coppice (tropical dry evergreen forest) in the Late Holocene. Important in its own right, this information also will help biologists and government planners to develop conservation programs in The Bahamas that consider long-term ecological and cultural processes.

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