Taxonomy-testing and the 'Goldilocks Hypothesis': Morphometric analysis of species diversity in living and extinct Hispaniolan hutias

J. Hansford, J.M. Nuñez-Miño, R.P. Young, S. Brace, J.L. Brocca, S.T. Turvey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Citations (SciVal)


Understanding the dynamics of the Late Quaternary Caribbean mammal extinction event is complicated by continuing uncertainty over the taxonomic status of many species. Hispaniola is one of the few Caribbean islands to retain native non-volant mammals; however, there has been little consensus over past or present levels of diversity in Hispaniolan hutias (Capromyidae: Plagiodontinae). Craniodental measurement data from modern hutia specimens, previously classified as both Plagiodontia aedium and P. hylaeum, display morphological differences between Hispaniola's northern and southern palaeo-islands using MANOVA and PCA. Although attempts to amplify mitochondrial DNA from the holotype of P. aedium were unsuccessful, this specimen is morphometrically associated with southern palaeo-island specimens. The mandibular size distribution of recent Plagiodontia specimens is unimodal, but the Late Quaternary mandibular size distribution is multimodal and displays much broader measurement spread, representing multiple extinct species. Finite Mixture Analysis was used to assess the best fit of different taxonomic hypotheses to the fossil mandibular size distribution. All retained FMA models include living hutias andP. spelaeum as distinct taxa; PCA further demonstrates that levels of morphological variation between modern hutia populations are lower than levels between living hutias and P. spelaeum, so that living hutias are interpreted as the single species P. aedium. Taxonomic differentiation for larger-bodied hutias is less well defined, but most retained models show only one larger species, for which the only available name is P. velozi. 'Plagiodontia' araeum is morphologically distinct from other species and is reassigned to Hyperplagiodontia. Hispaniola's plagiodontine fauna has lost its largest and smallest representatives; similar trends of body size selectivity in extinction risk are shown more widely across the Caribbean mammal fauna, possibly due to different regional anthropogenic threats (invasive mammals, hunting) affecting small-bodied and large-bodied mammals during the recent past. This apparent pattern of extinction selectivity is named the 'Goldilocks Hypothesis'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-507
Number of pages17
JournalSystematics and Biodiversity
Issue number4
Early online date19 Dec 2012
Publication statusPublished - 2012


Dive into the research topics of 'Taxonomy-testing and the 'Goldilocks Hypothesis': Morphometric analysis of species diversity in living and extinct Hispaniolan hutias'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this