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An unavoidably short history of inland aquatic animal diversity research in the US Virgin Islands

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Abstract

The first freshwater species from the US Virgin Islands (USVI) was described 190 years ago, but research on inland aquatic animals, particularly invertebrates, remains limited. Due to a complex history of European colonization in the Caribbean, natural history writings about inland aquatic diversity for the USVI began almost 250 years later than those from elsewhere. Those early writings were produced primarily by clergy and largely recorded indigenous knowledge from other islands. Proposed in the first natural history by West in 1793, and reinforced later by Ledru in 1810, an assumption emerged that Puerto Rico and USVI faunas were almost identical. This partially explains the paucity of work in almost all aquatic faunal groups but birds. We review the history of inland aquatic faunal observations and studies in the USVI, from pre-Columbian traditions to recent faunal assessments. We discuss the pivotal Scientific Survey of Porto Rico and the Virgin Islands and the importance of local and foreign naturalists and taxonomists for our understanding of aquatic biota. Since 1900, 155 articles included observations on USVI inland aquatic animals, without clear trends toward increased or decreased publication output since the 1960s. Taxonomic bias toward studies on insects and birds, and geographic bias toward vertebrate work from St. Croix, are evident. Descriptive articles overwhelmingly outnumber manipulative ones. Despite overlap between USVI and Puerto Rican inland aquatic vertebrate faunas, recent surveys from St. Thomas have documented many new records and undescribed aquatic invertebrates. The historical assumption that the two faunas are equivalent appears to depend on taxonomic context. This hypothesis requires further evaluation.

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All references used in this review are provided as supplemental material.

Notes

  1. Hayward et al. (2003) refer to a “frog with a human-like face, a grouping of partial faces, and a verbal description of an anthropomorphic figure” as part of the petroglyphs found in the Salt River, St. Croix.

  2. Although there is a native species of this freshwater turtle genus in Puerto Rico, the only species in the USVI is introduced (Platenberg 2007; Turtle Taxonomy Working Group 2021). If correct, his zooarchaeological record suggests the animal was brought from outside of St. John.

  3. Gecarcinid crabs are largely referred to as “land” crabs. However, they depend intimately on inland waters for maintenance and reproduction.

  4. Spelled xayba in earlier editions.

  5. When discussing a review of Puerto Rican ecological science by Herminio Lugo Lugo in page 270.

  6. Native of St. Croix.

  7. The numbers include all relevant chapters from the Survey, unpublished theses, and grey literature. They exclude works on zooarchaeology, due to the qualitative nature of many of those (i.e., “freshwater turtle,” “land crabs,” etc.). Strictly bibliographic lists are also excluded. Studies on biogeographical patterns and regional species checklists are included because they address distribution and species diversity hypotheses, despite using previously published articles.

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Acknowledgements

This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation grant OIA-1946412. We thank R. Platenberg for providing literature and sharing her knowledge of Virgin Islands herpetology and natural history. Conversations with M. Hayward, R. Rodríguez Ramos, N. de los A. Vázquez Lazo, and R. Joglar also helped us develop ideas included here. We gratefully acknowledge the staff of the University of the Virgin Islands Libraries, especially M. Brissett, for allowing access to the Caribbean Collection documents in a safe manner during a pandemic. Likewise, the staff of the Biblioteca y Hemeroteca Puertorriqueña at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras, especially J. R. Almeyda Loucil, provided invaluable help. Additional support locating old publications was also provided by D. Reyes Ruiz. Finally, the authors thank Maricel Flores-Díaz, whose interest in Taino language, history, and mythology motivated a section of this article.This is contribution #243 from the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies.

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This work was supported by the US National Science Foundation Grant OIA-1946412.

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Cruz-Rivera, E., Rogers, D.C. An unavoidably short history of inland aquatic animal diversity research in the US Virgin Islands. Aquat Ecol 56, 719–740 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10452-021-09933-7

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