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Mentawai’s endemic, relictual fauna: is it evidence for Pleistocene extinctions on Sumatra?

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Aim  The four Mentawai islands, south‐west of Sumatra, have long been isolated from the remainder of Sundaland, resulting in a high level of endemism. We examined the distribution of 151 species of the Mentawai Islands in Sundaland and assessed various processes that may have resulted in the various biogeographical patterns.

Location  Southeast Asia, particularly the Mentawai Islands and nearby large landmasses (Sumatra, Java, Borneo and Peninsular Malaysia).

Methods  We compared the faunal composition of the Mentawai Islands for selected taxa (43 mammals, 92 reptiles and 16 amphibians) with that of the four nearby large landmasses of Sundaland using morphological comparisons and the most recent molecular phylogenetic analyses available in the literature. These comparisons yielded sister taxa, which were used to simulate species absence data for the four Sundaland landmasses under several scenarios to investigate how patterns of species absence could have arisen.

Results  In contrast to our expectations, several Mentawai species did not have their closest relatives on neighbouring Sumatra, but rather on the more distant Borneo, Java or Peninsular Malaysia. For mammals, the similarity between species from Mentawai and Borneo was greater than that observed between species from Mentawai and Sumatra. We conclude that the relationships represent traces of species historically distributed throughout Sundaland that became extinct in Sumatra during the Pleistocene. For reptiles and amphibians the observed pattern of species absences generally resembled the simulated pattern expected under the scenario of absence rates increasing with landmass isolation, whereas for mammals we observed more species than expected missing from Java and Sumatra, and fewer than expected from Borneo.

Main conclusions  The potential extinctions on Sumatra probably had two causes: changes of climate and vegetation during the Pleistocene and environmental impacts from the Toba supervolcanic eruption.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research, 10315 Berlin, Germany 2: Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, North Carolina State University, PO Box 7646, Raleigh, NC 27695-7646, USA 3: National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, PO Box 37012, MRC 108, Washington, DC 20013-7012, USA

Publication date: 2012-09-01

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