Encyclopedia of Islands

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Biology of the Antilles

The “Antilles” is an archipelago of over 7000 large and small islands, cays, reefs, and exposed offshore banks with long and diverse geological and biological histories. The total human population of the Antilles is 34.5 million.

Antilles, Biology

The heterogeneous assemblage of islands stretches in an arc over 3200 km long. The islands originated in a variety of ways (volcanism, uplifted island arcs, exposed and uplifted coral banks, movements of major plates, changes in sea levels) and have had a history of numerous vicariance (separation) events, as pieces of islands as well as whole islands became attached and unattached, submerged and reemerged. This dynamic geological history has resulted in extremely high levels of biodiversity and insular endemism. Because of the unique combination of a well-preserved fossil record of vertebrates in sinkholes and caves (mostly found in areas of karst geology) and the extraordinarily rich record of microfossils found in Dominican amber, the past and present biodiversity of these islands is especially well documented.