Viteri MC. 2022. Exhuming the dead to save the living: fingerprints of the Anthropocene on California's faunal communities. PhD Dissertation, Department of Biology, Stanford University.
In this dissertation, I use historical and subfossil data to elucidate anthropogenic impacts on faunal communities in California. In chapter one, I explore the effectiveness of sampling small mammals using raptor pellets and find that skeletal remains from pellet accumulations are indeed faithful subsamples of local small mammal communities. This result has important implications for both ecologists and paleontologists and provides confirmation for the methodological approach of my third chapter. For chapter two, I assess the extent of taphonomic bias introduced by pocket gopher (Thomomys bottae) bioturbation in a late Holocene archaeological site in Woodside, CA. I radiocarbon dated skeletal remains of T. bottae and non-fossorial small mammals and found that T. bottae bones are younger than those of other small mammals from the same stratigraphic layers. This suggests that many pocket gopher remains were introduced after archaeological deposition, which prompts reevaluation of faunal community reconstructions from fossil deposits impacted by pocket gophers and other fossorial mammals. In chapter three, I assess how the small mammal communities of the San Francisco Bay Area have changed over the last few thousand years using archaeological deposits and modern raptor pellet accumulations. I show that all Anthropocene small mammal communities are fundamentally distinct from their Holocene baselines, but that urban Anthropocene sites are significantly less diverse than non-urban ones. These results highlight the importance of land management in conserving modern biodiversity. In chapter four, I identify microcrustaceans from a high-resolution sediment core to track anthropogenic impacts on the watershed over the last century. I find significant perturbations in the microcrustacean community over time, corresponding to historic evidence of the input of environmental toxins in the system. I hope this interdisciplinary and multi-system dissertation brings us one step closer to understanding the impacts of the Anthropocene on biotic environments both in California and around the world. [link to publication]