ARTICLE Issue 006
Survival of the Fittest: Manatee Extinction Relative to Human Overpopulation A Report from the Department of Anatomy
By Cherie Ward, Doctoral Student, Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies
The manatees that inhabit the shores and rivers of the Atlantic basin, from Florida to Brazil to West and Central Africa, together with their cousins, the dugongs of the Indian and Pacific oceans, are survivors of a much greater diversity of extinct sea cows, or sirenians – plant-eating marine mammals distantly related to elephants. This former diversity, and the plants these animals ate over the 50 million years of their evolutionary history, are the focus of a project in the Laboratory of Evolutionary Biology, located in the Department of Anatomy of Howard's College of Medicine.
Dr. Daryl Domning has studied the anatomy and ecology of living and fossil sirenians for more than 40 years, including field expeditions to collect their remains in places such as Jamaica, Mexico, Venezuela, Austria, France, and Libya. His most recent doctoral student, Jorge Vélez-Juarbe (who received his Ph.D. in 2012), is a native of Puerto Rico who discovered important fossils of these animals not far from his own home town, and made them the basis of his doctoral dissertation. He and Dr. Domning now have in press a series of jointly-authored papers describing several new genera and species of dugongs that lived in the Caribbean and the southeastern United States between 5 and 33 million years ago.