Class Mammalia – Overview

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Authors:   C. Robert Shoop and Carol Ruckdeschel
Date:   2001

Even though Cumberland Island is the largest of the Georgia barrier islands with about 15,000 acres of upland forests and freshwater wetlands, the number of mammal species is less than that of the adjacent mainland. Environmental conditions on the island are more extreme than inland and islolation reduces the likelihood of reintroductions. One species has become established on the island in recent times, presumably on its own: the armadillo.

Many species have been introduced to the island by humans over the years, but feral livestock have persisted. Bobcat and opossum introductions were too recent to judge persistence. Cattle were removed from the island in the mid-1980s, alleviating much pressure on native vegetation. Consequently, the primary dunes and interdune meadow have regained some health but they still labor under pressure from feral horses and hogs. All species on the island feel a substantial impact from these remaining domestic animals, be it directly or indirectly. Competition for resources (food, water and shelter) adds an element of stress to species already under extreme environmental pressure much of the time. In addition, the large, feral animal’s augment the number of hosts available for ticks and many other parasites, thereby potentially increasing parasite abundance. Any discussion or observations of the behavior or natural history of island mammals in the 1900s should acknowledge that the animals existed in a dysfunctional system modified by large feral animals and thus their actions are not necessarily representative of species on a natural barrier island.

Scientific names follow Jones et al. (1997), and where there are conflicts, Whitaker and Hamilton (1998). Comments on the status are subject to change due to the cyclic nature of island mammals populations. Highly mobile mammalian species such as bats, carnivores, and cetaceans assure that any species list will be dynamic. The status or relative abundance (noted after scientific name) of several species has not been systematically assessed for the island. Only cetacean species with voucher specimens from Cumberland Island are listed; others are known to frequent the area. CI=Cumberland Island; LCI=Little Cumberland Island.

Not listed are species that were known from the island only prehistorically or that were introduced some time ago and subsequently disappeared leaving no voucher specimens. Comments, suggestions, and observations of species not listed should be sent to the Cumberland Island Museum.