Quaternary land vertebrates have been reported from 21 sites in Jamaica, almost all of which are located in caves. These cave fossil deposits are widely distributed throughout the island in regions of limestone karst. Each cave deposit consists of autochthonous sediments that cannot be biostratigraphically correlated with other sites containing sediments of similar origin. The age of these deposits has been determined primarily through absolute dating and faunal comparisons. An informal temporal sequence previously proposed for Jamaican vertebrate-bearing strata was based on relative stratigraphic position and faunal content and included four layers (from youngest to oldest): (1) Rattus layer, (2) Oryzomys layer, (3) lizard/bat layers, (4) hard breccias. These strata range in age from post-Columbian (<500 yr B.P.) for the Rattus layer to middle Pleistocene for the hard breccias. Absolute ages have been obtained for six Jamaican cave deposits. The oldest dated Quaternary terrestrial vertebrate faunas are preserved in indurated bone breccias and conglomerates from Wallingford Roadside Cave in St. Elizabeth Parish that range in age from 100 to 250 ka. Undated breccias from Sheep Pen Cave in Trelawny Parish, Molton Fissure in Manchester Parish, and Lluidas Vale Cave in St. Catherine Parish, are probably similar in age. Most of the remaining Jamaican cave faunas are derived from unconsolidated sediments of late Pleistocene and Holocene age.
The published Quaternary vertebrate fauna of Jamaica consists of 49 species, including 3 amphibians, 18 reptiles, 9 birds, and 19 mammals. The amphibians include three extant frogs, while the reptile fauna is composed of a turtle, a crocodile, 12 species of lizards, and 4 snakes. Three of the lizards, the large gecko Aristelliger titan, the giant anguid Celestus cf. C. occiduus, and the iguanid Leiocephalus jamaicensis, are extinct. Lizard bones are so abundant in Dairy Cave in St. Ann Parish and several other Jamaican caves that the strata from which they were derived have been called the “lizard layers.” Three species of birds from Quaternary sites are now extinct in Jamaica, although the burrowing owl Athene cunicularia still survives elsewhere in the West Indies and the endemic nightjar Siphonorhis americana disappeared very recently. The extinct flightless ibis Xenicibis xympithecus is an endemic genus and species known only from Jamaica. The Quaternary mammalian fauna of Jamaica includes 12 species of bats, 3 primates, and 4 rodents. None of the bats are extinct, but three of the species have disappeared from Jamaica. Brachyphylla nana still survives on Cuba and Hispaniola, whereas Tonatia bidens and Mormoops megalophylla are now restricted to the continental Neotropics. Jamaica has three extinct species of monkeys, which constitutes the largest primate fauna of any Antillean island. Xenothrix mcgregori, an endemic Jamaican genus and species, is so unlike other genera of Neotropical ceboid monkeys that it has been placed in a separate family, the Xenotrichidae. The two other taxa of Jamaican fossil primates are undescribed. Both are represented only by isolated postcranial elements that suggest generic-level distinction from one another and from Xenothrix. The Quaternary rodent fauna of Jamaica consists of three extinct and one living species. The two described species of the large, endemic Jamaican heptaxodontid rodent genus Clidomys apparently went extinct prior to the late Pleistocene. The rice rat Oryzomys antillarum is the only sigmodontine rodent known from the Greater Antilles. Oryzomys is common in late Pleistocene and Holocene cave deposits throughout Jamaica, but has gone extinct within the last century. The capromyid rodent Geocapromys brownii is the sole surviving rodent in Jamaica. G. brownii is the most abundant and widespread species in Jamaican Quaternary deposits.
Jamaica was almost completely submerged in the Oligocene, indicating that most species of land vertebrates in the modern and late Quaternary faunas colonized Jamaica from the Miocene onward. Endemic Jamaican genera, including the primate Xenothrix, the rodent Clidomys, the bat Ariteus, and the ibis Xenicibis, among others, probably have inhabited Jamaica since the Miocene or Pliocene. The large number of Jamaican vertebrates that are either conspecific with or closely related to mainland species suggests periodic overwater dispersal from Middle or South America, probably during periods of low sea level (e.g., late Miocene, ca. 10 Ma; latest Miocene, ca. 6 Ma; latest Pleistocene, 10 to 20 ka) when the Nicaraguan Rise was partially emergent. Fifteen of the 49 species (31%) of fossil vertebrates recorded from Jamaican Quaternary deposits are now extinct on the island. Of the 15 species no longer found in Jamaica, 11 are totally extinct, and 4 are locally extinct in Jamaica but still survive elsewhere in the West Indies or on the continent. Most of the extinct and extirpated species of Jamaican vertebrates survived into the late Quaternary. The localized extinction in Jamaica of the burrowing owl and several species of bats probably was related to environmental changes during the late Pleistocene and early Holocene. Many of the vertebrate extinctions in Jamaica and elsewhere in the West Indies were human-caused, resulting from predation, habitat destruction, and the introduction of exotic species such as rats, dogs, cats, and mongoose.