Rice rats (Sigmodontinae: Oryzomyini) are abundant in the Late Quaternary fossil record and in Holocene pre-Columbian archaeological middens across the Lesser Antilles. All of these rice rats are now extinct, and their regional diversity and systematics remain extremely poorly understood. We redescribe all of the region's rice rat taxa known from adequate diagnostic material (Megalomys desmarestii, Megalomys luciae, and Oligoryzomys victus), and describe a new genus and species, Pennatomys nivalis gen. et sp. nov., from archaeological sites on St. Eustatius, St. Kitts, and Nevis, which formed a single larger island during Quaternary low sea-level stands. Cladistic analysis supports the inclusion of O. victus within Oligoryzomys, and identifies Megalomys as a sister group of the large-bodied genera Sigmodontomys or Sigmodontomys + Nectomys, suggesting that large body size in Megalomys represents phyletic gigantism rather than ‘island gigantism’. Megalomys and Pennatomys belong to an oryzomyine clade that has undergone remarkable radiation throughout the oceanic and continental-shelf islands of the Neotropical region, but these genera do not represent a monophyletic group within the Nectomys subclade, indicating multiple over-water colonization events of the Lesser Antillean island chain. Although Lesser Antillean rice rats were heavily exploited by prehistoric Amerindians, it is likely that most or all of these taxa survived until European arrival in the region.
© 2010 The Linnean Society of London, Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2010, 160, 748–772.