Launching a Plant Conservation Task Force for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
Kew’s UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team worked with the International Institute of Tropical Forestry and the University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez to organise the first Puerto Rican Bank plant conservation workshop in more than two decades. The workshop brought together participants from Federal and Government Agencies, NGOs, academia and conservation organisations from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, as well as interested parties from the wider Region - Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, and the USA (Miami, New York and Washington). The British Virgin Islands are one of the 14 UK Overseas Territories.
More than 70 people attended the one-week workshop that comprised a first day of invited keynote and overview talks on West Indian plant diversity, global plant conservation activities, and the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC), as well as reviews of plant conservation in the Puerto Rican Bank – Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands. The second day comprised a one-day Red Listing Training Workshop given by Kew’s UKOTs team. The training reviewed the need for conservation assessments in the light of the challenges of achieving Target 2 of the GSPC, the principles and practice of the IUCN Red Listing process, and a practical overview of some of the tools being developed to facilitate red listing, including GeoCAT, an open source, browser based tool developed by Kew and partners that performs rapid geospatial analyses to semi-automate the process of red listing taxa.
Studying Puerto Rico's plant diversity
Puerto Rico lies towards the middle of the Caribbean Biodiversity Hotspot and is an important centre for plant diversity, supporting a wide range of habitats and plant species including 292 seed plants considered endemic to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. To appreciate some of this diversity our hosts organised an exciting field trip for the middle day of the workshop, the highlight of which was a visit to the Guánica State Forest, an area of subtropical dry forest in the south west of Puerto Rico. Designated a UN Biosphere Reserve in 1981, many consider Guánica to be one of the best surviving examples of subtropical dry forest in the Caribbean. It is a haven for many rare and endemic species, including Cordia rupicola, a threatened plant known only from Guánica and the island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. C. rupicola is the subject of intensive study at Kew where a full horticultural protocol has been completed and seeds have been banked in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank.
Threats facing Puerto Rico's plant diversity
Plant diversity is under threat worldwide from a variety of human-induced activities with habitat loss and the spread of invasive species being of particular concern on most islands globally. During the field trip workshop participants were introduced to a frightening exotic pest that is devastating the cacti on Puerto Rico. The cactus mealy bug (Hypogeococcus pungens) arrived in Puerto Rico around 1998 and is spreading across the island with devastating effect, impacting individual cactus species to differing degrees. The mealy bug prevents flowering and fruiting and eventually leads to the death of individual plants. It threatens widespread species such as Pilosocereus royenii, as well as species with more restricted ranges such as Leptocereus quadricostatus, already listed as critically endangered and under severe threat in Guánica – its only location in Puerto Rico. The only other known population of L. quadricostatus is on Anegada and there was lots of discussion in the field on the need to prevent spread of the cactus mealy bug to the Virgin Islands and the importance of heightened biosecurity.
A new plant conservation task force for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands
The final two days of the Workshop focused on discussing the need for greater collaboration and communication across the region, and the need for a regional plant conservation strategy. We also began the process of red listing endemic plants of the Puerto Rican Bank, and identified this as a key priority activity. These discussions, spearheaded by a smaller invited group of botanists from the region resulted in the formal establishment of a Task Force for Plant Conservation for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Full details of the Task Force objectives and key activities are being developed, but there was an initial consensus that the primary goal of the Task Force is Protecting and sustaining the native plant diversity of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. A web portal is being developed which will be made more widely available once established. A key priority of the Task Force is to red list the endemic flora of the region as the first step in producing a complete Red List for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
- Colin Clubbe -
- Bachman, S., Moat, J., Hill, A., de la Torre, J. & Scott, B. (2011). Supporting Red List threat assessments with GeoCAT: Geospatial Conservation Assessment Tool. Zookeys150: 117-126.
- Developing Ex Situ Conservation Collections of UK Overseas Territories Plant Species In-Territory and at Kew
- IUCN Red List pages for Leptocereus quadricostatus and Cordia rupicola
- Cactus mealy bug (Hypogeococcus pungens)
- Catalogue of Seed Plants of the West Indies
- United Nations Man and the Biosphere Programme