UK Overseas Territories team blog
Kew’s UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) team helps to conserve the unique biodiversity of the 16 far-flung island groups and peninsulas which make up the UKOTs.
We work with partners in-Territory and from other UK biodiversity organisations to develop and implement practical conservation projects which support the UKOTs in implementing the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. This blog follows the conservation activities of the UKOTs team at Kew and overseas. Our welcome blog post gives an overview of the UKOTs Programme.
Richard Lewis, a botanist working for Falklands Conservation and collaborating with Kew’s UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) Team, is spending six months in the Falkland Islands, studying their native and introduced plants, collecting seed and preserved plant specimens. Here he describes the significance of his latest seed collection.
Richard Lewis during fieldwork on Mount Usborne, East Falkland
The thirteenth species – lucky for some!
I was thrilled to find large stands of the silvery buttercup (Hamadryas argentea) in a few remote valleys on Weddell Island. The low levels of grazing in some parts of the Island have allowed this scarce species to thrive along with many other rare plants. I had tried to collect seeds of this species several times before in other parts of the Falklands but always been defeated: once a cold spring had made the plant flower late, another time the plants only had male flowers, so no seeds were set, and a third time some goats had escaped from a nearby farm and eaten all the female flowers – they must be tastier than the male flowers! The buttercup seeds have been carefully dried and sent to the Millennium Seed Bank (MSB), where they will join seeds collected previously from the 12 other endemic species, preserved at low temperatures so they will stay alive and viable for decades or even centuries.
Female flowers of silvery buttercup (Image: Rebecca Upson, Falklands Conservation)
Male flowers of silvery buttercup (Image: Mike Morrison)
Unique plants of the Falkland Islands
The 13 endemic plant species found only in the Falklands include some beautiful and unusual species, such as lady’s slipper (Calceolaria fothergillii) and snake plant (Nassauvia serpens). Unfortunately five of them are considered at risk of extinction. For example two species,Moore's plantain (Plantago moorei) and false plantain (Nastanthus falklandicus) are restricted to the southern coasts of West Falkland, where they are being affected by an invasive plant, mouse-ear hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella), which can grow over and smother them. Keeping seeds carefully preserved at the MSB ensures that should these plants become extinct in the wild, they can still be grown from seed so future generations will still be able to learn about and appreciate the unique natural heritage of the Falklands.
The Millennium Seed Bank Partnership (MSBP) is an ambitious project to preserve the seeds of wild plants from around the world. In 2010, working with partners all around the world, including several of the UKOTs, it met its first objective to save seeds from 10% of all known species of seed-bearing plants. It has now set a new goal to preserve seeds from 25% of known species in safe storage by 2020.
The MSBP has been working with Falklands Conservation and the Falkland Islands Government since 2004, with the aim of eventually preserving seeds from all the native flowering plants. The seeds of the 13 endemic species join seeds of a further 117 native species, which have been collected by local volunteers and botanists from Kew and Falklands Conservation. Over 80% of the native Falklands flowering plants are now in the MSB, with just 25 species left to collect.
Not only are these seeds saved in case of extinction in the wild, but they are also made available for research and other use. For example, several species which have undergone germination trials or full horticultural protocols are now on display in the Rock Garden and Davies Alpine House at Kew. By displaying these fascinating and unique plants, we hope to highlight the botanical significance of the far-flung UKOTs. Some seeds have also been sent back to Stanley, the capital of the Falkland Islands, to be grown at the Stanley Nurseries native plant nursery, which produces plants for habitat restoration projects and for sale to local gardeners. Seeds of some of the rarest species, such as Moore’s plantain, are being used by researchers at Kew to better understand issues affecting conservation, such as possible hybridisation with thrift plantain (Plantago barbata).
- Richard -
- Developing Ex Situ Conservation Collections of UK Overseas Territories Plant Species In-Territory and at Kew
- Falkland Islands Native Plants Project
- Falkland Islands Plant Conservation
- Invasive Species in the UK Overseas Territories
- UK Overseas Territories - a collaboration between Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank partnership, Kew's UKOTs science team and local conservation partners
- Blog post February 2011: Propagating unique Falkland Islands plants
- Falklands Conservation
- Falkland Islands Government
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For over ten years, members of Kew’s UKOTs team have paid regular visits to Anegada, one of the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Despite its small size, Anegada is home to a variety of plants and animals, notably the Anegada rock iguana, a lizard found nowhere else in the world. Another of the island’s unique species is Metastelma anegadense, a scrambling thin-stemmed plant belonging to the milkweed family, Apocynaceae. It is commonly known as wire wist, reflecting the use of the stems as a natural string.
In its natural habitat Metastelma anegadense twists around both itself and supporting bushes
Collecting the seedlings
During fieldwork on the island in July 2011, Martin Hamilton and Michele Sanchez from Kew collected some tiny wire wist seedlings which had established themselves alongside a path. Rather than see these rarities face death by trampling, the Kew team carefully lifted them and took them back to the J R O’Neal Botanic Garden on Tortola, managed by the BVI National Parks Trust. Several seedlings were potted up at the Garden for cultivation there whilst five were cleaned and placed in pots of sterile perlite for the journey back to the UK to ensure that they did not represent a plant-health risk.
Metastelma anegadense seedlings on arrival at Kew's Quarantine House
Arriving at Kew
As soon as they arrived in Kew’s new Plant Quarantine Facility, the seedlings were transferred from the sterile growing medium used for transport and grown on in compost. Within six months of their arrival, the first of the wire wist seedlings had grown large enough to begin flowering - the first time that flowers have been recorded for this species outside its native environment.
The first Metastelma anegadense flower at Kew
Not only is this a major achievement for Kew’s horticulturists, but also enables Kew scientists to study this plant in more detial. Until now, it has never been possible to collect seeds from this plant as their mature fruits split open without warning and the seeds, which are covered with silky hairs, rapidly disperse in the wind. By hand-pollinating the flowers, researchers at Kew will be able to monitor the development of the fruits and discover how long it takes for them to reach maturity. This knowledge will help seed collectors harvesting wire wist fruits from their natural habitat for seed storage at the Millennium Seed Bank.
Metastelma anegadense fruits (photographed on Anegada) split open to release the wind-dispersed seeds
Challenges in the pollination process
But pollinating the flowers is not as easy as it sounds. Firstly they are very tiny, and Michele Sanchez and Noelia Alvarez from Kew’s Great Glasshouses team needed to use a magnifying glass as they began the pollination process. David Goyder, a botanist in Kew's Herbarium who specialises in the family Apocynaceae, explained that the unusual structure of the flowers would make them tricky to pollinate. He pointed out that the receptive part of the stigma (pollen-receptor) is on its lower surface, hidden from view behind the pollen-bearing stamens. And as in orchids, pollen is distributed en masse, not as individual pollen grains. All the pollen within two adjacent pollen sacs is joined together to form a removable pollinarium, which would normally become attached to nectar-feeding insects and be transported from one flower to another.
As with many other plants in this family, this species is probably self-incompatible. This means that for successful pollination, flowers from different plants need to be open at the same time so pollen can be transferred from one plant to the other. So to produce the next generation of wire wist plants in cultivation, Kew’s horticulturists will have to wait for more plants to flower and then cross pollinate them with ‘surgical’ precision. If successful, the team also wants to collect seed at different stages of ripeness to test the effect of age on germination.
The good news is that both cultivation and seed storage will ensure that this Critically Endangered species can be conserved away from the threat of habitat loss that it faces in some parts of Anegada.
- Marcella -
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About the project
In May and June 2011, I was lucky enough to spend eight weeks in the Turks and Caicos Islands, one of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) in the Caribbean. I worked with the Kew UKOTs team and the TCI Department of Environment and Coastal Resources (DECR) carrying out fieldwork for my Masters thesis in Conservation Science. I was studying the invasive tree Casuarina equisetifolia, known in the Caribbean as Australian pine. C. equisetifolia is commonly known as she-oak in its original range in South-East Asia and Australia. In 2009, a previous MSc student, Chloe Hardman, predicted suitable habitat for this species in TCI using the Maxent software which models species distribution based on environmental variables. She found that native species richness was reduced in plots invaded by this tree. Building on this research, I set out to map the current distribution of the species and prioritise areas for its control.
Casuarina equisetifolia on Bambarra beach, Middle Caicos, stretching as far as the eye can see (Image: Alexandra Davey)
Determining the spread of Casuarina during the last ten years
Using aerial photographs of the islands from 2001 and 2007, in which patches of the invasive tree were clearly visible, I manually digitised the distribution of C. equisetifolia in each of these years using ArcMap GIS (Geographic Information Science) software, developed by ESRI. This allowed me to examine not only the current locations of C. equisetifolia but how its distribution has changed over a six year period. This invasive tree grows mostly along the northern and eastern coasts, which have the longest expanses of sandy beach, and along roadsides and in settlements. In the six years covered by the photographs the area of land occupied by the species had increased on both North and Middle Caicos.
Using the digitised distributions, I generated presence points in ArcMap. These points were then overlaid on environmental variables, such as distance to roads and elevation, in Maxent to produce a predictive model of suitable habitat for the species. Using digitised presence points avoided the bias often introduced by the difficulty of accessing some areas on the ground. The new model showed a greater area to be suitable for C.equisetifolia than the previous one had. The most important environmental predictor of suitable habitat was distance to the northern coast. On North and Middle Caicos areas close to the north coast are the most disturbed by human activity.
Fieldwork in Important Plant Areas
TCI endemic orchid Encyclia caicensis growing on Wild Cow Run, an Important Plant Area on Middle Caicos threatened by Casuarina equisetifolia (Image: Sara Green)
I selected two Important Plant Areas (as determined by another MSc student, Sophie Williams, in 2009) for further study and mapped the presence of C. equisetifolia in 2011. I then compared the trees’ distribution with that in 2007 and 2001. This showed the importance of disturbance caused by human activity in determining the spread of the species - land that had been cleared for development was very quickly colonised. On the island of North Caicos the majority of trees established themselves in the last 10 years. This area may be a good site to trial methods of controlling the tree.
These maps show the spread of the species on Horsestable Beach, Important Plant Area on North Caicos. Red squares show location of Casuarina equisetifolia in 2001, 2007 and 2011. (Image: Alexandra Davey)
Investigating control methods
In the final part of my study I looked at how the level of C. equisetifolia establishment affects native species. I found that native species richness decreased significantly with increasing height of the invasive Casuarina trees. I also performed a small baseline study into the current use of C. equisetifolia in making charcoal. This research contributes to the larger question of whether charcoal production could provide a future control strategy for this invasive species. One possible scheme would entail the funds raised from sale of licences to coppice C. equisetifolia in very heavily infested areas being used to pay for eradication schemes in newly invaded areas. Everyone involved in the study confirmed that Casuarina wood makes very good charcoal.
The principal recommendations arising from my work were to restrict development in the southern parts of North and Middle Caicos which as yet remain undisturbed and more or less free from Casuarina. Tight control of unnecessary or premature land clearance prior to development would also help to restrict the spread of the species.
The six months I spent on this project have been an excellent learning experience for me. I am very grateful to all those at Kew who have helped me and feel privileged to have first-hand experience of the work the UKOTs team carries out in the field. I could not have done the project without the support of the TCI DECR and in particular without the help of Bryan Naqqi Manco, Judnel Blaise and Sara Green in the field. Thank you!
- Alexandra -
Science Directory project page: Invasive Species in the UK Overseas Territories
Science Directory project page: Turks and Caicos Islands Pine Recovery Programme
Find out more about Geographic Information Science (GIS): Kew's GIS Unit
Imperial College MSc Conservation Science theses
Hardman, C. (2009) Invasive plants in the Turks and Caicos Islands (pdf)
Tags: at risk
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Introducing Joseph Hooker
Joseph Hooker was born in 1817 into a botanical family. His father, William Hooker, was the Professor of Botany at Glasgow University and later became the first official director of the Royal Gardens at Kew. Although Joseph Hooker trained in medicine, he was far more enthusiastic about botany. In 1839, at the age of just 22, he joined the HMS Erebus under the captaincy of James Clark Ross, as it set off to map the Antarctic regions. His official role was that of Assistant Surgeon, but he was able to spend a considerable amount of time collecting plant specimens whilst ashore and making detailed records of them during the long voyages between ports. Among the ship's ports of call were the islands of St Helena, Ascension and the Falkland Islands, now three of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), as well as the South Shetland Islands (part of the British Antarctic Territory). The plant specimens Joseph Hooker collected during this voyage are held in Kew's Herbarium and those from the UKOTs can be viewed through the UK Overseas Territories Online Herbarium.
Joseph Hooker (1817-1911)
In June 1840, HMS Erebus anchored off St Helena for the first time and Joseph Hooker was able to travel up to the central mountain ridge of Diana’s Peak, where he was excited to see a tree fern, Dicksonia antarctica, for the first time. He observed that much of the island’s original vegetation had disappeared, either eaten by goats or overwhelmed by plants introduced as crops or ornamentals by settlers and passing ships. Based on his own findings and those of preceding botanists, he calculated that the island was originally home to about 45 unique plant species.
On St Helena, Joseph Hooker collected a specimen of the fern Dryopteris napoleonis which was named after Napoleon Bonaparte who was imprisoned on the island by the British
Nearly two years later, after crossing the Antarctic Circle several times, HMS Erebus sought shelter from the Antarctic winter in the Falkland Islands. At first, Joseph Hooker agreed with Charles Darwin that the islands had ‘a desolate and wretched aspect’. Over the six months that he spent on the islands, Hooker revised his opinion of their botanical interest although plant collecting was not easy due to the short days. At the Governor’s request, he listed the potential uses of island plants, ranging from the value of tussac grass (Poa flabellata) in providing grazing for cattle to diddle-dee (Empetrum rubrum) as a potential source of food if grouse were to be introduced. He also recommended further investigation into the healing properties of the balsam bog plant (Bolax gummifera) and that two plants, little cress (Cardamine glacialis) and the local scurvy grass, Oxalis enneaphylla, would provide a remedy for scurvy, an illness resulting from a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Joseph Hooker collected this specimen of silvery buttercup from the Falkland Islands and named it Hamadryas argentea
South Shetland Islands and Ascension
From the Falkland Islands, HMS Erebus sailed south, calling at the South Shetland Islands and Cockburn Island, where Hooker listed just 19 species of plant, all of them mosses, algae and lichens, and including two previously unknown moss species. After visiting St Helena again during its return from the Antarctic, the ship stopped at Ascension. In his journal, Joseph Hooker recorded that ‘St Helena has been well designated a barren rock, but it is a paradise compared with Ascension, which ... presented a black conical mass of volcanic matter’.
However, he still discovered plants of interest: ‘I found here and there a little purslane, a minute grass and a Euphorbia. The green peak yielded only one small indigenous shrub and 9 ferns’. He also noted that the garrison of soldiers on the island subsisted on a ‘scanty supply of tepid water, preserved in tanks, and salt meats and ship’s biscuits, varied with turtle’. His recommendations for introductions of fruit trees and other crop plants were implemented by the Admiralty, to provide fresh food and improve water supplies. Hooker did, however, express his concern that the plant introductions would prove harmful to the island’s native vegetation ‘especially to the rich carpet of ferns that clothed the top of the mountain when I visited it’.
This euphorbia (Euphorbia origanoides) was one of the few plants Joseph Hooker saw growing on Ascension's barren volcanic surface
Unique island plants
His visits to these remote islands influenced Hooker’s thinking on global plant distribution, which he discussed at length with Charles Darwin in the course of their correspondence prior to the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species. In a presentation to the British Association for the Advancement of Science in 1866, just after he had become Director of Kew, Hooker considered the links between island floras and those of their nearest continents. Of St Helena’s 45 unique species, he noted that many of them belonged to unique genera and had no obvious close relatives in Africa or South America. He stated: ‘The botany of St. Helena is thus most interesting; it resembles none other in the peculiarity of its indigenous vegetation, in the great rarity of the plants of other countries, or in the number of species that have actually disappeared within the memory of living men.’
In Joseph Hooker's footsteps
Hooker’s concerns about the threats to native island plants from invasive exotic species have proved well founded. Following on from a project looking at South Atlantic Invasive Species, Kew’s UKOTs team continues to work with conservationists in St Helena, the Falklands and Ascension to monitor their indigenous plants and evaluate the risks from introduced species. We are working with our UKOTs partners to ensure that UKOTs native plants are held in safe storage as seeds in Kew's Millennium Seed Bank or can be propagated in native species nurseries for possible return to their natural habitats when conditions permit.
- Pat -
Find out more about Sir Joseph Hooker's expeditions and scientific activities at the exhibition 'Joseph Hooker: Naturalist, Traveller and More' in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art.
- Invasive Species in the UK Overseas Territories
- Conservation of Ascension Island’s Endemic Plants
- Falkland Islands Plant Conservation
- Falkland Islands Native Plants Project
- Supporting Critical Species Recovery and Horticultural Needs on St Helena
- Increasing Local Capacity to Conserve St Helena's Threatened Native Biodiversity
- Seed Conservation in the UK Overseas Territories
- Developing Ex Situ Conservation Collections of UK Overseas Territories Plant Species In-Territory and at Kew
- UK Overseas Territories Online Herbarium
- South Atlantic Invasive Species Project
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Monitoring the effect of an invasive pine scale insect on the national tree of the Turks and Caicos IslandsBy: Sara Green - 21 Nov 2011
Caicos pines in trouble
Dead pine trees dominate much of the pineyard landscape
A large part of my MSc Conservation Science course at Imperial College London, involved my being lucky enough to work with the UKOTs team at Kew on the research for my MSc thesis. My project was part of an on-going study of the effects of an invasive pine scale insect on the national tree of the Turks and Caicos Islands – the Caicos pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis). This insect is making a huge impact on the populations of Caicos pine in the pineyards on this UK Overseas Territory (UKOT), and the resulting loss of tree cover is likely to affect other plants and animals found in this habitat.
Examining the effects of pine scale insect on an immature pine tree
What we did
My main research objectives were to:
- Undertake the first year of monitoring the effectiveness of various management practices on the numbers of invasive scale insects
- Estimate the size of the pine population and levels of decline
- Investigate the influence of the Caicos pine on the surrounding plant community
Harry Earle-Mundil (another Imperial College MSc student who carried out his dissertation project on TCI last year) set up a series of monitoring plots and began trials of different treatments to investigate their effects on the levels of scale insect infestation:
- Treatment 1: broadleaf clearance (clearing plants that are competing with the pines and which prevent new pine seedlings establishing themselves)
- Treatment 2: broadleaf clearance accompanied by spraying the pines with insecticidal soap
- These treatments were compared with control plots without any form of treatment.
Using the baseline data Harry collected, combined with data I collected this year, the effects of the treatments on the numbers of scale insects and health of the pines treated remain inconclusive, which is not surprising after only one year of monitoring. Continued monitoring is important for true trends to be determined.
Recording measurements of tagged pine seedlings in one of the monitoring plots
What we are finding
The total population of Caicos pine on the TCI is estimated at less than 735,000 with almost 99% of the live pines being immature (i.e. not yet producing cones and seeds). The three islands where the pine occurs show a variance in pine densities and population structures, and show a variety of different stages of succession towards the mature pineyard vegetation. The overall decline in pine numbers is estimated at almost 60%; however the decline of mature trees stands at almost 98%. Although mature pines can often survive fire, the majority of immature pines are likely to die if a fire spreads throughout the pineyards, after agricultural burning or a lightning strike, for example. With the huge decline of mature trees of reproductive age, a fire is likely to result in catastrophic effects on the population of Caicos pine.
On Middle Caicos, an increase in the number of dead pine trees was found to cause a significant reduction in the surrounding plant species richness, showing that the invasive scale insect also has a wider impact on the whole plant community within the pineyard. High densities of dead pine trees were also found to reduce the diversity of the surrounding plant community. In addition, areas with live mature pines showed different plant species compostion compared to those which had no surviving trees. This invasive scale insect therefore has the potential to affect the whole ecosystem, not just the Caicos pine.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the conservation work undertaken by the UKOTs team in the Turks and Caicos Islands and for the wealth of support received from the staff at both Kew and the Department of Environment and Coastal Resources in TCI. Although continued monitoring and further research is clearly needed, I am hopeful that the UKOTs team will be able to use these preliminary findings and that they will provide a solid foundation for the conservation of the Caicos pine.
- Sara -
Find out more
Earle-Mundil, H. (2010) Permanent monitoring plots for the national tree Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis and assessment of the distribution and conservation status of an associated endemic species Stenandrium carolinae in the Turks and Caicos Islands (pdf). (MSc dissertation)
Green, Sara (2011). The Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis): monitoring and ecology, in the Turks and Caicos Island (pdf). (MSc dissertation)
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Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
UKOTs bloggers (left to right): Sara Bárrios, Pat Griggs, Colin Clubbe, Marcella Corcoran, Tom Heller, Martin Hamilton.
Using modern plant specimens collected in the field and historic specimens held in Kew’s Herbarium, together with detailed habitat descriptions and other field information, we are documenting the plant diversity of the UKOTs. We are making this information accessible via the UKOTs Online Herbarium. This resource, together with the field research, enables us to undertake conservation assessments, produce Red Lists of threatened species, and rank potentially invasive species – all of which underpin the development of management plans to protect the UKOTs’ plant heritage.
The UKOTs bloggers are:
- Colin Clubbe (Head of UKOTs and Conservation Training)
- Martin Hamilton (UKOTs Programme Co-ordinator)
- Marcella Corcoran (UKOTs Programme Officer – Horticultural Liaison)
- Sara Bárrios (UKOTs Programme Officer – GSPC Targets 1&2 OTEP Project)
- Pat Griggs (UKOTs Public Engagement Officer)
- Tom Heller (UKOTs Millennium Seed Bank Officer)
Seed conservation in the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories: An excellent project bringing together UKOTs partners from across the Caribbean. I am working in BVI ... by: Martin
Investigating the plants of the Caribbean... on the outskirts of London!: Dear Andrew, I was very interested in reading your blog. As part of a project I am working on I ... by: eva
Tackling a spiny threat in the Falkland Islands: Really great to see the community involved in the invasive species control work. Keep up the battle!. by: Martin
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