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Turks and Caicos Islands Pine Recovery Programme

The Caicos pine is under immediate threat from the non-native invasive insect pest, the pine tortoise scale. Kew's UKOT Programme is working with local and international partners on the Caicos Pine Recovery Project to save the tree from extirpation through in situ and ex situ conservation measures.
Pinelands devastated by invasive scale insect.

Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis is endemic to the Bahaman Archipelago where it is the National Tree of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI), a UK Overseas Territory. It is the dominant species in TCI's pineyards (known internationally as a pine rockland ecosystem), which are open savannahs subject to regular burning caused naturally by lightning strikes. The pineyards provide habitats for other unique plants and animals. 

In 2005, a joint UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum (UKOTCF), Turks and Caicos National Trust (TCNT) and Kew field trip discovered that the pineyards on Middle Caicos had been infested by a scale insect which was attacking the pine trees. This introduced pest, subsequently identified as the pine tortoise scale (Toumeyella parvicornis), reduces the vigour of the trees, causes dieback, curtails seed production, and often leads to mortality of the pine trees.

Sugary honeydew secreted by the insects provides nutrients for a sooty mould, which covers the pine-needles and understorey plants in the pineyards and inhibits plant growth. Fieldwork and research undertaken by project staff and international partners (eg Imperial College MSc students, Birkbeck University of London/Kew PhD candidate) revealed that the entire P. caribaea var. bahamensis population on TCI is under threat from the pest, with potentially highly detrimental effects on the pineyard ecosystem (Earle-Mundil, 2010, Green, 2011, Sanchez, 2012). This level of threat in TCI and the impact of hurricanes, introduced pests and development on this species in the Bahamas, justified the recent assessment of the Caicos pine as Vulnerable in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (Sanchez, Hamilton & Farjon, 2012).

Prior to 2005, the pine tortoise scale was unknown in the Caribbean and had never been found on the Caribbean pine. It is native to northern USA, where its population growth is controlled by the severe winters. On TCI it can grow and reproduce unchecked by climate or predators (Malumphy et al., 2012).

Crucial steps in rescuing and monitoring these pine trees in TCI and understanding the species biology and ecological associations have already been taken in the past six years through collaborative work between Kew and TCI Government partners in the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) and Department of Agriculture (DoA), amongst others.

The TCI Pine Recovery Project consists of seven main elements:

  • establishing ex situ pine tree collections
  • mapping and monitoring the extent of pine tortoise scale infestation and the occurrence of resistant trees
  • developing an international Caicos pine recovery working group
  • using scientific research as a basis for delivering protocols for species conservation and management
  • using controlled prescribed fire as a pine forest recovery and management tool
  • building local capacity
  • raising awareness locally and internationally on TCI’s pine forest ecosystem and major threats

Kew is providing botanical, horticultural, genetic, plant chemical, mycological, ecological and GIS support for the TCI Pine Recovery Project. It is training project staff and volunteers in plant material collection, curation and propagation and in nursery management as well as in field data collection and analysis. 

Genetic analysis of the Caicos pine from across its range using microsatellite markers has been undertaken at Kew and has shown genetic differences in the pines from the Bahamas and TCI (Sanchez et al., 2014). Current genetic research focus on assessing the genetic diversity of the ex situ pine collection and wild trees in TCI to guide future conservation and management.

The establishment of a native pine nursery on North Caicos, has ensured the survival of the Caribbean pine in TCI, by providing accessible material for researchers and for trialling germination, propagation and cultivation protocols. Currently there are hundreds of pines growing in the nursery and many of them have already been planted in restoration plots in Pine Cay or in the North Caicos pine seed orchard. Propagation, cultivation and seed collection protocols are under development.

GIS techniques have been used to map populations of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis (Sanchez, 2012) and the occurrence of pine scale infestations and to monitor the spread of the pest and its effect on the pineyards. Models for the effect of hurricanes on the pine forests have also been developed. Current GIS research will focus on using unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) to map the existing extent of the pine forests on TCI and forest decline.

Samples of pine needles and volatile compounds in TCI and Bahamas have been analysed at Kew to identify the chemical composition of healthy and infested trees, and to look for trends and local differences in tree resistance to pest attack. Initial data showed the presence of hundreds of compounds and variation in the levels of the major ten compounds in different islands (Green et al. In press). Further chemical analysis is on-going.

The presence of ectomycorrhizal fungi (ECM) in pine roots from the Bahamas and TCI is being investigated at Kew, as this mutualism in Pinaceae is crucial in the early stages of pine seedling establishment and under adverse conditions such as drought and pest attack. So far, four generalist ECM fungi and one pine specific, Rhizopogon sp., were detected. Knowledge on the ECM status of these pines and other co-occurring ECM plants will be important in restoration strategies.

Restoration ecology specialists from Kew are also gathering scientific data e.g. water stress levels in the Caicos pine, soil composition, seedling survival, reproduction potential and rainfall, from TCI’s pine forests for a Population Viability Analysis (PVA) and restoration protocols.

Land has been identified by the TCI Government where re-introduction trials can be undertaken. Initial restoration trials are being undertaken on Pine Cay. There are now six restoration plots and pine tree survival rates are very high.

Two controlled prescribed fires have been successfully carried out in the Middle Caicos pine forest, led by US fire specialists. The first area burnt in 2012 is showing signs of improved pine regeneration and increased pine health. Fire breaks have been set up on Middle Caicos and an additional two prescribed fires are scheduled during the project.

 

Publications:

Green, P.W.C., Hamilton, M.A., Sanchez, M.D., Corcoran, M.R., Manco, B.N., Salamanca, E., Malumphy, C.P. (in press). The scope for using the volatile profiles of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis as indicators of susceptibility to pine tortoise scale and as predictors of environmental stresses. Chemistry & Biodiversity.

Sanchez, M., Ingrouille, M.J., Cowan, R.S., Hamilton, M.A. and Fay, M.F. (2014). Spatial structure and genetic diversity of natural populations of the Caribbean pine, Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis (Pinaceae), in the Bahaman archipelago. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society 174: 359-383. DOI: 10.1111/boj.12146. Available online.

Sanchez, M., Hamilton, M.A. & Farjon, A. (2013). Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. Available online.

Sanchez M, Hamilton MA and Farjon A. (2013). Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis, In: Threatened Conifers of The World. Available online.

Malumphy, C., Hamilton, M.A., Manco, B.N., Green, P.W.C., Sanchez, M.D., Corcoran, M. and Salamanca, E. (2012). Toumeyella parvicornis (Hemiptera: Coccidae), causing severe decline of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Florida Entomologist 95: 113-119. Available online.

Manco, B.N. (2010). Lessons from the Caicos Pine Scale. pp 274-278 in Making the Right Connections: a conference on conservation in UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and other small island communities, Grand Cayman 30th May to 5th June 2009 (ed. by M. Pienkowski, O. Cheesman, C. Quick & A. Pienkowski). UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. Available online.

Hamilton, M. (2007). Turks and Caicos Islands Invasive Pine Scale. pp 208-213 in Biodiversity That Matters: a conference on conservation in UK Overseas Territories and other small island communities, Jersey 6th to 12th October 2006 (ed. M. Pienkowski). UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. Available online.

PhD Thesis:

Sanchez, M. (2012) Conservation genetics and biogeography of the Caribbean pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis) in the Bahaman archipelago. Unpublished Ph.D. Thesis, Birkbeck, University of London. Available online.

Project partners and collaborators

Turks and Caicos Islands

  • Turks and Caicos National Trust
  • Department of Environment and Coastal Resources, Government of TCI
  • Department of Environmental Health, Government of TCI
  • The Meridian Club, Pine Cay

UK

  • Imperial College, London
  • Birkbeck, University of London
  • FERA - The Food and Environment Research Agency

USA

  • US Forest Service
  • The University of the South, Tennessee
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Pine Rocklands Working Group

Project funders

 

Turks and Caicos Islands
TCI Government Conservation Fund

UK

Darwin Plus- Project No. DPLUS016 ‘Caicos pine forests: mitigation for climate change and invasive species'

John Ellerman Foundation

Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) - Project No. TCI 301, TCI 703

Annex material


Conference papers and reports:

Hamilton, M. (2007). Turks and Caicos Islands Invasive Pine Scale. pp 208-213 in Biodiversity That Matters: a conference on conservation in UK Overseas Territories and other small island communities, Jersey 6th to 12th October 2006 (ed. M. Pienkowski). UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. Available online.

Manco, B.N. (2010). Lessons from the Caicos Pine Scale. pp 274-278 in Making the Right Connections: a conference on conservation in UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and other small island communities, Grand Cayman 30th May to 5th June 2009 (ed. by M. Pienkowski, O. Cheesman, C. Quick & A. Pienkowski). UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. Available online.

MSc Theses:

Williams, S. (2009) The Identification and Conservation of Important Plant Areas: A case study from the Turks and Caicos Islands. Available online.

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. Available online.

Green, Sara (2011). The Caribbean Pine (Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis): monitoring and ecology, in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Available online.