Turks and Caicos Islands Pine Recovery Programme
The Caicos pine is under immediate threat from the invasive insect pest, pine tortoise scale. Kew’s UKOTs 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
Photo: Martin Hamilton
Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis is endemic to the Bahamas 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 (e.g. Imperial College MSc students) suggest 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.
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.
The TCI Pine Recovery Project consists of three 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.
Kew is providing botanical, horticultural, genetic, plant chemical 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 pine from across its range is being undertaken at Kew. By establishing a native pine nursery on Middle Caicos, the project aims to ensure the survival of the Caribbean pine in TCI, by providing accessible material for researchers and for trialling germination, propagation and cultivation protocols. GIS techniques will be used to map populations of Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis and the occurrence of pine scale infestations and to monitor the spread of the pest and its effect on the pineyards. Land has been identified by the TCI Government where re-introduction trials can be undertaken.
Project Leader: Hamilton, Martin A.
Conservation, Living Collections and Estates
Colin Clubbe, Martin Hamilton, Marcella Corcoran, Michele Sanchez
Herbarium, Library, Art and Archives
Susana Baena, Thomas Heller, Justin Moat
Mike Fay, Paul Green, Robyn Cowan
Imperial College, London, MSc Conservation Science students: Sophie Williams, Harry Earle-Mundil, Sara Green
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
Imperial College, London
UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum
Fera - The Food and Environment Research Agency
US Forest Service
The Nature Conservancy
Pine Rocklands Working Group
TCI Government Conservation Fund
Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP) - Project No. TCI 301, TCI 703
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, www.ukotcf.org
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, www.ukotcf.org
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
UKOTs blog post (August 2011) Insects and invasives: investigating threats to Turks and Caicos Islands plants