The pteridophytes (ferns) of Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda have been of the islands' least studied and understood groups of plants. Unfortunately, many are quite rare. In the past four years, and particularly in the past year, several species have been newly added to the country plant record. The current national list stands at over 100 species. Most are found in the volcanic southwest, with some narrowly restricted to moist sheltered valleys. Some species are rarely seen, and a few have not been observed for more than 30 years.
Since April 2011, the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) and Kevel Lindsay have embarked on a project, titled, The Conservation of Ferns of Antigua and Barbuda and their Forest (TCFABF), to survey and survey the nation's ferns, looking at their distribution, habitats, threats and their conservation needs.
Since then the organization has produced the report: Protecting Native Pteridophytes in Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda: A Conservation Perspective. This document forms part if a larger effort, which focuses on the regional range-restricted ferns-species of which are only known from one small population or from areas less than a few hundred square meters in extent. The project highlights the plight of these ferns and their ecosystems, and in addition to the Conservation Perspective, it has published a Regional Red List of the islands' ferns and fern allies. In June 2013, an Atlas and Guide to the ferns of these islands was produced and is being reviewed for eventual printing.
The project's overall aim was to strengthen national biodiversity conservation by highlighting the enormous challenges that the species face, and use them as a vehicle to promote forest protection, and management.
The main objectives of the fern project were:
I. To survey and determine the status of the ferns of the country and highlight species of critical concern;
II. To survey and determine the taxonomy and conservation status of the West Indian range-restricted endemic ferns and other rare species, including: Adiantum pyramidale, Adiantum cf. melanoleucum, Pityrogramma chrysophylla and possibly Asplenium cf. ocoense, Adiantum fragile, Ophioglossum harrisii, Marsilea nashii, Asplenium barbadense, Thelypteris patens, Thelypteris hispidula var. inconstans and Pteridium caudatum;
III. To increase the awareness of the value of native ferns and in cooperation with local stakeholders, develop effective guidelines and measures for the conservation and protection of their habitats;
IV. To develop a national conservation perspective for the recovery of the range-restricted fern species;
V. To develop a much better understanding of the distribution of ferns and their conservation status GIS and GPS mapping of this data; and
VI. To produce a National Red List of ferns.
Though ferns are recognized for their horticultural value, imparting great joy and wonder to gardeners and others, their role in the natural environment is less obvious or understood. They, like other plants, are important in their own right, and are a significant part of the country's biodiversity heritage. In some Antigua's forest ecosystems for example, ferns often make up the bulk of the ground cover on the forest floor, and therefore, are a significant part of the forest biomass, contributing significantly to the nutrient and water cycles of the upper layers of the soil.
It is critical that the islands' native pteridophyte flora be protected. The loss of the ferns and their allies would not only be a blow to the psyche and culture of Antigua and Barbuda (because the country loses yet again a part of native natural heritage, and it has already lost so much), but it would also cause tremendous damage to the islands' ecological framework. Pteridophytes are great environmental indicators, and because many species are habitat-specific, they can provide important clues as to changes that may occur, including the quality of the habitat, the effects of deforestation and fragmentation on the long-term ecological processes and stability of an area, and even on the potential impacts of global Climate Change on the forests.
By focusing on ferns, this project has been supporting a long-term integrated conservation approach in order to address both acute and broad conservation issues, including the plight of regional (West Indian) plant and bird endemics, and critical ecosystems. This project forms part of an ongoing plant conservation programme being led by the EAG in Antigua, and supports the organization's long-term goal to conserve and protect the country's native biodiversity; developing a pteridophyte Red List and the Conservation Perspective are two significant parts of achieving this.
The purpose of this the Conservation Perspective is:
• To bring together paleontological, historical, geological, ecological and other key information on the islands ferns together to create a unique local perspective on the islands' pteridophyte flora ;
• To be a basis for input to new environmental protection legislation in Antigua & Barbuda;
• To encourage, promote and instill greater research into the pteridophyte and other flora of these islands;
• To increase the conservation and protection of native ferns and their habitats;
• To be one of the focal points for native plant and habitat protection in Antigua and Barbuda; and
• To increase the awareness and understanding of the pteridophyte flora.
The project has also conducted over two years of extensive field surveys and assessments in Antigua and on Barbuda visiting the islands during different seasons to understand the species and lives of the ferns under variable seasonal conditions and events. As a result, Kevel Lindsay has amassed thousands of photographs and archival documents and other material on the islands fern flora, landscapes, events, issues, other plant species and animals.
The CFABF project has also developed an Atlas and Guide to the ferns of all three islands. The book is now being reviewed and should soon be ready for printing (once funding is secured for this phase). It is over 300 pages covering over 100 species of the islands ferns, including over 400 photographs, maps and descriptive information on the species and their habitats. The Atlas aims to provide Antiguans and Barbudans and the rest of the world with insight and understanding of the peculiarities of the islands' fern flora, their conservation status and distributions, and also to highlight just how beautiful and fantastic they are and that they must be protected.
The TCFABF has been a remarkable project that has implications that go far beyond the species of ferns or their habitats. The project has provided lead scientist and research, Kevel Lindsay, with the opportunity to carry out much more widespread observations and examination of other species of plants, animals, habitats, environmental issues, climate and weather events, and human-environmental interactions.
Research into the species of ferns have allowed for the assessment of photos and images from 2005 to 2013, and has resulted in new plant species records for Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda, approaching about 200, including new plant species records for the Lesser Antilles, for Antigua, for Barbuda, many as yet to be identified and some quite puzzling. This indicates that there is a tremendous amount that we yet don't know and understand about the islands' biodiversity and habitats, and that there is an urgent need for more research, documentation and assessment, as well as effective local conservation intervention.
The additional findings and results as a result of this project include:
- Found potentially new fern records even after field work has been completed and the Atlas and Guide is being finalized. This may include previously unreported hybrid between two ferns: Diddymoglossum krausii and a D. punctatum var., something that has not been reported in scientific publications previously. Further field study over the coming years needs to be undertaken to confirm this occurrence;
- Found over 200 new or yet to be determined (unknown) plant species records for the islands. This number may increase to over 400 once further fieldwork is carried out;
- The rediscovery of many "lost" species of native plants;
- The identification of several new potential invasive plant and animal species;
- An opportunity to observe and record some the potential effects and impacts of Climate Change and Sea Level Rise;
- An opportunity to observe the effects of severe weather events on ferns, other plants and wild animals, including one of the driest annual dry seasons, the annual dry season of 2013;
- The opportunity to photograph some of the most spectacular and intriguing landscapes, events, geological and landscape features, rare species and other plants; and
- Added a great sense of urgency and importance to the development of a comprehensive and effective native plants conservation programme for the EAG, including a native plant nursery, garden and repository for rare and endangered native plants species as a safe-guard and security for the long-term, with a view toward eventual habitat and species restoration and species repatriation, as well as increasing biodiversity education and awareness.
Projects such as TCFABF offer countries and territories with limited financial, human and institutional infrastructure and resources an opportunity to carry out much needed research, to create effective human resource and information networks, create and develop other related project frameworks, build human resource capacity, increase awareness and motivation, further develop data, research and image archives for long-term research, and for the development of effective on-the-ground conservation and management regimes.
As the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG) and Kevel Lindsay move to the next stage, focus has now shifted to the development of long-term plant conservation efforts, including collecting genetic materials of rare and endangered native plant species for propagation and curation at a secure garden facility. This will ensure that the species survive and that the islands have sustainable populations for the future.
The project is under the auspices of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG). Established June 1988 EAG Mission: (a) To raise public awareness of the values of – and threats to - natural resources and to promote their sustainable management. (b) Motivate and promote civil society participation in environmental decision-making and management. (c) Support and undertake natural resource conservation projects that develop a better understanding of the use and management of natural resources. (d) Advocate and support policies, legislation and programmes which support sustainable use and management of natural resources. (e) Fundraising, soliciting, receiving and accepting financial assistance, donations, endowments, gifts (both intervivos and testamentary) and loans of or any interest in money, lands, or other property whatsoever whether real or personal to further the aims and objectives of the Organisation. The objective of the EAG is: to raise public awareness of the values of – and threats to - our natural resources and to promote their sustainable management. The project will be located in the country of Antigua, Barbuda and Redonda, which consist of three major islands (Antigua 281 km2, Barbuda 161 km2 and Redonda 1.6 km2.) The islands are situated in the Leeward Islands, Lesser Antilles; 402 km east of the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico. The organisation is concerned about all native species, their habitats and needs. It currently has several ongoing projects, including efforts to conserve the world's rarest snake, the Antigua Racer (Alsophis antiguae), a native plant conservation project, the Antigua and Barbuda Plant Conservation Project (ABPCP), which resulted in the book – The Wild Plants of Antigua and Barbuda: An Illustrated Guide to the Vascular Native and Naturalised Plants http://www.eagantigua.org/page545.html, a sea turtle nest monitoring programme, and a Livestock Reform Initiative, funded by USAID, a project to address the adverse impacts of feral and uncontrolled livestock, and which “...aims to address this problem through a combination of legal work, awareness and training videos, media events and surveys.” Further information on the EAG's areas of focus on species and nature conservation can be found at http://www.eagantigua.org/page53.html. The organisation is focused on all native habitat types, including mangroves and other wetlands, moist, deciduous, dry and xeric forest and marine communities.
Project 11251542 location - Antigua and Barbuda, North America