A quantitative assessment of the vegetation types on the island of St. Eustatius, Dutch Caribbean
Caribbean dry forests are among the most endangered tropical ecosystems on earth. Several studies exist on their floristic composition and their recovery after natural or man-made disturbances, but little is known on the small Dutch Caribbean islands. In this study, we present quantitative data on plant species richness and abundance on St. Eustatius, one of the smallest islands of the Lesser Antilles. We collected and identified trees, shrubs, lianas and herbs in 11 plots of 25 x 25 m in different vegetation types. We compared their floristic composition and structure to vegetation surveys from roughly the same locations in the 1990s and 1950s. We found substantial differences among our 11 plots: vegetation types varied from evergreen forests to deciduous shrubland and open woodland. The number of tree species ≥10≥10 cm DBH ranged between one and 17, and their density between three and 82 per plot. In spite that all plots were subject to grazing by free roaming cattle, canopy height and floristic diversity have increased in the last decades. Invasive species are present in the open vegetation types, but not under (partly) closed canopy. Comparison with the earlier surveys showed that the decline of agriculture and conservation efforts resulted in the regeneration of dry forests between the 1950s and 2015. This process has also been reported from nearby islands and offers good opportunities for the future conservation of Caribbean dry forests.