This catalog includes the 30 (sub)species of land snails known from Bonaire. It includes endemic and non-native species. These can be differentiated by their symbols.
The Caribbean Netherlands island of Saba is home to a unique but relatively unknown iguana population. Given the many threats faced by islands worldwide, including the Lesser Antilles and Saba, fieldwork was conducted in 2021 in order to bring attention to this unique species and the threats it faces. As on St. Eustatius, the most urgent threats appear to be low survival of hatchlings, limited nesting sites, and the presence of non-native iguanas.
Precise taxonomic status in discussion
Saba black iguana. Photo source: Thijs van den Burg
The iguana population on Saba forms part of a recently described species, Iguana melanoderma. Although there is no doubt about the unique appearance of the iguanas, experts are still deliberating over its exact taxonomic status. Despite this, it is clear that the population requires urgent protection given the number of threats it faces. The biggest concern is the presence of and possible further influx of non-native iguanas from nearby St. Maarten.
Thankfully more iguanas than originally thought
A recent study estimated the iguana population at just 200-300 individuals. This number is worrying and would be extremely concerning for the long-term survival of the population. However, because the data in the aforementioned study were preliminary, additional fieldwork was conducted on Saba in 2021. During this time, 38 transects were surveyed multiple times using distance sampling methodology, which allowed the population to be estimated more accurately. An unexpected positive result of this analysis is that the population is at least ten times larger than originally estimated, in the thousands rather than hundreds.
Saba black iguana. Photo source: Thijs van den Burg
More melanism at higher altitudes?
It is widely believed that black reptile species have evolved this color in order to be able to get warmer faster in colder climates, given that they are cold-blooded. This may also apply to the iguanas on Saba, which boasts the highest mountain in the Kingdom of the Netherlands: Mount Scenery (887m). This high volcano ensures that Saba is often cloudy, which could make it difficult for reptiles to get warm. However, we did not find any relationship between the extent of melanism and the elevation at which iguanas were found. In other words, iguanas that live higher up the volcano are not darker than iguanas at lower elevations.
Is there another explanation for why the iguanas on Saba are black? One hypothesis is that the original iguanas that established on Saba were already black. This is in line with the existence of partially black iguanas in Venezuela, which appear to be closely genetically related to the iguanas on Saba.
Few nest sites or juvenile iguanas
In order for successful reproduction and conservation of an iguana population, good quality nest sites are essential. It is well known that goats can destroy iguana nest sites through overgrazing, which leads to habitat destruction. Furthermore, goats can trample iguana nests and destroy the embryos inside eggs.
On Saba there is an enormous goat population (several thousands) which negatively impacts the island’s vegetation and causes erosion. During fieldwork we searched for iguana nest sites to evaluate their availability, distribution and quality. While this was not the main goal of the research, we were disappointed to find only four nest sites.
Juvenile iguana. Photo source: Thijs van den Burg
Another area of concern was the low number of juvenile iguanas found during fieldwork. Despite finding over 600 individuals, just 2.4% of these were juveniles or hatchlings. While the exact reason for this is unknown, one possible cause could be the feral cat population. Previous research on Saba demonstrated that feral cats exist in the lower altitudes of the island where they hunt for prey, which are exactly the same areas where iguanas prefer to nest. In fact, iguana remains were found in 9% of the cat scats examined.
Unfortunately, the situation for the melanistic iguana on Saba appears to be similar to that of the Lesser Antillean iguana on St. Eustatius, where the presence of cats and goats and an absence of suitable nest sites are well-known issues.
Remaining areas of concern
Despite the larger than expected iguana population on Saba, there are still many causes for concern. Clearly the species needs better protection as well as continued knowledge-building. Pressing concerns for the long-term existence of this species are the presence of free-roaming goats and feral cats, as well as the low number of juveniles and absence of suitable nest sites. However, by far the biggest threat is the presence of non-native iguanas which, though competitive hybridization, can mate with and thereby suppress the native population. During fieldwork, some individuals were found that looked different to the native iguana, and preliminary genetic research has confirmed that these animals were indeed invasive. This situation therefore requires the authorities to take immediate action in order to halt the invasion of non-native iguanas.
Published in BioNews 56.
The Red-bellied Racer (Alsophis rufiventris) is a harmless snake species that is native to the St. Christopher and Saba Banks. Today, it unfortunately only occurs on the islands of Saba and St. Eustatius, which represent just 11 % of the species’ original range. Previously the snake was also found on St. Kitts and Nevis, but was driven to extinction by the mongoose (Herpestes javanicus) following its introduction in the early 1900s. Little is known about the racer, which makes it an important species to study. However, studying snakes in their natural environment can be challenging due to their camouflage, secretive nature and cryptic behaviour.
On Saba and St. Eustatius, the racer plays a key role in the islands’ ecosystems by regulating small reptile and amphibian populations. Anoles, especially the endemic and highly abundant Anolis sabanus on Saba, and whistling frogs (Eleutherodactylus johnstonei) form an important food source for racers.
Red-bellied Racer on Saba (Photo: L. Mielke)
Despite the presence of invasive species such as black rats (Rattus rattus) and domestic cats (Felis catus), racer populations on Saba and St. Eustatius were previously described as “robust” and “abundant”, and were considered stable. For that reason, the species was downgraded from Endangered to Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2016. However, in September 2017, category 5 hurricanes Irma and Maria caused extensive damage to the natural ecosystems on both islands, resulting in habitat loss, reduced prey abundance and increased racer mortality, which raised concerns for the conservation status of this species.
In 2011, a group of students from the University of Puerto Rico visited St. Eustatius for one week, where they conducted some racer surveys in the Quill and Boven National Parks. In 2018 and 2019, RAVON interns Kevin Verdel and Brent Kaboord conducted extensive surveys in the parks to monitor racer populations following hurricane impacts. Until this year, however, no quantitative data had been collected on Saba. Between July and September 2021, Hannah Madden from the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute and volunteer Lara Mielke joined forces to conduct racer surveys on Saba. Replicating the methods used on St. Eustatius allowed us to compare the results from both islands and create a baseline for future research and conservation efforts.
Important food source for racers on Saba – the endemic Anolis sabanus (Photo: L. Mielke).
In cooperation with the Saba Conservation Foundation, Lara Mielke conducted line transect surveys along existing hiking trails, covering six different vegetation types and a range of elevations, from 100m to the top of Mount Scenery (870m). Occupancy modelling revealed that racers were present in all vegetation types and were more likely to be present at elevations over 400m. Distance analysis revealed a density estimate of 10.9 racers/hectare on Saba, which across the entire survey region (438.6 ha) gives an estimate of 4,917 racers. These results are similar to those from St. Eustatius, where racers were present in all vegetation types surveyed and mean abundance increased in line with elevation. However, density estimates from St. Eustatius were lower (9.9/ha in 2018 and 7.3 in 2019), with a population estimate of 3,915 racers across the study region (540 ha) in 2019. This suggests that the racer population on Saba is healthier than that on St. Eustatius, but this may be due to the fact that surveys on Saba were conducted later, giving the population more time to recover.
Red-bellied Racer along the Sandy-Cruz Trail on Saba (Photo: L. Mielke).
Unfortunately, few detailed studies exist on the ideal pre-hurricane density of A. rufiventris, however a 2016 study from Guana Island, British Virgin Islands, on the Puerto Rican Racer estimated 19/ha. While racer densities are likely to be species- and habitat-specific, based on literature describing pre-hurricane populations on Saba and St. Eustatius as “thriving”, it is highly likely that these suffered significant declines as a result of the hurricanes. The encounter rate of racers from St. Eustatius based on fieldwork in 2011 was estimated at 16/hour, which dropped to just 0.41/hr in 2019. On Saba, the current encounter rate estimate is 1.28/hr, thus while the species may have recovered since 2017, it is unlikely to be close to pre-hurricane levels.
Besides hurricanes, racer populations face a suite of additional threats on both islands, including ongoing habitat destruction and predation by invasive species. We are extremely concerned about the impacts of free-roaming domestic cats on racers, which appear to be especially pervasive on Saba. Saba residents continue to import pet cats from St. Maarten, despite this being prohibited by a local invasive species ordinance. Consequently, enforcement of legislation and prevention of local extinction should be a top conservation priority on both islands, especially given the species’ extremely limited range.
Domestic cat preying on a Red-bellied Racer on Saba (Photo: B. Noort).
Article published in BioNews 49
Action Plan for Yellow-shouldered Amazon consists of:
- Threats: habitat loss. poaching, climate changes
- Management goals
- Recommendations: management, legislation, enforcement, science and monitoring, stakeholders, networking, information-education
- Gaps: weak island legislation, poor understanding population dynamics, poor knowledge of population distribution and foraging areas
- General Information: description and biology
The Lesser Antilles is part of the Caribbean biodiversity hotspot and a priority for conservation of its flora is its endemic taxa. Using data from herbarium specimen labels, we recently carried out a preliminary conservation assessment of the 263 seed plant taxa unique to these islands, reporting that 70% of them are potentially threatened. In an effort to make conservation recommendations for the threatened species, we have further analyzed the specimen data for patterns in their distribution. We found that just over ⅓ of the region’s endemics are restricted to a single island, and the majority of these are only found at a single location, whereas the others are found at multiple sites on each island. Diversity of regional endemics appears to be associated with larger islands, and while there appears to be a loose correlation between areas of high diversity of regional endemics and local endemism, there are a number of isolated centers of local endemism scattered across the island chain that may be of particular conservation concern. We also detected a relationship between diversity and elevation, with a peak in the number of endemic species occurred at midelevations (400–800 m). This correlation translates to a relationship between endemism and habitat type, with elevated numbers of endemics found in rainforest and elfin woodland, both communities that typically occur at mid- to high elevations, respectively. The highest proportion of threatened taxa is found in restricted and fragmented communities (elfin woodland, summit-herb vegetation, river bank, and moist forest) and the lowest proportion is found in the largest, most contiguous community (rainforest). Focused conservation action should occur in these important areas where plant endemism is locally high and habitat types are restricted and fragmented.
ABSTRACT Two new members of the Caribbean Province endemic conid genus Tenorioconus Petuch and Drolshagen, 2011 are described from the Netherlands Antilles island of Aruba. One of the new species, Tenorioconus monicae n. sp., was found to belong to the Tenorioconus mappa species complex and is most similar to the Venezuelan coastal species T. sanguineus (Kiener, 1850) and T. caracanus (Hwass, 1792). The other new species, T. rosi n. sp., was found to belong to the T. aurantius species complex and is most similar to the Aruban endemic T. curassaviensis (Hwass, 1792) and the Curacao and Bonaire endemic T. aurantius (Hwass, 1792). The discovery of these two new taxa demonstrates that three distinct, endemic species of Tenorioconus occur in shallow water areas around Aruba.
Since the publication of a checklist of Lesser Antilles’ orchids not far of twenty years ago, the orchid family has been the subject of many studies and publications, including extensive taxonomic revisions, thanks to the use of molecular tools and to the improvement of data availability through Internet (virtual herbariums on line). The knowledge of his family and on its distribution has been largely improved. The analysis of these new data and of in situ intensive prospections has given a number of 138 species recorded in the Lesser Antilles (in March 2012), 130 of them being native. This apparently stable number compared to the 1993’s checklist comes from the suppression of some species and the addition of others. It is also a consequence of taxonomic changes for around one third of the taxa. Guadeloupe remains the richest island with 103 recorded species, followed by Dominica, with 90 species and Martinique with 80 species. Examination of all the types specimen on one island’s endemics does not support the endemism level sometimes described. There are only 5 true one-island endemic species, 3 to Guadeloupe (Basse Terre), one to Dominica and one to Montserrat. The rate of endemism in the Lesser Antilles is 16%, and 27% of the Lesser Antillean orchids are endemics to the West Indies.
The UK has sovereignty over 16 Overseas Territories, which hold some of the world’s great seabird colonies and collectively support more endemic and globally threatened bird species than the whole of mainland Europe. Invasive alien mammalian predators have spread throughout most of the Territories, primarily since European expansion in the 16th century. Here we review and synthesize the scale of their impacts, historical and current, actions to reduce and reverse these impacts, and priorities for conservation. Mammalian predators have caused a catastrophic wave of extinctions and reductions in seabird colony size that mark the UKOTs as a major centre of global extinction. Mammal-induced declines of threatened endemics and seabird colonies continue, with four Critically Endangered endemics on Gough Island (Tristan da Cunha), St Helena and Montserrat directly threatened by invasive alien House Mice Mus musculus, Feral Cats Felis catus and rats Rattus spp. Action to reduce these threats and restore islands has been modest in comparison with other developed countries, although some notable successes have occurred and a large number of ambitious eradication and conservation plans are in preparation. Priority islands for conservation action against mammalian predators include Gough (which according to one published prioritization scheme is the highest-ranked island in the world for mammal eradication), St Helena and Montserrat, but also on Tris- tan da Cunha, Pitcairn and the Falkland Islands. Technical, financial and political will is required to push forward and fund the eradication of invasive mammalian predators on these islands, which would significantly reduce extinction risk for a number of globally threatened species.
The original description of Ipomoea sphenophylla by Urban in 1908, based upon a fruiting specimen, did not include a description of the flowers. The holotype was subsequently lost and plants in flower were recol- lected in 1994; a neotype was then designated by Howard and McDonald in 1995. An amended description of the species was also supplied, detailing the characteristics of the cotyledons, a swollen root system, and dimorphic flowers. The flowers were described as including a more common morph with a normal funnelform corolla, and an abnormal morph having a 3–5 polypetalous corolla. Presently, both morphs occur together on one sterile indi- vidual that is located in the area where the neotype was collected. We have examined approximately 150 addi- tional plants, and all contain funnelform flowers. The polypetalous morphology is therefore atypical of Ipomoea sphenophylla. The species description is emended and the reference to polypetalous flowers is removed.
In the present note, we revise the scorpion fauna of the small island of Sint Eustatius, in the Lesser Antilles. A total of two families, three genera and three species are confirmed to occur there: the buthids Centruroides barbudensis (Pocock, 1898) and Isometrus maculatus (DeGeer, 1778), and the scorpionid Oiclus purvesii (Becker, 1880). These include the first record of the occurrence in Sint Eustatius of the family Scorpionidae and the genus Oiclus Simon, 1880, as well as the first published findings of I. maculatus since 1942. A key to the easy identification of all three species is provided.