A 200-year time series of incubation temperatures and primary sex ratios for green (Chelonia mydas), hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) and leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea) sea turtles nesting in St. Eustatius (North East Caribbean)was created by combining sand temperature measurementswith historical and current environmental data and climate projections. Rainfall and spring tides were important because they cooled the sand and lowered incubation temperatures. Mean annual sand temperatures are currently 31.0 °C (SD = 1.6) at the nesting beach but show seasonality, with lower temperatures (29.1–29.6 °C) during January–March and warmer temperatures (31.9–33.3 °C) in June–August. Results suggest that all three species have had female-biased hatchling production for the past decades with less than 15.5%, 36.0%, and 23.7% males produced every year for greens, hawksbills and leatherbacks respectively since the late nineteenth century. Global warming will exacerbate this female-skew. For example, projections indicate that only 2.4% of green turtle hatchlings will be males by 2030, 1.0% by 2060, and 0.4% by 2090. On the other hand, future changes to nesting phenology have the potential to mitigate the extent of feminisation. In the absence of such phenological changes, management strategies to artificially lower incubation temperatures by shading nests or relocating nest clutches to deeper depths may be the only way to prevent the localised extinction of these turtle populations.
Reptiles & amphibians
Aim Our aim was to investigate genetic structure in Neotropical populations of common green iguanas (Iguana iguana) and to compare that structure with past geological events and present barriers. Additionally, we compared levels of divergence between lineages within Iguana with those within closely related genera in the subfamily Iguaninae. Location Neotropics. Methods DNA sequence data were collected at four loci for up to 81 individuals from 35 localities in 21 countries. The four loci, one mitochondrial (ND4) and three nuclear (PAC, NT3, c-mos), were chosen for their differences in coalescent and mutation rates. Each locus was analysed separately to generate gene trees, and in combination in a species-level analysis. Results The pairwise divergence between Iguana delicatissima and I. iguana was much greater than that between sister species of Conolophus and Cyclura and non-sister species of Sauromalus, at both mitochondrial (mean 10.5% vs. 1.5–4%, respectively) and nuclear loci (mean 1% vs. 0–0.18%, respectively). Furthermore, divergences within I. iguana were equal to or greater than those for interspecific comparisons within the outgroup genera. Phylogenetic analyses yielded four strongly supported, geographically defined mitochondrial clades (3.8–5% divergence) within I. iguana. Three of the four clades were found using PAC (0.18–1.65% divergence) and two using NT3 (0.6% divergence) alone. The primary divergence, recovered in three polymorphic loci, was between individuals north and south of the Isthmus of Panama. The southern group was differentiated into clades comprising individuals on either side of the northern Andes, using both PAC and ND4. Main conclusions Deep genetic divergences were found within I. iguana that are congruent with past and current geological barriers. These divisions are greater than sister species comparisons in other Iguaninae genera, indicating the possible presence of cryptic species. Geological changes from the midMiocene through the Plio-Pleistocene have shaped the pattern of divergence in I. iguana. The uplift of the northern Andes presented a barrier between South American I. iguana populations by 4 Ma. Populations north of the Isthmus of Panama form a clade that is distinct from those to the south, and may have expanded northwards following the closing of the Isthmus of Panama 2.5 Ma
The endangered Lesser Antillean Iguana, Iguana delicatissima, is an emblematic species for the island of St. Eustatius and in Caribbean Netherlands it is only found on St. Eustatius. In this study we conducted an extensive population survey for the iguana and compared densities in different areas to densities documented most recently in 2004. We conducted 39 field surveys and spent a total of 80 hours and 21 minutes searching for iguanas. We covered 63,672 m of trails and tracks and found only 22 iguanas. An overall average of 3.70 hours were searched for each iguana found. Due to the low encounter rates, detailed estimation and comparison of population densities remain problematic. Overall population density was 0.35 iguanas per hectare which represents 0.5-1% of densities documented elsewhere in healthy populations. Current population densities have declined across all habitats since the 2004 survey. Iguana encounter rates and densities in natural habitat were highest for the region where the northern hills abut onto the central plain. Island-wide, those areas provide the best combination of sun, shelter, food and potential for nesting sites. The population of the Lower Town sector, indicated in 2004 as the most dense and promising subpopulation, has all but disappeared. Island-wide, the residential estate subdivisions remains the second-most important area for the iguana.
We conclude that even though several valuable conservation measures are in place (e.g. establishment of legally protected parks, designation as a legally protected species and a successfully-run awareness campaign), the status of the iguana has not improved significantly in the last 8 years. Our results show that compared to 2004 when the population was estimated to number 425 (275-650) animals, current population size certainly lies on the low side of this range. This is far below the required minimum viable population size of 5000 animals and means that the iguana is critically endangered on St. Eustatius. It is readily vulnerable to extirpation on the island. Human hunting is likely a minor problem, shelter and food availability on the island are abundant, and invasive predator densities in the wild are relatively low. Of the 28 documented instances of death or endangerment of iguanas during the study period, most were attributable to anthropogenic causes. Suitable nesting sites for the iguana appear very limited, especially due to a combination of geology and vegetation. Therefore, lack of nesting sites and high iguana mortalities due to anthropogenic causes are suggested as the two core factors limiting recovery of the iguana on St. Eustatius .
The following management measures are proposed:
1. Protect current populations by:
- Prevention of introduction of invasive species
(Train and equip border officials to prevent potential entry of the mongoose and the Green Iguana from neighbouring islands),
- Enforcement and upgrading of legal protection
(Implement enforcement and upgrade protective legislation),
- Development and protection of additional nesting sites
(Develop and maintain new additional nesting habitat, a measure that is both easy and inexpensive),
- Establishment of an “iguana-friendly yard” programme
(Establish a programme to promote “iguana-friendly” gardens, as the main means of reducing cumulative mortality).
2. Increase the biological knowledge about the iguana by conducting studies for a better knowledge of the critical biological parameters,
3. Create public awareness for the plight of the species,
4. Establish a small, local husbandry project.
(Development of an in situ husbandry and breeding project could serve a pivotal role in bolstering the other core program themes and especially offers a relaxed setting in which islanders can experience the iguana as the gentle and beautiful animal that it is).
This report is part of the Wageningen University BO research program (BO-11-011.05-004) and was financed by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) under project number 4308701004.
The Dutch Windward Islands (St. Eustatius, Saba, St. Maarten) support a collective herpetofauna consisting of two frogs (both introduced), six turtles (one introduced, one of uncertain origin, and four sea turtles, of which three are known to nest in the islands), 15 or 16 lizards (depending on whether the iguanas of Saba are a species distinct from Iguana iguana), and three snakes (one introduced). Although politically united, the islands are distinct biogeographic entities and binary similarity indices for the herpetofauna are 0.38 for St. Eustatius/Saba, 0.35 for St. Eustatius/St. Maarten, and 0.20 for Saba/St. Maarten (with values varying only little when the introduced species are included). Only three species, Eleutherodactylus johnstonei, Hemidactylus mabouia, and Thecadactylus rapicauda, are found on all three islands. Species given formal recognition as being in need of protection include the sea turtles (listed in CITES appendices and the IUCN Redlist), Geochelone carbonaria (CITES), Iguana delicatissima (CITES and IUCN), Iguana iguana (CITES), and two species of Alsophis (IUCN). Other species of conservation concern include two species of Ameiva, both of which are restricted to areas of considerable human activity on islands where mongooses (Herpestes javanicus) are established, and Mabuya sp., which may be extirpated on St. Maarten. Three factors largely responsible for the status of these species are: (1) large size and economic value (turtles and iguanas), (2) persecution by people who fear them (snakes), and (3) diurnally active, terrestrial, and vulnerable to predation by mongooses (snakes, Ameiva, Mabuya). Non-governmental organizations on each island are largely responsible for conservation and related educational efforts. Specific recommendations for each island are listed.
A preliminary inventory is given of key terrestrial nature values of Bonaire in order to determine their occurrence in relation to areas designated as “nature” and “open landscape”, according to the Spatial development plan of Bonaire. This was based on a literature study and supplemented by expert advice.
In 2010 a spatial development plan was written in order to determine the spatial policy and regulation for the future development of Bonaire. The island was partitioned into areas for different uses such as agriculture and recreation. Two specific designations are “nature” and “open landscape”. The occurrence of nature values within these areas remained unclear. This makes implementation of protective measures based on international treaties and island legislation problematic. An inventory of the occurrence of these values should help facilitate more effective implementation of these protective measures. In the present study key nature values are determined, both in terms of protected species and essential habitat (e.g. caves).
From the literature study it became apparent that data on the occurrence of most of the priority species of flora and fauna, is limited and scattered, especially with respect to “open landscape” and “nature” outside parks. Therefore, only a preliminary inventory is provided showing the general distribution of nature values across the entire island, as linked to various habitat types. An exact distribution of the different nature values was not possible at this time, but extrapolation from areas of known occurrence into other areas of similar habitat type was used to show the occurrence of overlapping distributions of nature values within the designated areas of “nature” and “open landscape”. The number of overlapping distributions of nature values may contribute to setting conservation priorities.
From the results it can be concluded that the areas of “open landscape” and “nature” (outside the national parks) seem to harbour unique and critical nature values. These areas are not actively managed or protected as national parks. The “open landscape” of Bolivia possibly harbours a few rare plant species (unique), an important population of critical key columnar cacti and at least two columnar cactus-pollinating bat species. The “open landscape” of Washikemba/Bakuna harbours key mangrove species that only have another main location at Lac Bay (national park). The “nature” area of Terrace Landscape Middle Bonaire seems to harbour a concentration of unique (e.g. Tillandsia balbisiana) and rare plant species (e.g. Krugiodendron ferreum etc.) and four bat species. The same is the case for Lima (e.g. Sabal palm, Maytenus versluysii and three bat species) while in Southern Bonaire key mangrove species also still occur. Table 1 shows which nature values are found or expected to occur within each “open landscape” and “nature” (outside national parks) area.
It can be concluded that outside the current parks, the main regions that harbour a concentration of key nature values are Terrace Landscape Middle Bonaire/Sta. Barbara, Bolivia, Washikemba/Bakuna and Lima. Terrace Landscape Middle Bonaire is designated as “nature” area, while Washikemba/Bakuna and Bolivia are in part designated as “open landscape”. Lima has both “nature” and “open landscape” designations. Sta. Barbara is designated for other uses, but the present review shows that the occurrence of several significant nature values is likely within this area.
Additionally, based on the preliminary inventory, the combination of apparent concentrations of rare plants, occurrence of critical bat species and the high probability of corridor values show that the areas of Terrace Landscape Middle Bonaire/Sta. Barbara and Lima are important areas concerning conservation and further research. The areas of Bolivia and Washikemba/Bakuna follow closely.
To be able to implement the necessary protective measures within these areas, it is recommended that more extensive research through fieldwork is done, in order to obtain a complete inventory of the different nature values found on Bonaire, not only in the areas of “nature” and “open landscape” but also in areas with other designations. Additionally, it is recommended to assess the list of vulnerable and endangered species (‘Informatieblad beschermde dier- en plantensoorten Bonaire’) as certain species that may be of importance to Bonaire are not included.
When executing a complete and extensive inventory of Bonaire it would be of value to also determine the ecological conditions needed for the different species to survive. Based on the ecological conditions necessary for their life functions, it may be possible to pinpoint those areas of main ecological importance per species. A complete inventory of the nature values on the island can contribute to better management of nature values (e.g. determining the distribution of caves and the distribution, health status and diversity of keystone cacti species for better management of bat populations). It is also recommended to determine areas with high potential for the occurrence of rare or relict species and which areas harbour high corridor values.
For future research it is recommended to execute a complete and extensive inventory of Bonaire, through fieldwork, in order to implement the necessary protective measures to ensure the conservation of these nature values. The present study shows that the areas of WNSP/Brasil, Terrace Landscape Middle Bonaire, Lima and Bolivia may be of priority as these areas seem to harbour a concentration of unique and critical plants.
Present studies shows that key nature values may occur in areas with a different designation than “nature” or “open landscape”. For future research it is recommended not to limit inventory research to the areas of “nature” and “open landscape”, but to include other areas with different designations.
In the present study the nature values chosen were based on the list of vulnerable and endangered species (Informatieblad beschermde dier- en plantensoorten Bonaire). During the study several species were added based on expert knowledge. The list used therefore seems to be limited. For future research it is recommended to assess if there are other nature values that are important to Bonaire that should be included on the list (e.g. Clusia sp, Ammodramus savannarum).
A complete inventory of the nature values on the island can contribute to the better management of nature values. A good example is the management of Bonaire’s bat population. In order to define the priority areas to maintain for the management of the different bats on Bonaire it is essential to obtain a detailed inventory of the different caves that these species use as habitat.
Additionally for the nectar-feeding bats it is crucial to map the occurrence of the different candle cacti on which they feed. The nectar-feeding bats are the critical pollinators of the three candle cacti (Petit, 2001). As already mentioned these cacti are key species on the island as they provide food for several species of animals during the dry season, when many other plant species are non-productive (Petit, 2001). Research on the distribution, health status and diversity of candle cacti on Bonaire is recommended in order to pinpoint priority areas for nectar- feeding bats. The cactus populations are threatened severely by feral livestock (goats, donkeys) which remove the bark of the mature trees, thereby threatening the food supply for frugivores and nectarivores. From our analysis open land areas of Bolivia would seem to possess large cactus populations of vital interest to conservation of endangered bird species on an island-wide scale.
When executing a complete and extensive inventory of Bonaire it would be of value to determine the ecological conditions and various habitats needed for the different species to survive. Based on the ecological conditions necessary for their life functions it may be possible to pinpoint those areas of principal ecological importance per species.
It is necessary to identify those areas with a high potential for the concentration of nature values rare species or relict vegetation species in order to secure the survival of these species and to be able to implement the necessary protective measurements. Such areas for instance are the open land and nature sections of Lima, Terrace Landscape Middle Bonaire (nature) and Bolivia (open). For future research it is recommended to determine those areas with high corridor values for the implementation of ecological corridors and buffer zones on Bonaire.