Five Year Study Underway to Unravel Distribution and Reproduction Misteries of Gesneria pauciflora
A new study was funded in 2012 to look at the population status and reproductive success of Gesneria pauciflora. Yerba Maricao de Cueva, as it is more commonly known, is a rare plant that grows upon another object non-parasitically, such as rocks or gravel along the sides of river banks and streams within the Maricao Commonwealth Forest (MCF). This plant is endemic to serpentine soil in Puerto Rico and it was federally listed as a threatened species in 1995. This small herb with dark green, glossy leaves and tubular orange flowers, only has three known populations within the MCF. All three populations seem to be stable but a lot of information is missing in order to develop effective conservation measures needed to recover and delist the species.
The USFWS provided $32,000 to the University of Puerto Rico’s Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation to acquire equipment and to cover travel expenses to the study site in the municipality of Maricao, Puerto Rico.
The Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation will seek answers to key questions such as: How is the plant pollinated? Is the pollen quantity and quality adequate? Does the plant need animal pollinator or can it self-pollinate? Since the flowers may remain submerged after flashfloods without any apparent damage, does water have a role in facilitating pollination in this species?
As part of the field work, the USFWS must identify additional places where the species might be located. USFWS biologist Omar Monsegur and Rafael Gonzalez (Caribbean Ecological Services Field Office) are working on a landscape-level analysis of the distribution of G. pauciflora populations. They are developing habitat predictability models based on water availability, soil type and other environmental conditions that characterize the habitat of the known populations of G. pauciflora. Then, using GIS, the UPR Team will look for other rivers and tributaries within the MCF with the same conditions, and search for the plant in these new places where G. pauciflora may be found and validate this model. The model may also help identify areas outside the MCF that may need to be protected for possible searches and/or reintroduction of the species.
The Center for Applied Tropical Ecology and Conservation will develop educational materials to train volunteer college students to collect data for this project. In addition to validating the USFWS habitat model, students will also document general aspects of the pollination biology to fill the information gaps about the species breeding system and possible pollination constraints.With this project the USFWS will gain valuable insight to determine if down listing is feasible and what targeted management actions need to be put in place to ensure the subsistence of the species.