- Taxon: Plant
- Range: U.S. Virgin Islands (St. John) and British Virgin Islands (Tortola)
- Status: Proposed for Listing as an Endangered Species; Proposed Critical Habitat
Marron bacora is a rare, tropical dry forest shrub native to the Virgin Islands. Originally described in 1813 from a specimen collected in the late 1700s, it was presumed to have gone extinct until its rediscovery in 1992. Once thought to only exist on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, marron bacora was discovered in 2018 on Tortola in the British Virgin Islands.
The Service was petitioned to list marron bacora in 1996. A 12-month finding published by the Service in 2011 found that listing the marron bacora was warranted but precluded by higher priority actions and it was added to the candidate species list. A Species Status Assessment is currently being developed that will inform a new 12-month finding to determine whether this candidate species warrants listing under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Marron bacora is a flowering shrub of the tomato family that can grow to be over nine feet high. The tallest specimen recorded was a cultivated individual reaching approximately 15 feet tall. Marron bacora has leaves that are oblong to elliptical, ranging in size from 0.62 to 1.5 inches wide. The leaves are hairless and leathery in texture with a conspicuous yellowish mid-vein. The flowers are usually paired in a flat-topped cluster without a stalk. Each flower has five separate petals that are light violet, greenish at the base and about 0.78 inches wide. The fruit, a teardrop-shaped berry, is 0.78 to 1.2 inches long and turns from green with white striations to golden yellow when ripe. Little is known about the marron bacora’s natural history or reproductive biology.
Native to the island of St. John, marron bacora appears to occur naturally in communities with broadly varying suites of associated woody species, showing little fidelity to any particular suite of community associates. Additionally, all known occurrences of marron bacora are located in or adjacent to areas with evidence of previous vegetation clearing, showing the potential for it to occur on disturbed sites. The habitat where marron bacora occurs on Tortola has been described as having open vegetation compared with the surrounding forest and contains lots of non-native annuals.
First described in 1813 from a specimen collected in the late 1700’s, there are no population estimates or details on its abundance from then, nor are there any known population estimates or further records of the species until 1992, when it was rediscovered in the area of Europa Ridge, just north of the White Cliff area on the Island of St. John. It was presumed to be near extinction at that time as two mature plants in two localities were believed to be the only specimens left in the wild. After 1992, six additional populations of marron bacora were identified on St. John.
Three of the populations discovered since the species’ rediscovery in 1992 no longer exist – Reef Bay, Europa Ridge, and Sabbat Point. There are three remaining populations that contain wild individuals on the northern side of St. John (Base Hill, Brown Bay Trail and Brown Bay Ridge) and four towards the southeast side of the island (Nanny Point, Friis Bay, John’s Folly, and Reef Bay Trail – discovered by Service staff in 2017). Of these seven existing populations on St. John, all but one (Friis Bay) occurs within the boundaries of the Virgin Islands National Park.
In 2018, surveys conducted by staff from the Royal Botanic Garden (KEW) in Tortola identified a plant that looked like marron bacora near Sabbath Hill. On a follow-up trip to confirm marron bacora, a population of over 40 individuals was identified. Fertile material (flowers and fruit) was located by staff from KEW and the National Park Trust on three of the larger marron bacora individuals. This discovery confirmed extension of the species’ range to the island of Tortola, British Virgin Islands.
Marron bacora is currently threatened by overall low numbers of individuals, low numbers of populations, and low numbers of individuals at each population site. There is also a lack of knowledge on abundance and roles of dispersers and pollinators as well as a lack of knowledge regarding the plant’s ecology. Historic habitat destruction and modification has fragmented the distribution of populations, possibly contributing to a lack of genetic exchange between populations. Another potential threat to all the occurrences of marron bacora is the lack of natural recruitment, most likely due to consumption of marron bacora’s fruits by feral animals like white-tailed deer, goats, pigs, and donkeys.
If the species is listed under the ESA, a recovery plan will be developed.
Partnerships, research and projects
The Service is working with other federal, territory, academic and non-profit organizations throughout the species range, in order to conserve and recover the marron bacora. There is an intra-governmental agreement between the Service and the National Park Service to propagate and augment the population of marron bacora in the Brown Bay land area within the Virgin Islands National Park. In addition, there is an agreement with Island Conservation, a non-governmental organization (NGO), for propagation of marron bacora and a threats assessment for the species. The Service is also working with KEW to extend conservation efforts to the British Virgin Islands (Tortola) and to conduct research on the species’ genetics.
How you can help
- Tread lightly on public parks and stay on designated trails.
- Participate in the protection and the restoration of our lands.
- Conserve habitat for the species by protecting continuous native forests and pollinators.
- Visit arboretums, botanical gardens, and parks to learn more about endangered plants and the causes of their declines.
- Join local NGOs and support ongoing conservation efforts, assist in maintenance and monitoring, and engage in scientific citizen efforts.
Subject matter experts
- Omar Monsegur, Fish and Wildlife Biologist – Botanist, firstname.lastname@example.org, (787) 851-7297 x217
Designated critical habitat
With the proposed listing of this species, critical habitat is also being proposed. Approximately 2,550 acres (97 percent federal lands; 3 percent private lands) are being proposed as critical habitat for the species on the island of St. John. This consists of 1,706 acres in the South (1,635 acres = Virgin Islands National Park (VINP); 71 acres = private lands adjacent to VINP) and 844 acres in the North (VINP).
Federal register notices
The following Federal Register documents were automatically gathered by searching the Federal Register Official API with this species’ scientific name ordered by relevance. You can conduct your own search on the Federal Register website.
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