Science and Research

Conservation of the rare, endemic and threatened trees of the Osa Peninsula

Blogpost by Ruthmery Pillco Huarcaya, Botanical projects coordinator

You have likely heard about the growing list of wildlife that is vulnerable, threatened or critically threatened. While it is true that we are losing biodiversity among wildlife, such as amphibians and insects, faster than we can categorize them, there is a parallel story unfolding among plants, particularly trees.

There are an estimated 60,000 tree species, that we know of, around the world. And based on work being done by the Global Tree Campaign and IUCN Red list, approximately 8,000 of those—over 10% of trees on Earth—are globally threatened with extinction.  

Aerial view of the forest of the Corcovado National Park in the Osa Peninsula. It’s unique location (where the rainforest meets the sea), making the Osa an important place to emphasize plant composition and endemism. Photo: Michael and Patricia Fogden.

Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula are no exception. We also have trees that are threatened. According to the last update of the Global Tree Assessment (GTA), Costa Rica has approximately 2,677 tree species, of which 242 are globally threatened, 118 locally threatened, 559 not threatened, and a big number of 1,758 still need to be assessed.

Here in the Osa, before we had protected areas and corridors, much of the land was highly disturbed either by agriculture, cattle, logging, etc., as is the case in many countries. Many of these areas are now regenerating. 

Therefore, it is the perfect opportunity to carry out ecological restoration with the emphasis in those threatened, rare and endemic tree species. However, a baseline of what needs to be protected is missing to take action. 

Tree conservation is of particular concern, principally because little is known about the location and propagation of threatened trees in the Osa, and climate change is adding particular urgency to lowland tropical tree conservation. Left: An ancient individual of the garlic tree Caryocar costaricense, of which few remains in the forest. Right: a baby sapling of the garlic tree, propagated in our nursery. Photo credit: Frank Uhlig & Ruthmery Pillco

The first step is to know which species need more conservation attention. We need to join big initiatives already working toward that goal.  On a global scale, there is a global initiative called the Global Tree Assessment, which aims to conduct conservation assessments for all of the world’s tree species by 2020. 

In March, the GTA initiative brought together experts from Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and the US to assess the conservation statuses of endemic tree species of the region. Participants also attended from Colombia and Venezuela to share experiences from their countries. 

Group photo of participants in Meeting of the IUCN/SSC Global Tree Specialist Group and IUCN Red List Training Workshop at La Selva Research station (March 25-28, 2019). Photo: Sara Oldfield.

The Red List Workshop Mesoamerica was held at La Selva Research Station, and I was lucky enough to be part of this meeting. The instructors touched on the methodology and guidelines to assess trees according to the last version of the IUCN, as well the global advances in red list assessing. After learning from the productive workshop, we are setting up to form an evaluation group in order to evaluate the tree species present in the Osa, as baseline information for future conservation strategies.

Thanks to the support of Franklinia Foundation, through the next two years, we will be working hard to red list the tree species of the Osa, reintroduce those that are threatened in their natural habitats such as the garlic tree Caryocar costaricense, sangrillo colorado Paramachaerium gruberi and others, build an arboretum to conserve the trees of the Osa, and educate and share the importance of tree conservation. Stay tuned for updates on our progress!

Ruth Pillco launching the project “Conserving the rare and endemic trees of the Osa Peninsula.” Photo: Eleanor Flatt

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