Paschalococos and the Disappearing Palms

(page 3)

As Juania and Paschalococos show, the conservation status is critical on most islands. These environments are in most cases more fragile than their mainland counterparts. Life forms from continental areas are usually more competitive and less specialized than the island dwellers; islands host evolutionary deliriums, exceedingly curious species which would make no sense on the mainland. Islander palms reflect this trend and "absurd" freaks are found amongst them; weirdness seems to be the rule: Bottle palms from the Mascarenes (Hyophorbe), the Caribbean belly palms (Gastrococos, Pseudophoenix, Colpothrinax and some Coccothrinax spp.), the triangle palm from Southern Madagascar (Dypsis decaryi), and the overwhelmingly interesting double coconut of the Seychelles (Lodoicea), which produces the biggest and heaviest (up to 18 kg) seeds of the plant kingdom. The major threat on islands, after habitat destruction, are the free-roaming introduced domestic animals. Pigs, goats, chickens, and cattle have been selected by man to forage on whatever is edible and they will never be finicky about a good palm leaf.

One of the many dramatic examples comes from the Caribbean. The wild stands of the tall Thatch Palm Coccothrinax barbadensis in Antigua (Lesser Antilles) have been destroyed by cattle, which ate the leaves of most seedlings and saplings. The only reproducing population on that island is found in the old cemetery of the island and the adjoining garden of the small cathedral. These two plots were the only sacred territories of the island and therefore prohibited to cattle. In this case a small and inexpensive fence would be enough to shelter a wider area and allow the population to expand.

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