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Plant conservation challenges in the Bahama Archipelago.

Introduction

The Bahamian archipelago is composed of two main political entities: The Commonwealth of the Bahamas (13,939 [km.sup.2]) (thereafter The Bahamas) and the United Kingdom Overseas Territory of The Turks and Caicos Islands (616 [km.sup.2]) (thereafter The Turks and Caicos). These islands are part of the Caribbean Island Hotspot and have a unique geography and geology that create plant conservation challenges that are not faced by the rest of the islands of the hotspot. Because of their low altitude (the highest elevation point, on Cat Island, reaches only 63 m) the origin and evolution of the terrestrial biota of this archipelago has been influenced by several waves of colonization and extinction linked to sea level changes (Davalos & Russell 2012). Therefore this very dynamic insular system is formed by hundreds of islands and cays that have been changing in shape and land-surface area with global glacial and interglacial periods. For instance during the last ice age (approximately only ~18,000 years ago during the Wisconsin Glaciation) the Great Bahama Bank formed an extensive island (Campbell, 1978) as large as current Hispaniola. This ancient island included the present islands of Andros, Bimini, Berry, Cat Island, Eleuthera, Exumas, Long Island, New Providence, and Ragged Island. During this glacial period this paleo-island was at only ~15 km from the northern coast of Cuba and it is likely that long distance dispersal events between these two large insular land masses were relatively common (Knapp et al., 2011).

At a global scale, the biota of the Bahamian archipelago is a major priority for conservation as it represents an important portion of the Caribbean Island Biodiversity Hotspot (Maunder et al., 2008, 2011). Concerns for plant conservation in this archipelago are not new and previous studies have already stressed some of the main factors that need to be considered to preserve the natural heritage of the Bahamas [e.g., Westermann, 1952, 1953; Gillis, 1977; Campbell, 1978; Byrne, 1980; Correll & Correll, 1982; Correll, 1979 (in Korber et al., 2013); Eshbaugh & Wilson, 1996; Torres-Santana et al., 2010], Environmental biology issues are major governmental priorities in the archipelago as indicated in reports published in The Bahamas (Anonymous, 2002, 2011) and by recent initiatives for sustainable development in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories being undertaken by the British Parliament (Anonymous, 2013a, 2013b).

In this study we present an overview of what we consider to be the main challenges that decision making government agencies, non-governmental organizations, researchers, developers, land-managers, educators, and the general public need to face to effectively implement plant conservation strategies for the unique flora of the Bahamian archipelago. In a separate paper of this issue of Botanical Review, a review (including a checklist of endemics) pertinent to Bahamian plant endemism is presented (Freid et al., 2014). A study focusing on the main vegetation types of the islands was published by Correll (1979). This study has been broadened for The Turks and Caicos with the production of a national vegetation map (see below) for these islands (SWA Limited et al., 2010). Two Masters Theses devoted to the conservation problems and management of invasive alien plant species have been recently defended by Hardman (2009) and Smith (2010a) for The Turks and Caicos and The Bahamas, respectively.

We believe that these five studies and those papers presented at the eleven Botany and Natural History of the Bahamas symposia (1986-2007, proceedings of these meetings are available online: http://www.geraceresearchcentre.com/publications. html) can provide an initial botanical research framework for plant conservation stake-holders. In addition, botanists from Miami University (Ohio) are currently undertaking a revised flora for the region that will update previous published contributions by W. Gillis (reviewed by Kass & Eshbaugh, 1993) and Correll & Correll (1982). Finally, recently Manco (2008) has produced an introductory overview on the native flora of The Turks and Caicos.

Our paper builds on what we have learned during the last 20 years concerning plant biodiversity management and research in the archipelago. Our ultimate aim is to provide an avenue for future conservation initiatives that will help future generations of Bahamians and Turks and Caicos Islanders to protect their unique flora and associated elements. One of the main objectives of the symposium "Celebrating 30 Years of the Flora of the Bahamas: Conservation and Science Challenges" was to discuss major plant conservation challenges and the way forward for effective protection of the Bahamian flora. Therefore our overview is also greatly based on the conservation topics and discussions that were at the core of this symposium. In addition, results and conclusions from joint plant conservation research projects among the authors of this paper are also part of this contribution.

One of the main recommendations of this pro-Bahamian botany meeting was that regular symposia focusing on the Natural History of the Bahamian archipelago are needed. The Bahamas National Trust and the College of The Bahamas have been receptive to this initiative. The establishment of biannual symposia pertinent to biological diversity and environmental issues has been included in The Bahamas National Trust Strategic Plan for 2013-2017 (The Bahamas National Trust, 2013a). We anticipate that these symposia will provide extraordinary communication channels among conservation biology stakeholders and will help to understand plant biodiversity conservation from a holistic perspective involving several biology disciplines, various land management protocols, and different educational approaches.

Natural Environmental and Human Demographic Challenges

A. Environmental Factors

The Bahamian archipelago has a great climatic variance in annual precipitation--the northern islands have the greatest rainfall with rainfall decreasing towards the central and southern Bahamas. Islands located at the southernmost end receive the least amount of rainfall. Temperatures follow a similar gradient, with those islands located near the North American mainland being more affected during the winter by cold fronts than those close to Hispaniola or eastern Cuba. However, among the natural environmental variables that dominate this archipelago, the seasonal hurricanes are among the most important ones in terms of conservation management. Their periodic arrivals represent major disturbances that can negatively affect the implementation of incipient activities for in situ conservation. Further studies are needed to fully understand their effect on both the native and invasive plant species (Rathcke, 2000; Rodgers & Gamble, 2008).

A major biodiversity concern for low-elevation islands comes from the effects associated with global warming and climatic change (Nath et al., 2010). Indeed, in the fourth national biodiversity report of The Bahamas to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, The Bahamian Government stated: "The principal natural threat to biological diversity in The Bahamas is climatic change, as it will magnify all the other natural threats" (Anonymous, 2011). Climate change challenges pertinent to the Bahamas islands have been highlighted among others by Martin & Weech (2001); Sealey (2003); Anonymous (2001, 2005). Studies undertaken in the neighboring Florida Keys have shown shifts in plant communities and a decline of rare plant species associated with an increase of salinity in the soils of these low-elevation islands. Therefore there is a real risk of plant species extinction associated with saline water intrusion and the subsequent reduction of distribution area of land plants (Maschinski et al., 2011).

B Human Demographic Factors

The distribution of human population on the Bahamian archipelago varies greatly, with the north and central islands [i.e., New Providence (~250,000 inhabitants), Grand Bahama (~50,000 inhabitants), and Abaco (~15,000 inhabitants)] having significantly higher populations than the majority of the southern islands. The Turks and Caicos have approximately 35,000 full time residents and receive approximately one million tourists per year. Over two thirds of the inhabitants of the archipelago live in the capital Nassau, and indeed the vast majority of the island where this city is located (New Providence) has an urban setting with a few patches of forest remaining near the airport. It is interesting to note that New Providence is a relatively small island (207 [km.sup.2]); in contrast, Andros (5,986 [km.sup.2]), the largest island of the archipelago, is sparsely populated. The unevenness of human populations along this highly fragmented archipelago with over 700 islets/cays and 38 inhabited islands (ten of the populated islands are located in The Turks and Caicos) is one of the leading challenges for plant conservation. The fact that most of the islands still remain relatively uninhabited reduces human pressure on the environment and is contributing to the preservation of the unique Bahamian flora; however, this also represents a conservation challenge as there is a need for a relatively large crew of skilled professionals to manage the network of protected areas that exists outside the most highly populated islands of New Providence, Grand Bahama, Abaco, and Providenciales (Anonymous, 2011). Indeed, one of the main demographic issues of the archipelago is the high immigration rate towards the main urban settlements of the archipelago. Because the Bahamian chain spreads along 215,000 [km.sup.2] of ocean and includes two different political entities there are major logistic and financial challenges to coordinate plant conservation actions in the region.

The human demographics of the Bahamian archipelago are primarily urban (see above) and the two major industries of the island [i.e., tourism (~4,250,000 tourists per year, mostly on cruise ships), banking and financial services] are centered in urban areas. Tourism represents more than 50 % of the Gross Domestic Product and employs more than half of the workforce of The Bahamas (Anonymous, 2011). Historically the archipelago has never achieved major success in agriculture due to very little soil and difficulties with transport to markets (Albury, 1975). Indeed agriculture and fishery account for only 5 % of Gross Domestic Product (Anonymous, 2011) of The Bahamas. Therefore any conservation program needs to have a strong environmental education component to increase awareness for the relevance of natural history issues among the predominantly urban population of the islands. Without a solid environmental awareness of the vast majority of the Bahamians any conservation initiative is likely to fail.

Among the Caribbean island nations, The Bahamas has one of the highest per-capita incomes in the region (Knapp et al., 2011). This notion of The Bahamas as a "wealthy" nation with economy of transition is one of the main obstacles for environmental organizations of the country to have access to international funding for biodiversity conservation and habitat protection. Lack of opportunities to obtain these funds also applies to The Turks and Caicos, as politically it is an overseas territory under the administrative umbrella of a major European power. In addition, these islands do not have access to most conservation programs from Great Britain because under their current political status they have distinctive administration regulations from the United Kingdom. However, a component of human demographics that can help plant conservation initiatives comes from the relatively high number of foreign residents and visitors who come to the Bahamas islands regularly. Many of these non-Bahamian visitors appreciate the unique environments of the islands and have philanthropic values to contribute with conservation activities. A good example is the recently created Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve at Eleuthera (see below).

Plant Endemism and Vegetation Conservation Priorities

The non-uniform patterns for climatology and human demographics across the archipelago are also followed by the geographic distribution of endemics and vegetation types. Protection of terrestrial ecosystems and endemic species represents another challenge for plant conservation. Freid et al. (2014) reported a total of 89 seed plant species restricted to the Bahamas islands. A multivariate analyses of their distribution patterns showed that these endemics can be classified into four clusters. One of the clusters is composed of small islands and has representatives from all the geographical regions of the archipelago. However, the three other clusters clearly follow the latitudinal gradient that defines the environment of the island chain. Freid et al. (2014) named these three groups as the "Southern", Central", and "Northern" island clusters because they were correlated with the south to north geographical cline of the archipelago. Freid et al. (2014) also found that more than half of the island endemics occurred only in one or two islands. These findings have consequences to management plans, conservation priorities, and the delineation of future protected areas targeting the endemic flora of the archipelago.

An immediate priority is to determine the current and past distribution of the endemics. This will require extensive field and herbarium work, but clearly will lead to future threatened species lists [based on IUCN (2012) guidelines] and to target particular areas for protection. Without this distribution data it will be difficult to implement any solid long-term program to protect the endemic flora of the archipelago. In the 1970s W. T. Gillis produced an extraordinary number of individual species distribution maps and records for the Bahamian flora (Kass, pers. comm.). These documents are archived at Michigan State University and represent a valuable resource that can provide a starting point to determine the distribution pattern of the endemic species. Additional research is needed to confirm the taxonomic status of some of the endemic species. For instance, Agave (Asparagaceae) has eight endemic species; however the distribution of some of these species is poorly known and their morphology and taxonomic placement within the genus seems to need additional studies (Gillis, 1976).

The work by Calonje et al. (2013) with the Critically Endangered Long Island endemic Zamia lucayana (Zamiaceae) provides an example of the kind of studies that can be developed to implement baseline research data to help conservation managers and policy makers of the archipelago. This study was undertaken as a partnership between The Bahamas National Trust and four research/education institutions from South Florida. It involved extensive field work with mapping of the distribution area of the target species. In addition, DNA microsatellite markers (SSRs) were used to address conservation genetic questions. Germplasm was collected for ex situ conservation initiatives and for the possibility of future reintroductions. Outreach events open to the public were organized both in Long Island and New Providence (Calonje, 2011; Calonje et al., 2011). To accomplish this project, extramural funds were sought from an international species conservation agency (see Acknowledgements section below).

The north-south environmental gradient results in different vegetation types across the island chain. The southern islands are dominated by plant communities adapted to xeric conditions. From a phytogeographic perspective the archipelago is considered as part of the Caribbean-Mesoamerican Region. The northern and central islands are placed within the Florida Province whereas the southern and eastern ones are included within the Antilles Province (Rivas-Martinez et al., 1999). Within this biogeographic framework a full hierarchical classification of the plant communities of the archipelago, based on phytosiological methods, has not been fully developed yet (Galan de Mera, 2005). Correll (1979) distinguished nine vegetation types for the Bahamas, a classification that today it is still followed by most land managers and researchers; although a full comprehensive map depicting the plant communities of The Bahamas still needs to be produced. In contrast, a national vegetation map with classification standards based on the systems of The Nature Conservancy (Anderson et al., 1998; Grossman et al., 1998) and the United States Geological Survey (Federal Geographic Data Committee, 2008) has been published for The Turks and Caicos (SWA Limited et al., 2010).

After more than 500 years of post-Lucayan human presence, the Bahamian vegetation has been severely modified. Therefore the current landscape for the terrestrial ecosystems has changed dramatically since the arrival of the first European settlers. Particularly the Coastal Coppice and Pinelands have been an important source of timber and hardwood that have been used either locally to build houses and boats or to supply demands from overseas. It is estimated that approximately 51 % of the land is forested (~515,000 ha) (available online: data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.LND.FRST.K2). Many of the forest species with economic value [e.g., Mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni (Meliaceae)), Cedar [Juniperus barbadensis (Cupressaceae)], Braziletto [Caesalpinia vesicaria (Fabaceae)], Lignum Vitae or Ironwood [Guaiacum sanctum (Zygophyllaceae)], Mastic [Syderoxylon foetidissidum (Sapotaceae)]] are currently rare or mostly have small size individuals in the wild as they have been overexploited. In addition, extensive areas where these two ecosystems occurred have disappeared because of urban and agricultural developments. Among the plant communities, wetlands [including Tidal Flats and Salt Marshlands and Mangrove communities, based on Correll (1979)] are extremely important as they represent 40 % of the total land area of The Bahamas (Anonymous, 2011).

The main vegetation types do not occur in all the islands; therefore strategies for protection of the Bahamian plant communities vary across the archipelago. The Pinelands provide a good example of the non-uniform patterns of plant biodiversity on these islands. This ecosystem is restricted to four of the northern islands (i.e., Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama, and New Providence) and to three of the islands in The Turks and Caicos (North Caicos, Middle Caicos, and Pine Cay) but it represents -23 % of the terrestrial ecosystems of the region with 55 % of the pine forest confined to Andros. The extensive human use of the Pinelands reflects well how the Bahamian terrestrial environments have changed since the 16th century. Historically the complete Crown Land area where these forests occurred was exploited for timber or pulpwood through a system of granted licenses that lasted between the early 20th century until 1968 (Henry, 1974; Russell, 1998; Myers et al., 2004). Therefore the Pinelands have been the most intensively exploited plant ecosystem of the archipelago (Henry, 1974). Crown Land is owned by the government, and currently 70 % of land area of The Bahamas falls within this category (Anonymous, 2011). Nowadays pine harvesting is limited for special furniture or other exceptional forest products. Permits for logging have also been issued after a particular hurricane had a severe effect on the forest. Under this practice only downed trees are allowed to be harvested as this reduces the tinder and fuel for fires during the subsequent dry season. These forests are fire dependent, and management of fire regimes will be critical to maintain Pinelands with an age structure that includes adults and juveniles and to prevent the forest to become either a savanna or a coppice (Myers et al., 2004). The Forestry Act of The Bahamas (see below) will have important implications to establish a program that will allow for sustainable harvesting and management of the Pinelands. However, currently one of the major threats on the Pinelands comes from an invasive alien scale insect. Toumeyella parvicornis has been reported on The Turks and Caicos leading to high levels of mortality of pine trees (Malumphy et al., 2012).

Invasive Alien Plant Species

One of the main threats for the Bahamian flora comes from the increasing presence of invasive alien plant species (Campbell, 1978; Hammerton, 2001, 2002, 2003a, 2003b; Pratt et al., 2007; Smith, 2010a). In 2003 the Ministry of Health and Environment issued The National Invasive Species Strategy for The Bahamas (Anonymous, 2003) with several control measures that can be used to manage invasive plants in the country. Each of these techniques depends on whether the plant species has to be prevented from entering into the country, identified at an early stage of introduction, or its risk has not been widely determined or established.

Several tools are available in The Bahamas to manage invasive plant species. They can be based on environmental spatial analysis techniques such as Control with Remote Sensing (CWRS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) (see below). When employing such techniques it is essential to know where invasive plant species are found and what the potential for invasion is (Smith, 2010b). A model that can be used to determine locations favorable to the invasion of specific plant is CLIMEX. It uses software developed by the San Luis Obispo County Agricultural Commission Office (California) to predict invasiveness risks of species that had not yet infested an area. This approach uses occurrence data and geographic information systems to collect data on invasive plants to delineate specific site characteristics and areas where alien invasive plant species can be successful (Steinmaus, 2001). Prevention is considered the first line of defense and the most effective method of managing invasive plant species (Moncrieff, 2006). This requires regulations in place to avoid entry of such plants in the country. These prevention protocols should address issues relevant to the importation of plant species. They include import risk analysis, identification of pathways for introduction, quarantine, border control, and training for relevant personnel (Smith, 2010a). For those invasive plants that still enter the country, early detection and rapid response must be employed to arrest the problem. This is considered the second most cost effective method for managing invasive plants. The Department of Agriculture is the best agency to be responsible for this task, since trained personnel are already in place in several islands of The Bahamas.

Several plant species are already established or naturalized in The Bahamas (see Table 1 for a listing of the most problematic alien plant species and Fig. 1 for a selection of seven of these problematic species). Their large numbers and widespread distribution make it difficult to eradicate because the cost for such operation is huge and the rate of failure is high (Tu et al., 2001). Developing a coordinated control program is the best way to deal with this problem. Tu et al. (2001) suggested that goal setting, surveying and utilizing the most effective method for control is essential during the initial steps for management process. Mapping the invasive species is also important to the process. A schematic guide for control of invasive species was developed by Randall (1997) as a useful tool to use with the selected handling technique(s). Essential to this process is establishing an invasive plant management plan for systemic control of each plant.

Various technologies are also used with identifying and mapping invasive plant species. Each of these management approaches can be used separately; however, scientists and other individuals working with invasive plants use a combination of these techniques. GIS tools are considered to be the most helpful because they are more efficient at mapping invasive plant species. They are also extremely useful in informing programs for eradicating and controlling these invasive plants and replacing them with native species (Ricciardi et al., 2000).

Legislation

A The Legal Framework

The Bahamas is one the signatory countries of the Convention of Biological Diversity, and in 1999 The Bahamas developed the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan as a tool to implement this biodiversity international agreement (Anonymous, 1999). The Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission is the main agency responsible to coordinate and execute activities pertinent to the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan. Effective execution of this biodiversity plan has been far from ideal mostly because of resource and capacity constraints and lack of mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating its actions and activities (Anonymous, 2011). The National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan called for the development of nine "Strategic Actions." Although all of these actions contribute to plant conservation activities three of them are specifically relevant to plants: (1) planning for a system of national parks, (2) protection or rehabilitation of threatened or degraded ecosystems and or threatened species, and (3) improvement of the botanic garden to enhance its capacity for ex situ conservation. In a scale 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest) The Bahamas Government recognized little progress with the developing of the botanic garden (scale of 1) but assigned scores of 3 for the establishing of national parks and 2 for the implementation of programs for threatened ecosystems/species (Anonymous, 2011).

As a member of the Convention of Biological Diversity, The Bahamas joined the Updated Global Strategy for Plant Conservation 2011-2020 (Decision X/17) and signed to make efforts to achieve the 16 "targets" of this international plant conservation program before 2010. In 2002 the country joined a similar plant conservation initiative known as the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (Decision VI/9), this previous program had 16 "targets" to reach by 2010. In 2011 the Government of The Bahamas evaluated to what extent these targets were reached. In a progress scale of 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest) all of the targets received scores between 0 and 1, except two of them. Target 4: "at least 10 % of each of the world's ecological regions are effectively conserved" had a score of 3. Target 11: "no species of wild flora endangered by international trade" received a score of 3 as well.

Two recent national legislation initiatives launched by The Bahamas will have important consequences for plant conservation (Smith, 2010a, 2011). The Forestry Act (No. 20 of 2010) was passed in 2010. This law created a new framework for the sustainable use of Bahamian forests. Associated to this Act, the newly established Forestry Unit was created to regulate the implementation of this law. This governmental unit will produce a National Forest Plan every 5 years to govern management of forest activities. One of the main ordinances linked to this legislation initiative is that the Director of Forestry (Ministry of The Environment) and The Bahamas National Trust will work together to make this Act effective. Under this Act, the Ministry of the Environment may declare any Crown Land to have three potential forest protection status: (1) Forest Reserve, (2) Protected Forest or (3) Conservation Forest.

The Planning and Subdivision Act was also issued in 2010 (No. 4 of 2010) and it will provide a legal framework pertinent to urban development in The Bahamas in accordance with environmental protection. This is an important legal mechanism to guide future developmental and zoning strategies that will protect areas of particular environmental, cultural, or scientific interest. This new law aims to have land use plans for each island, based on national land development policies. The Act will be implemented sequentially along the country and it will be under the supervision of the Department of Physical Planning (Ministry of Works). The first island where the law will be established is New Providence (Smith, 2010b) and a map with different zoning areas (e.g., heritage sites, conservation forests, green spaces, industrial, etc.) has already been produced for this island. One of the main consequences of this act is the requirement of Environmental Impact Assessments prior to development projects that may have adverse environmental impacts.

A review pertinent to environmental laws of The Turks and Caicos is provided by Garland-Campbell (2008). Between 1921 and 1996, twelve environmental laws have been enacted on these islands. The Turks and Caicos Islands is not yet a signatory to the Convention on Biodiversity; political turmoil of2009-2012 (Victor, 2009) caused the shelving of the Wildlife and Biodiversity Protection Bill that would allow this global agreement to be ratified. Implementation of this national bill would facilitate for this territory to join the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (also known as the Bonn Convention) and several other Multilateral Environmental Agreements. In addition, this legislation will provide a legal framework to protect endemic plants and imperiled habitats. Currently, the process of Environmental Impact Assessment is enforced for all projects, except for Government or infrastructural developments.

Because of the political status of The Turks and Caicos as a United Kingdom Overseas Territory, the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew works extensively on these islands. One of the foci of work is to promote points of the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation. Over 160 native species are now protected in the collections of the Kew's Millennium Seed Bank (further details available at: http://www.kew.org/ science-conservation/save-seed-prosper/millennium-seed-bank/index.htm).

B Protected Areas

There are 31 protected areas across The Bahamas, 27 of them are national parks (The Bahamas National Trust, 2013b). Twenty-three of the protected areas target terrestrial ecosystems and 22 of them are national parks. Only the National Park of Inagua is internationally recognized as part of the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance (Anonymous, 2011). The protected areas of The Bahamas are assigned to distinct IUCN Protected Areas Categories depending on their focus and mission (Anonymous, 2011). All national parks are under the management of The Bahamas National Trust, a NGO that has strong historic links with The Bahamian society. Created by an Act of Parliament in 1959, The Bahamas National Trust is one of the oldest conservation organizations in the wider Caribbean and has a national mandate to facilitate in situ conservation. In addition, it has a critical role as an advisory body to governmental agencies in areas that need to be placed under protection because of their importance to the biodiversity of The Bahamas. Currently The Bahamas National Trust manages over 800,000 ha of national park land which protects critical habitat for endangered species and preserves the unique ecosystems of the country. In its 2013-2017 strategic plan The Bahamas National Trust (2013a) identifies seven additional critical areas for protection with two on the island of Abaco featuring extensive mangrove ecosystems and pine forests respectively.

The Turks and Caicos have a total of 37 protected areas, including National Parks, Nature Reserves, Sanctuaries, and Areas of Historic Interest (The Turks and Caicos Islands Department of Environment and Coastal Resources, 2013). Nearly 30 % of the land area of the territory is included in the North, Middle, and East Caicos Wetlands of International Importance Nature Reserve, a Ramsar Convention site. Many of the protected areas were proposed for the protection of wetlands or bird nesting sites; there is relatively little upland habitat represented in the Protected Areas System. Three of the protected areas are managed by The Turks and Caicos National Trust as eco-tourism sites (i.e., Little Water Cay Nature Reserve, Conch Bar Caves National Park, and Wade's Green Plantation Area of Historic Interest). The remainder falls under management of the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs. Unfortunately, this government agency has neither the staff nor funding to fully manage and patrol all of the protected areas.

Future Perspectives

In his preface for Campbell's (1978) seminal book on Bahamian natural history, famous ornithologist Alexander Sprunt IV stated "Man will not conserve and protect things that he cannot understand." In the previous sections of our paper we have shown that plant conservation in the archipelago has many challenges ahead. We have also highlighted some of the research and legislative initiatives that are already in place to protect Bahamian plant biodiversity; however, we also believe that none of these actions can be effective unless solid plant conservation education programs are in place. This was one of the main conclusions of the symposium where this paper was presented. Interestingly, the national biodiversity report submitted by the Government of The Bahamas to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity agreed with this conclusion and stated: "The main manmade threat to biological diversity in The Bahamas is the lack of appreciation and understanding of the value of the fragile Bahamian environment and biodiversity to the people" (Anonymous, 2011).

There is agreement among plant conservation biologists about the role that botanic gardens can have as catalysts for research and education. There is a Turks and Caicos Botanical and Cultural Garden (1,125 [m.sup.2], previously known as the National Arboretum) which is currently managed by The Turks and Caicos National Museum Foundation. A 4,800 [m.sup.2] botanical garden in The Bight Park (formerly known as The Bight Children's Park) is maintained by the Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs (The Turks and Caicos Government) but currently is in re-development.

All symposium participants believe that the Botanic Garden of Nassau needs to be revitalized to become the National Botanic Garden of The Bahamas. This renewed botanic garden will need to have a national mandate to (1) house the national herbarium, (2) have solid living collections highlighting Bahamian and Caribbean biodiversity, (3) be a national leader with international projects in plant biodiversity research and conservation programs pertinent to islands, and (4) have a robust biodiversity awareness program linked to community events and the education system of The Bahamas. In 2008 this botanic garden shifted from the Department of Agriculture to the Ministry of the Environment, a move that will contribute to enhance conservation education goals. The Bahamas National Trust already has developed a master plan for this botanic garden; this plan provides the basis to move this key initiative for Bahamian botany forward.

Because of the highly fragmented landscape of the archipelago we also believe that smaller satellite botanic gardens with a primarily education and conservation mission should be established in other islands. The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve in Governor's Harbour, Eleuthera (~10 ha) provides a good example of the role that botanic gardens can play on the "family islands." This botanic garden was funded by the Leon Levy Foundation and it represents the first national park on the island of Eleuthera, therefore an important portion of the land is devoted to ecosystem protection. It is an environmental educational center as well as a facility for the propagation of native plants and trees. The Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve is the fulfillment of the vision of longtime Bahamian residents Leon Levy and Shelby White, who loved the natural environment and cultural traditions of Eleuthera. After Leon Levy's death in 2003, Shelby White wanted to celebrate her husband's devotion to the island while contributing to a better future for all Eleutherans. Working with The Bahamas National Trust, she helped establish a plant preserve where Bahamians and visitors can now walk miles of trails through the native habitat, and learn about the ethnobotany and environmental history of the island. This preserve has been designed as a research center for traditional bush medicine; a facility for the propagation of indigenous plants and trees; and an educational site focusing on the importance of native vegetation to the biodiversity of The Bahamas.

The Bahamas National Trust is also managing two additional botanic gardens or nature centers: The Retreat (this site houses the headquarters of The Bahamas National Trust at Nassau, 4 ha) and The Rand Nature Center (Grand Bahama, ~40 ha). The Turks and Caicos Islands Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs has two native plant nurseries, located on Providenciales and North Caicos. Between the nurseries, over 110 species of native plants are propagated. This has resulted in research projects to determine the best horticultural methods to grow these plants. Recently, this department has begun micro propagation of orchids by seed, including the endemic Caicos Encyclia (Encyclia caicensis).

Solid research provides a backbone for ex situ and in situ conservation. In addition, research discoveries are excellent avenues for outreach, community engagement, and conservation education programs. Research outputs will help conservation stakeholders to make decisions and to establish priority activities and strategies. As an initial step in research it is urgent to determine the distribution, taxonomic, and conservation status of the 89 currently recognized endemic species (Freid et al., 2014). They represent the most unique component of plant biodiversity on the archipelago and a clear plant conservation target for the Caribbean Island Biodiversity Hotspot. Additional research is also needed concerning the impact of invasive species on the main plant communities of the archipelago. The recent study by Hardman et al. (2012) focusing on the negative effect of Casuarina equisetifolia to endemic species of The Turks and Caicos provides an excellent example of the kind of conservation projects that need to be established in this area.

Future perspectives for plant conservation on the Bahamas have an additional challenge. There is an urgent need for trained Bahamian botanists with solid background with tropical plants and experience to understand plant community dynamics and to promote sustainable forestry. This new generation of Bahamian botanists will follow in the footsteps of advocates for the natural heritage of the archipelago such as Oris Russell (former Director of Agriculture, The Bahamas Government) and Michael Lightboume (former President of The Bahamas National Trust).

As a country The Bahamas have developed many national acts and signed several international agreements pertinent to conservation. In addition, several studies and research projects have had a strong conservation component. All of these actions have provided a critical framework for plant conservation. They have resulted in many protected areas, the Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve (supported with private funding), and two new acts aiming to provide sensible management to the forest heritage of the islands and to delineate particular protection zones. More recently The Bahamas National Trust (2013a) has presented a strategic plan for 2013-2017 that brings additional bridges between governmental agencies and the community and that includes several environmental and conservation education actions. Current plans to change the status of The College of The Bahamas to become the "University of The Bahamas" represent a major educational challenge for the nation but also bring a unique opportunity for higher education and in-country research to play a key role in plant conservation biology (The College of The Bahamas, 2009). In addition, several nature-conservation oriented NGOs (e.g., Andros Conservancy and Trust, Friends of the Environment, The Gerace Research Center (affiliated to The College of The Bahamas), The Nature Conservancy) have actively developed critical plant conservation initiatives. We believe that all of these education, community, and legal developments are key elements to advance a solid plant conservation program for the archipelago. One of the main lessons that we have learned in the last 20 years comes from the strength of synergy. Collaborations, both among individuals and among institutions, will enhance current and future initiatives for plant conservation on the archipelago.

DOI 10.1007/s12229-014-9140-4

Acknowledgments We dedicate this paper to the memory of Oris Russell (1922-2002) and Michael Lightbourn (1927-2012) for their exemplary lives devoted to preserve the Bahamian environments to future generations. This paper was presented at an international symposium held at Nassau between October 30 and 31, 2012 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the publication of the "Flora of the Bahama Archipelago" (title of symposium: Celebrating 30 Years of the Flora of the Bahamas: Conservation and Science Challenges). Our gratitude to the symposium organizers [The Bahamas National Trust and The College of The Bahamas in collaboration with Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden (FTBG), Florida International University (FIU), and The New York Botanical Garden] for providing a venue to present this paper. The symposium was funded by The Bahamas Environmental Fund. The Latin American and Caribbean Center of FIU and FTBG supported attendance to the symposium. This is contribution number 256 from the Tropical Biology Program of FIU. Our gratitude to the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and Montgomery Botanical Center for supporting conservation initiatives for the Critically Endangered Long Island endemic Zamia lucayana.

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Eric Carey (1,13) * Lynn Gape (1) * B. Naqqi Manco (2) * Dion Hepburn (3) * Ross L. Smith (4) * Lindy Knowles (1) * David Knowles (5) * Mark Daniels (6) * Michael A. Vincent (7) * Ethan Freid (1) * Brett Jestrow (8) * M. Patrick Griffith (9) * Michael Calonje (9,12) * Alan W. Meerow (10) * Dennis W. Stevenson (11) * Javier Francisco-Ortega (8,12,13)

(1) The Bahamas National Trust, P. O. Box N-4105, The Retreat, Village Road, Nassau, The Bahamas

(2) National Environmental Centre, Lower Bight Road, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Islands

(3) School of Chemistry & Environmental Life Sciences, College of The Bahamas, Nassau, The Bahamas

(4) Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, P. O. Box N-3913, Nassau, The Bahamas

(5) The Bahamas National Trust, Abaco National Park, Abaco, The Bahamas

(6) Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve, P.O. Box N-4105, Eleuthera, The Bahamas

(7) Department of Biology, Miami University, Oxford, 45056 Oxford, OH, USA

(8) Kushlan Tropical Science Institute, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, 33156 Miami, FL, USA

(9) Montgomery Botanical Center, Coral Gables, 33156 Miami, FL, USA

(10) USDA-ARS-SHRS, National Germplasm Repository, 33158 Miami, FL, USA

(11) The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, 10458 New York, NY, USA

(12) Department of Biological Sciences, Florida International University, 33199 Miami, FL, USA

(13) Authors for Correspondence; e-mail: ecarey@bnt.bs; ortegaj@fiu.edu

Table 1 Major problematic invasive plant species in the
Bahama Archipelago

Species                                              Citation

Casuarina equisetifolia L. (Casuarinaceae)           Hammeiton, 2001
                                                       (Fig. 1)
Casuarina glauca Sieber ex Spreng                    Hammerton, 2001
Cenchrus purpureus (Schumach.) Morrone (Poaceae)     Hammeiton, 2002
  (syn. Pennisetum purpureum Schumach. (Poaceae))
Cryptostegia grandiflora R.Br. (Apocynaceae)         Hardman, 2009
Jasminum fluminense Veil. (Oleaceae)                 Hammeiton, 2002
Leucaena leucocephala (Lam.) de Wit (Fabaceae)       Anonymous, 2003
Melaleuca quinquenervia (Cav.) S.T. Blake            Hammerton, 2002;
  (Myrtaceae)                                          Pratt et al.,
                                                       2007 (Fig. 1)
Ricinus communis L. (Euphorbiaceae)                  Anonymous, 2003
Scaevola taccada (Gaertn.) Roxb. (Goodeniaceae)      Eshbaugh & Wilson,
                                                       1986 (Fig. 1)
Schefflera actinophylla (Endl.) Harms (Araliaceae)   Hammerton, 2002
Schinus terebinthifolius Raddi (Anacardiaceae)       Hickey & Vincent,
                                                       2005 (Fig. 1)
Sphagneticola trilobata (L.) Pruski (Asteraceae)     Anonymous, 2003
(syn. Wedelia trilobata L. (Asteraceae))
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