Aquin Communal Forest

Aquin Communal Forest

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In December of 2000, Kristen Porter-Utley and I visited the idyllic Haitian town of Aquin. The purpose of our visit was to collect Passiflora suberosa, a passion flower native to Haiti and the Caribbean, for genetic and taxonomic studies and evaluate the ecological status of the communal forest of Aquin. The communal forest of Aquin stretches up into the mountains behind the town of Aquin and overlooks the bay.

The communal forest was given protected status in an effort to protect forest cover around water sheds. Unfortunately, in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s, the chaos in Haitian politics spreads to local government, and government officials failed to protect the forest lands. Consequently, the bulk of the Aquin communal forest has been deforested.

Reforestation efforts aimed at planting fruit trees and eucalyptus in the area failed to restore the forest cover due to a variety of socio-economic constraints and the introduction of alien species into an area originally reminiscent of the diverse flora of Haiti’s Southern Peninsula.

On our visit to this site we found a strip of forest cover (no more than 20% forest) in the area that directly surrounds the river banks. We did find evidence that some native species were established and reproducing in this area. For example, we saw seedlings of “bwa pin”Pinus,”campeche”, “bwa mabi”, “gayac”, Guaiacum, “zacacia”, Acacia and “chene”. Spreading outward from this area, we found goats, cows, and parts that were being used as pasture. We found several corn, Zea mays plantations stretching up the steep mountain side. During our visit we saw signs that it had rained recently and signs that much of the rich organic soil was being washed out to shore.

This area is in need of ecologically and economically sound reforestation efforts.

Recommended Reforestation Action Plan

Step 1: Meet with local residents and town officials to stop grazing and farming in the area currently designated as protected communal forest.

Step 2: Build rock drywalls in steep areas with serious, immediate erosion problems.

Step 3: Inventory and Clear introduced weedy species from site so that these plants will not out compete native seedlings.

Step 4: Plant seedlings of native tree species behind drywalls and along communal forest borders (A minimum of 20 interspersed species should be used to mimic the natural species composition of tropical hardwood forests in this area. Stopping the grazing will help the understory to regenerate on its own. Results from similar small scale reforestation projects of this type in Haiti have demonstrated that the forest will regenerate from droppings and natural dispersal events if grazing, harvesting and erosion are abated.)

Step 5: Work with community to set up honey production and other small scale economic projects. (The honey production will help maintain and increase genetic diversity in the forest area and will provide and economic alternate to wood harvesting.)

Step 6: Work with community land holders to set-up carefully managed, subsidized fuel wood and hardwood plantations that can provide alternate sources of wood to relieve the pressure put on the natural forest areas.

Alexandra Paul Bio

Alexandra Paul is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University’s Center for Environmental Research and Conservation. She has three master’s degrees, one in Botany from the University of Florida and two in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Columbia University. She has a B.S. in zoology from Brigham Young University. She is and expert in Haitian Ethnobotany. Her research focuses on the medicinal and economic uses of plants in Haiti and how understanding local use of plant resources can increase the potential success of reforestation efforts.

Kristen-Porter-Utley Bio

Kristen Porter-Utley is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Botany at the University of Florida, Gainesville. She is a plant systematist and, under the advisement of Dr. Walter S. Judd, is revising a group of 13 species within the genus Passiflora based upon morphological and molecular data. As a part of her dissertation research, Kristen has conducted field work in Jamaica and Haiti and plans to travel to Mexico and Central America in the Fall of 2001. She received her Master of Science degree at the University of Florida in 1997. Kristen conducted the field work for her M.S. degree in Miami, Florida where she studied the plants used in Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion.

Kristen-Porter-Utley Ph.D. Research Project Summary: For my dissertation research I have chosen to examine the evolutionary relationships within a group of passionflowers (plant family Passifloraceae). My study group, Passiflora section Cieca, currently contains 13 species of subtropical and tropical, herbaceous to woody climbers.

A detailed revision of this rapidly evolving group of plants, focusing on a combined analysis of DNA sequences and morphological characters will be undertaken.

In the revision, two large species complexes (Passiflora suberosa and Passiflora coriacea) will be studied in detail, and specific entities within these complexes will be redefined based upon bothmorphological and molecular analyses.

A plant key, descriptions, distribution maps, and illustrations will be included in the revision, along with evolutionary, biogeographical and ecological analyses.

Close attention will be paid to pollination biology in order to examine the selective forces that have led to a shift from bee and wasp to hummingbird pollination within the section. The Heliconiinae butterfly (a.k.a. passionflower butterfly) herbivores of the species within section Cieca will also be observed and identified to investigate the hypothesized coevolutionary relationship between the Heliconiinae and Passiflora.

The result of the proposed study will be a more extensive understanding of evolutionary relationships within a group of rapidly evolving subtropical and tropical species.

Kristen Porter-Utley Haiti Visit Summary: Traveling in Haiti has allowed me to observe several species of Passiflora in their native habitat. In particular, this trip gave me the opportunity to collect herbarium (for morphological studies) and silica gel (for DNA sequencing) specimens of Passiflora suberosa, and incredibly variable species in section Cieca with a world-wide distribution. Passiflora suberosa was collected in Port-au-Prince, Petionville, Furcy and Aquin. A trip to the Dominican Republic planned for this spring will help to complete my analysis of P. suberosa on the island of Hispaniola. The P. suberosa specimens will permit me to examine both the genealogical and morphological variation of this species in the Greater Antilles.

I will then be able to compare the specimens of P. suberosa from Hispaniola with those from other areas of the world, especially the Bahamas and Lesser Antilles, to examine their evolutionary relationships.

In addition, I was able to collect and observe a species of Passiflora in Haiti (Furcy) that is endangered in the USA, Passiflora multiflora. Another interesting species of Passiflora found in Haiti was Passiflora rubra. This species is part of a very unusual section within the genus that has capsular fruits; most species of Passiflora have berry fruits. Perhaps most of all, my trip to Haiti gave me the opportunity to collect and observe plants in an area of the world that many botanists and plant collectors have not had the chance to visit.

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The Haitian Resource Development Foundation prioritizes programs that enable and empower various Haitian locales to further personal and collective independence. Engaging in a range of programs over 20 years, the HRDF continues a commitment to providing measurable results for program beneficiaries and program benefactors. Working with multiple international partners from North America and Europe, the HRDF is committed to fundamental improvements in Haitian villages to ensure greater economic vitality in the near future.