An award is made to the New York Botanical Garden to conduct a multi-disciplinary study of the flora, fungi, habitat complexity, and stream biology of Pohnpei and Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Biodiversity surveys will be conducted on these islands and the resulting patterns will be studied with respect to agricultural practices and land management. This information will be used to help guide local conservation initiatives, based on identifying the most important and unique habitats. The plants, fungi, and stream biota of these high islands have been poorly studied compared to many other Pacific islands. The proposed research and its link to on-the-ground conservation initiatives comes at a critical time, as the island's biota are under serious threat from feral animals, human disturbance, coastal and inland erosion and sedimentation, sea level rise, overfishing and overhunting, water pollution, dredging of sand and coral, and invasion by aggressive alien plants.
This project will include close involvement of Pacific Islanders in the biodiversity research through significant educational and training experiences. The people of this region are traditionally underserved by scientific research programs. Local involvement in conservation efforts is key to future preservation of this region. Thorough survey work will provide more accurate information on the island's natural resources, which will be used to devise watershed boundaries and conservation recommendations for preservation of pristine areas. This project will also develop permanent plots to monitor future impacts of climate change on island ecosystems.
Micronesia is considered one of the worldâ€™s twenty five biodiversity hotspots, yet the biota of many of the islands in this region remains poorly understood. This project conducted a biodiversity assessment to: 1) produce a checklist of the plants, fleshy fungi, and stream biodiversity found in Pohnpei and Kosrae Islands and, 2) determine how clearing forest in the upland forest for sakau (Piper methysticum G. Forst) cultivation (known elsewhere in the Pacific as kava) directly impacts biodiversity and stream function. We conducted botanical surveys throughout the island, allowing us to gather detailed information about the flora of these islands. Exploration was even conducted on extremely difficult to access places using ropes and a special collecting technique known as "rough terrain botany". Approximately 4,000 botanical collections were gathered during the period of the grant, resulting in 30 new island records for the islands, of which at least one was a previously undescribed species. As a result we have published the Checklist of the Vascular Plants of Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia with Local Names and Uses in Allertonia, and are currently preparing the Checklist of Vascular Plants of Kosrae. Previously, only five mushroom species had been documented from this area. We made nearly 300 collections of fleshy fungi on Pohnpei and 112 specimens on Kosrae. Of these specimens, we believe that there are approximately 138 species belonging to 67 genera on Pohnpei, and approximately 105 species belonging to 41 genera in Kosrae. The number of new or endemic species has not been determined at this time, but specimen analyses are ongoing. Eight of the species found were bioluminescent, while six indigenous species are edible and are potential candidates for cultivation and several have significant local medicinal uses. Stream organisms such as fish, shrimp, and insects were sampled from upland streams. Some of the insects, which have been noted as occurring on the island, are unknown from their aquatic life stages. Specialists in mites and midge flies were provided with material for identification. As a result, two new species of mites were described from Pohnpei, and several midge fly species are being re-described with new life history information, while others are being described as new species. When we analyze the impacts of sakau forest clearings on these organisms, we find there are significant changes caused by the clearings. The sakau clearings are negatively impacting the number of species, the number of individuals, and species diversity of native trees, while increasing the same factors for ferns, vines, and invasive plant species. With the removal of the upper canopy, we see ten times the amount of light compared to forested areas. This is likely responsible for decreasing number of species, number of individuals, and species diversity of fleshy fungi in sakau cleared areas compared to native forest habitats. Increased light to the streams also resulted in algal biomass measurements being three times greater in streams where the riparian forest had been cleared. The effect of the clearings on average numbers of species, and diversity of stream organisms indicated no significant difference between sakau and forest streams. On the other hand, it did significantly alter community structure and increase the number of individuals of organisms within the streams. The changes in community composition and overall densities of stream invertebrates and fish suggest that, despite the lack of significant differences in diversity measures between stream types, species may have been replaced with species that were more tolerant of the conditions created by the adjacent sakau clearings. This project also contained a significant educational and training component for several students and local Micronesians. Staff members of the local Non-Government Conservation Organizations were trained in the sampling techniques and methodologies while working closely with the scientists during this research project. Three University of Hawaii, Hilo students originally from Micronesia had summer internships through this project, and three US students were provided with research opportunities during this project. Several lectures were given at the College of Micronesia—FSM cultural botany class. The results of this study were presented at a three day workshop on Pohnpei that involved foresters, farmers, enforcement officers, forest rangers, local governmental authorities, and elders from Kosrae and Pohnpei. Residents of both islands came together to address the serious environmental problems caused by agricultural cultivation in the high mountain watershed forests, and the group produced a declaration entitled "Declaration of Commitment to Protect our Natural Resources and Cultural Heritage in Partnership for Present and Future Generations on Kosrae and Pohnpei." (www.serehd.org/wp-content/uploads/October-11-Newsletterfinal.pdf). The project also created a biodiversity library—a collection of information, publications and references—on the Micronesia Challenge Website (http://mcbiodiversityreferences.blogspot.com/) to serve as an easy to access source of information about biodiversity of the various Micronesian nations and a place to deposit information gathered in the future.