Trees account for 12% of all Cuban plant species and are of great ecological and economic value in the country. Many species are threatened and of the Cuban endemic plants that are already extinct, 25% are trees. Another 173 Cuban trees, 46% of all tree species assessed to date, are threatened by extinction (91 Critically Endangered, 53 Endangered and 29 Vulnerable). The most common threats to these species are logging, habitat fragmentation, biological invasions, and agriculture.
However, there are still huge gaps in our knowledge of the threats facing Cuba’s trees. Of the native trees reported to Cuba (BGCI 2017), only 378 have been properly assessed, meaning that we have very little information on the 871 species with no conservation assessments.
At the regional level, compiling the information of Cuban populations of Caribbean endemic trees will contribute to red-listing the trees endemic to the region and it will promote more action for regional red-listing amongst others. All of the assessments will directly contribute to the Global Tree Assessment, an initiative coordinated by BGCI that aims to assess all of the world’s tree species by 2020.
In 2018, Planta! started a project with the support of the Franklinia Foundation to assess the conservation situation of all Cuban endemic trees according to the criteria of IUCN (2001). The assessment process has been organized in three steps: (1) compilation of species information, (2) validation of the information and species categorization, and (3) data entry in the IUCN SIS.
To achieve the compilation of species information (step 1), trained volunteers have gathered data from Cuban herbaria (HAC and HAJB among them) and from the literature to produce a preliminary species data sheet and distribution map for each tree species. So far, information have been compiled for 685 species of trees. This information is available to the Cuban Plant Specialist Group and to Cuban institutions such as the Cuban Environment Agency, the National Center for Protected Areas, and the Flora and Fauna Protection Enterprise.
The validation of the information and the species categorization (Step 2) has been conducted by the IUCN/SSC Cuban Plant Specialist Group (CubanPSG). The species assessment considers the species data sheets and additional information that members of the Specialist Group have provided during the evaluations. A total of 422 species of trees have been categorized so far, from which 133 species are Critically Endangered and 250 are Endangered. A total of 422 species of trees have been categorized so far, from which 133 species are Critically Endangered and 250 are Endangered. Upcoming meetings will allow to complete the data sheet for some of the biggest tree families in Cuba: Fabaceae, Myrtaceae and Bignoniaceae.
At the regional level, two meetings have been celebrated already. The first regional meeting took place in Havana (April 2019) with specialists from the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the United States of America and Mexico. The conservation status of 21 shared species was assessed and documented. A second meeting was celebrated in the Bahamas (September 2019). Three members of the Cuban Plant Specialist Group attended this meeting where 18 species distributed in Cuba and the Bahamas were assessed. The information generated during this event will be entered shortly in the IUCN SIS (step 3).
Current efforts are focused on completing steps 1 and 2 of this project in order to have all the information ready to be entered in the IUCN SIS. Planta!’s team aims to complete a comprehensive conservation assessment of all Cuban trees by the end of 2020.