Pushing (or opening?) the climate envelope for epiphytic bromeliads

El Tucuche (936m) at the W end of the Northern Mountain Range, Trinidad

El Tucuche (936m) at the W end of the Northern Mountain Range, Trinidad

Hmmmm envelopes pushed, eh? Aching limbs from our quartering of the forests confirm, in part, urban dictionary definitions. Being enveloped by a convective shower, as dusk closes in on the trail, leads to focus on the climatic elements more than tropical forest zonation and updating Beard or Holdridge- but here we are in the Trinidad forests, and no mistake!

Arima Valley- view S from 'garden' at crest of westerly ridge

Arima Valley- view S from ‘garden’ at crest of westerly ridge

The Northern Mountain Range extends E-W for ~40 km, with highest peaks from the strikingly isolated El Tucuche to the west, and Cerro del Aripo (940m) and massif towards the eastern end, from which a number of high afforested ridges radiate NE to S. The main E-W ridge drops steeply towards the Caribbean, and is subtended to the S by a number of parallel ridges and valleys. Perhaps 30% of the forest around the main ridge is designated as “reserves”.

Most of the valleys to the west are largely populated, with degraded agricultural lands, and moving progressively east the valleys are increasingly dominated by relict plantations (mainly cocoa and citrus, some coffee) up to 350 m, and a number of limestone quarries. At the centre is the Arima Valley, which provides the only road route over the Northern Range E-W ridge to Blanchisseuse; roads and travel are challenging, circuitous and crumbling!

Forest clearance- Secondary forest above plantations on E side Arima Valley

Forest clearance- Secondary forest above plantations on E side Arima Vall

There is an evident increase in local deforestation by squatters and their “gardens”, as well as quarrying activities. Should we be concerned? Yes! And yet, who initially built all these winding access routes with their retaining walls, abutments and cuttings, ever subject to erosion and slumping? How much do any of us genuinely do to curb the exploitation of natural resources (sensu coal, oil and minerals)? The primary forest is restricted to the steep N faces of the range, particularly around Aripo. We are hoping to work with the Government and Yasmin Baksh-Comeau at the National Herbarium of Trinidad to quantify the water storage of montane forests and help to protect watersheds.

Why Trinidad? Well HG started here over 30 years ago to define the physecol of the epiphytic bromeliads. Since that time he has harboured a longstanding obsession with the striking segregation of two large CAM species, one lowland and extending up into the valleys (Aechmea aquilega), seemingly being replaced by that peculiarity of CAM in montane tropical forests, here seen as A. fendleri. And now young Jamie has been infected with said obsession, so were our preliminary observations correct across all of those ridges and valleys? We will report in a subsequent blog!

Aechmea aquilega- Lowland CAM nest-forming bromeliad

Aechmea aquilega- Lowland CAM nest-forming bromeliad

Meanwhile, we are dedicated to envelope filling- whether for distributional data points and their altitudes across N and S slopes, or herbarium voucher specimens for any novel observations encountered. [that’s enough envelope jokes, Ed.] Challenging, tiring but uplifting stuff, where the friendliness of the locals is constantly tempered by warnings of violence and drug-related tensions. Meanwhile, the tremendous efforts of the Field Naturalists of Trinidad and Tobago (ttfnc.org/‎) do much to popularise interest and appreciation of the forests.

Aechmea fendleri- Montane forest CAM bromeliad

Aechmea fendleri- Montane forest CAM bromeliad

We travel light, unkept and with fingers crossed- vigilant at all times whether for bromeliads in the forests, or potholes and oncoming vehicles on the roads.
[and next hg will hopefully learn how to add in snazzy hyperlinks]

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