Last May, a field study was carried out to record all the vegetation species identified in the Pedasí dunes, on the eastern coast of Los Santos. The excursion was led by botanist Jorge Valdés in conjunction with Dr. Catherine Potvin, the Canada Research Chair on Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forest at McGill University, and Dr. Héctor Barrios, an entomologist at the University of Panama and a native of Pedasi. For twelve days, field research occurred between the beaches of Arenal and Toro in the dunes, tropical dry forest, and small mangrove ecosystems of the Pablo Arturo Barrios Wildlife Refuge. The investigations tried to establish a list of all the plant species that exist on the eastern coast of Azuero.
The dunes of the Pedasí coast are parabolic, that is, they are formed by unidirectional sea winds that erode the sand. Parabolic dunes are kept stable by vegetation cover of shrubs, grasses, and trees, as well as water retained by rainfall. For this reason, the conservation of dune vegetation on the Azuero coast is imperative for the stability of the dune ecosystem, since the loss of these plants would threaten the very sand formations that are so important for the health of the soil in the interior of Azuero. . The dunes and their plants provide extremely important ecosystem services to the east of Los Santos, such as the desalination of the groundwater they infiltrate, the prevention of sea winds that would carry salt to inland agricultural fields, and acting as a barrier against ocean erosion. . If these little-researched plants were wiped out, it would jeopardize not only the entire coastal ecosystem but also the agricultural and economic viability of inland Los Santos. However, apart from Pedasí-based environmental organizations such as Pro Eco Azuero and the Pablo Arturo Barrios Velasco Environmental Organization, very little conservation attention is paid to the needs of these coastal ecosystems. They are primarily threatened by illegal waterfront real estate development within the Pablo Arturo Barrios wildlife refuge, which significantly alters the dune formations and surrounding vegetation. Sand mining and garbage contamination are also substantial threats to dunes and plants. Unfortunately, the government has not enforced legal protection against these threats within the federally established wildlife refuge.
This research carried out on the vegetation of the Pedasí dunes represents an important step in the conservation process of this critical and unstudied ecosystem. Despite its crucial role, little scientific or governmental attention is paid to its conservation; Very few studies have been carried out to monitor ecosystems or the status of threatened species within the limits of the Pablo Arturo Barrios wildlife refuge. The development of any targeted conservation plan, which is largely absent from the wildlife refuge, requires the identification of focal conservation targets (in this case, threatened or near-threatened species), consistent monitoring and assessment of the ecological attributes of these targets, and finally the adaptive management based on these assessments. Jorge Valdés says that the results of his research are the first step to establish a focused plan of this caliber; he has enumerated a large number of the essential species found in the Pedasí dunes and identified those of special biological or conservation interest. Below is the list of 70 plant species reported during the 12-day field trip in May:
Ficus cf. pertusa
Guettarda cf. elliptica
Psychotria cf. carthagenensis
Serjania sp. 1
Paullinia sp. 1
Sebastiana cf. panamensis
Opuestas pubescente en casa
Escalera de mono
Malpighiaceae sp. 1
Hyptis sp. 1
Acalypha sp. 1
Of these 70 reported species, Valdés points out six in particular that are of special biological interest:
1. Pectis multiflosculosa: a species of flowering plant with limited distribution in Central America, and with very little research done in Panama.
2. Sebastian cf. panamensis: The species status of this plant is questionable, because much of the research and herbarium collections are specific to the genus only. It is a possible species with a very limited range, only in Panama and Costa Rica.
3. Pleopeltis cf. complanata: it was unlikely to find this type of fern at the study site and the samples are no longer truly identified. If this plant is not of the complanata species, it may be a fern of great taxonomic interest.
4. Sideroxylon capiri: this species is one of the most threatened of the reported species, so it was not removed from the study site. Many observations of this species were still shrubs and seedlings, making its conservation even more critical at this time.
5. Conocarpus erectus: this mangrove swamp is subject to deforestation for domestic and industrial uses.
6. Copaifera aromatica: occurs mainly in humid forests rather than in the tropical dry forests of Pedasí, the observation of this plant is rare in the study site. Due to threats, there have been few collections and a limited distribution of this species in Panama.
Overall, the list of identified species points to a high level of heterogeneity in dune vegetation, even comparable to highly diverse tropical forest ecosystems. A few of the selected species existed in a large proportion with respect to their abundance, and these species are classified as having the highest ecological value because they contribute disproportionately to the character and structure of the ecosystem, according to Valdés. These species were Sterculia apetala, Guapira costaricana, Guazuma ulmifolia, Bursera simaruba, and Tecoma stans.
The possible presence of wild cats was also reported, and tracks of what was likely a jaguarundi were observed at the research site in May. While the study focused only on vegetation, the presence of these feral cats was an unexpected finding, because the jaguarundi and other big cats on the Azuero Peninsula were thought to be confined to Cerro Hoya National Park. The image on the left is an example of jaguarundi tracks, but it was not taken in Panama.
Valdés hopes to return to the field to carry out more censuses of vegetative species this coming November or December. On the Azuero Peninsula, the dry season runs from November to early May, so it is possible that, being at the opposite end of the season to the last field trip, the botanist may encounter different plant species than those previously identified. Gathering so much information about this region is extremely important, Valdés says, because there is very little existing scientific literature on these specific ecosystems. This not only makes the work of local conservation organizations difficult, as they do not always have the knowledge to formulate specific conservation plans, but it creates a vacuum of low levels of research. Without studies and articles on the dunes, dry forests, and mangroves of Los Santos, little attention is paid to the region by science students and researchers across the country, leading to a further lack of impetus for research—this circle vicious can only be interrupted by research like this, which can be used to educate and create opportunities for researchers to study and expand on in the future. Conservationists cannot rely on federal or local governments to carry out environmental protection in Los Santos, not even within the federally protected Pablo Arturo Barrios Wildlife Refuge. With most government attention going to resorts and national parks, fragmented protected areas like this one are often ignored. It will be up to scientists like Jorge Valdés, Dr. Barrios and Dr. Potvin, along with the help of local groups, to take the future of Los Santos into their own hands. With the ongoing risks posed by neglect, development, and the growing threats of climate change, studies like this will be crucial to the future conservation of coastal ecosystems along the Azuero Peninsula and hopefully encourage the next generation. of scientists, farmers and landowners. , developers and conservationists alike have a similar hand in protecting it.
Special thanks to: Jorge Valdes
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