Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Cuba 10

Cuba: Siboney-Juticí width=

Report at a glance | Downloadable files | Acknowledgements

Report at a glance

Dates of field work
27-28 September 2002

The inventory took place in Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve in southeastern Cuba, approximately 10 km southeast of Santiago de Cuba and immediately west of the community of Siboney (Figs. 1, 2A). The Reserve’s area is 20.8 km2 (2,075 ha), of which 1,434 ha are terrestrial habitats and 641 ha are marine habitats (Figs. 2A, 2B). It retains all of its original terrestrial habitats, including coastal and precoastal xeromorphic scrub (matorral xeromorfo costero y precostero; Fig. 2C) and semideciduous microphyll forest (bosque semideciduo micrófilo) (the two most important vegetation types for conservation), as well as representatives, in good condition, of the three other original habitats of the area—mangrove stand (manglar), sea-grape woodland (uveral), and rocky-coastal vegetation complex (complejo de costa rocosa; Fig. 2D).

Sites Surveyed
The biological inventory team used BIOECO’s ecological station, situated at the eastern end of the Reserve, as its base of operations (Fig. 2A), from which they explored the Reserve on foot. The social inventory team conducted interviews and observations in the community of Siboney and at the ecological station.

Organisms surveyed
Terrestrial vascular plants, terrestrial mollusks, spiders and other arachnids, butterflies, hymenopterans (ants, bees, and wasps), amphibians and terrestrial reptiles, and birds. Collaborators provided additional data from previous studies in the area on liverworts, mosses, vascular plants, mammals, and marine biodiversity (algae, corals, mollusks, fishes, reptiles, and mammals). The community of Siboney and the staff of the Reserve collaborated in the social inventory.

Highlight of results
Most of Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve has not been altered substantially by human activity. Apparently, the first human inhabitants of the area (the Ciboneys) caused little impact, which was restricted to the coastal and riparian zones of the Reserve. The Spanish, Cuban residents, and North American investors later developed a road, a railroad, and agricultural fields along the coastal plain of the Reserve, on the first geological terrace. Old fields, a dirt road, and a gravel pit (the last of the three adjacent to, but outside, the Reserve) are all that remains of this development. The dry, inhospitable areas of the interior of the Reserve —the limestone areas of the second and third terraces—retain almost all of their native vegetation.

Our inventory was interrupted by the arrival of Hurricane Lily. Using the information that we obtained during the two days of fieldwork, complemented by additional data from other collections, the literature, and unpublished studies, we record the following significant results. We begin with the nonhuman terrestrial groups, follow with marine groups, and end with human communities.

Birds: We recorded 48 species of birds during the inventory. Of these, Baybreasted Warbler (Dendroica castanea) is a new record for Eastern Cuba, and 4 species are new records for the Reserve. The inventory increased the total number of species known from the Reserve to 72. We observed 5 of the 10 species of Cuban endemic birds that inhabit the area. Individuals of some endemic species were very abundant, such as Cuban Gnatcatcher (Polioptila lembeyei, with a large, important population in the xerophytic coastal vegetation of the Reserve; Fig. 5E), Oriente Warbler (Teretistris fornsi; Fig. 5F), and Cuban Vireo (Vireo gundlachii). Although we did not see Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae; Fig. 5G) during the inventory, the presence of this Cuban endemic has been documented in the Reserve. We also observed many individuals of Prairie Warbler (Dendroica discolor), as well as 8 other species of migratory warblers. The Reserve appears to be an important reprovisioning stopover for many species of migratory birds.

Amphibians and reptiles: During the inventory, we recorded 21 of the 28 species known in the Reserve. Of these, 4 are amphibians (3 frogs and 1 toad), and 24 are reptiles (18 lizards, 4 snakes, and 2 blind snakes). The low number of amphibians is attributable to the arid characteristics of the area. In terms of number of species, the genera Anolis (8 species), Sphaerodactylus (4), and Eleutherodactylus (2) predominate, and xeromorphic scrub had the greatest number of species (26). Three of the 4 species of amphibians and, in contrast, 13 of the 24 species of reptiles are Cuban endemics. Our records during the inventory of the frog Eleutherodactylus etheridgei (Fig. 5A) constitute two new localities for the species, which formerly was known only from one record in Santiago de Cuba and another at the Naval Base at Guantánamo.

Mammals: Twenty-one species of terrestrial mammals have been reported in the Reserve. Of the 19 native species, 18 are bats and 1 is a rodent (the hutia Capromys pilorides). Only 2 introduced species of mammals have been recorded: the Norway rat (Rattus norvegicus), which is widespread in the Reserve, and the house mouse (Mus musculus), which is restricted to the buildings at the ecological station. Of the bats, 15 species are known from live specimens and 3 species from bones deposited in cave sediments in the Reserve. Three of the bat species are Cuban endemics: Antrozous koopmani, Stenoderma falcatum, and Phyllonycteris poeyi (Fig. 6B, and cover photograph). This last species forms enormous colonies and is a key species for the extensive subterranean ecosystems of the Reserve.

Invertebrate animals: During the inventory, we observed 21 of the 22 species of terrestrial mollusks recorded for the Reserve. This species richness is extremely high, probably because of the abundance of rock containing calcium carbonate (Figs. 4E-G). Twenty (90.9%) of these species are endemic, including Macroceramus jeannereti, which is endemic to Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve. Only 2 of the species are not endemic to Cuba.

The Reserve is very rich in spiders. Ninety species, grouped in 30 families and 69 genera, have been recorded within its boundaries. Of these, 20 are Cuban endemics and 24 are new records for the Reserve (Figs. 4A, 4B). We observed 17 species of other arachnids, which constitute all of the species known in the Reserve: 8 scorpions, 3 amblypygids, 2 schizomids, 2 solpugids, 1 ricinuleids, and 1 uropygid (Figs. 4C, 4D). Of these, 4 are local endemics of the Reserve. The Reserve covers only 0.01% of the surface area of Cuba, but many species of these arachnid groups are represented.

Of the insects, we observed 37 species of butterflies and we predict that approximately 50 species inhabit the Reserve. We found 107 species of hymenopterans (ants, bees, and wasps) in the Reserve, of which the ants (family Formicidae) were the most numerous group, with 36 species. Other families with high numbers of species were Sphecidae (a group of wasps) and Apidae (the bees).

Plants: On the two days of the inventory, we recorded 150 species of vascular plants (ferns and flowering plants), of which some were new records (not included in the previous work of Bermúdez et al. 2001). We recorded 672 species in at least 78 families, or 9.9% of Cuba’s vascular flora, and we estimate that approximately 750 species occur in the Reserve. Of the species reported here, 159 are Cuban endemics (a concentration of 5.0% of Cuba’s endemic vascular plants in 0.01% of the country’s surface area). Seven species are endangered, or are considered vulnerable, worldwide: the chicharrón (Synapsis ilicifolia) and Tabebuia polymorpha, both in the Bignoniaceae; Doerpfeldia cubensis and the bruja (Ziziphus [Sarcomphalus] havanensis var. havanensis), both in the Rhamnaceae; Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahagoni, Meliaceae); the chicharrón de costa (Pouteria aristata, Sapotaceae); and lignum vitae (Guaiacum officinale, Zygophyllaceae; Fig. 3D).

In Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve are found 8 species of liverworts belonging to 4 families. Some, like the Frullania species and the 4 ephemeral species of the genus Riccia, show morphological or ecological characteristics that allow them to survive in the arid conditions of the Reserve, which would be lethal for most liverworts. The Reserve also presents conditions extremely unfavorable for the development of most mosses. For that reason, only 7 infrageneric taxa of mosses have been recorded; all are of the families Pottiaceae and Fissidentaceae. Only 1 Cuban endemic (Fissidens duryae) has been recorded.

Marine biodiversity: Within its marine zone, Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve encompasses eight ecosystem types: coast with sandy beach (costa de playa arenosa), rocky coast (costa rocosa), mangrove stand (manglar), marine meadow (pasto marino), sandy bottom (arenal), coral terrace (terraza coralina), flat rocky terrace (terraza rocosa llana), and submarine canyon (cañón submarino). We recorded 22 species of marine algae belonging to 7 families. The high percent cover of algae at the mouth of the San Juan River suggests that they flourish because of contributions of organic matter. We found 23 species of corals in 10 families (of the 60 species, subspecies, and forms reported for the Cuban archipelago). Within this area we observed two diseases of this group: white-band disease and black-band disease.

In the first inventory of marine mollusks for this zone, we recorded 12 species in 2 classes and 6 families. Of the 94 species of fishes encountered, fishers capture 59; the most sought-after are the 21 species belonging to the families Haemulidae (grunts), Lutjanidae (snappers), and Serranidae (sea basses). Also in this zone, the green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles and a marine mammal, the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus, have been observed.

Human communities: Around 2000 B.C.E. the Ciboneys emigrated from presentday Venezuela to the coastal zone of what is now the Reserve. These people, as well as Arawak agriculturalists, also used the region’s caves. In the sixteenth century, Spanish settlers drove native peoples out of the area. Two hundred years later, they fortified the coast with structures that remain today. A railroad into the region, constructed by Juragua Iron in the 1880s, was dismantled in the 1930s.

The coastal community of Siboney has a concentrated population of more than 1,000 inhabitants. Its beach is visited during all seasons of the year, both by Cuban and by foreign tourists. Employment level in the community is high: residents receive income through supplying the necessities for tourism, and more than 25 economic and service centers employ community members. Siboney has three educational centers—for primary, secondary, and postgraduate instruction— which have intensified and spread activities of environmental education throughout the population. Many of the residents interviewed indicated an interest in conserving the biodiversity of the area. During its survey and monitoring, the social inventory team verified that activities that harm natural resources— logging, charcoal production, and the extraction of the Reserve’s vegetation for domestic uses, among others—have been minimized, and in some cases eliminated. Nevertheless, the rapid inventory identified other problems, such as sand extraction and illicit fishing; although these activities are not carried out by community members, they constitute a menace to the conservation of the area. In the opinion of the social inventory team, the activities of the community of Siboney are not insuperable threats for the conservation and protection of the natural, historic, and cultural values of the Reserve, if systematic work in education is intensified and if alternative solutions to economic problems, from local to national scales, are sought.

Main threats
Extensive habitat destruction is not an immediate threat to Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve. Areas of the Reserve formerly degraded by human activities (e.g., alteration of vegetation by domestic animals) are now in recovery. Nevertheless, the following threats (which originate outside the Reserve’s boundaries) put its biodiversity at risk:
  • Clandestine extractive activities (e.g., hunting of sea turtles, the manatee, the Cuban iguana, and the hutia; overfishing; cutting of shrubby vegetation for fuel, and of trees for precious woods; sand extraction). Although people from outside the coastal zone probably cause the most serious impacts, local populations also are involved in some of these activities.

  • Habitat degradation in the foraging areas of the bats that have their diurnal refuges in Siboney-Juticí. Most of these areas lie outside the Reserve and have no formal protection at the moment.

  • Unplanned tourism in the coastal zone. Uses of the beach that are incompatible with conservation could place entire ecosystems at risk.

Current Status
The area was approved as an Ecological Reserve (Reserva Ecológica) by an agreement with the Provincial Government of Santiago de Cuba after a formal process of reconciliation. It also has been approved at the national level by the Council of Ministers (Consejo de Ministros) of Cuba. Siboney-Juticí Ecological Reserve was 1 of the first 32 reserves approved through Decree 201 of the National System of Protected Areas, which took effect with the publication of the decree in the Official Gazette of 24 December 1999.

Principal recommendations for protection and management
  • Eliminate clandestine extractive activities along the coast. Integrate marine and coastal biodiversity, as well as terrestrial life, into protection strategies.

  • Develop management programs in the foraging zones of the bats, after identifying their specific locations. At the same time, protect the cavern systems inside the Reserve that give refuge not only to bats but also to endemic species such as several arachnids.

  • Continue the process of capacity building and involvement of local residents in the protection and management of the Reserve. Work with their economic interests in the benefits of tourism to plan the use, compatible with conservation, of coastal zones by national and foreign tourists.

Long-term conservation benefits
  • Strengthened management of a protected area outstanding in Cuba for its extensive area of xeromorphic scrub and for its intact rocky-coastal vegetation complex

  • Protection of many conservation targets at risk in Cuba and worldwide: endemic species and species with restricted distributions, rich faunas of certain groups (e.g., arachnids and terrestrial mollusks), irreplaceable populations of bats and other cave-dwelling fauna, species that are threatened or endangered at the global level, and a reprovisioning stopover for migratory passerine birds

  • A local human population that gains benefits—tangible and intangible— from collaborating in this protection and management

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