The island of Hispaniola in the Caribbean

Originally these forests occupied about 15% of the vegetation on the island of Hispaniola and were located primarily on the low montane, from 850 to 2200 meters elevation, and montane, from 2100 to 3175 meters elevation, steppes of the island’s principal mountain ranges. They may be intermixed with latifoliate species, forming mixed forests, and constitute the only type of forests above elevations of 2,500 meters. This type of vegetation maintains rich insular flora and fauna, with abundant endemisms and relict taxons. The conservation status of these forests is vulnerable, due to the limited original habitat that remains and threats due to grazing, the gathering of firewood, fires set by man, and other factors (Tasaico 1967; Dinerstein et al. 1995; Zonas de Vida n.d.).

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    4,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
The pine forests of Hispaniola Island are located on slopes with shallow soils and higher elevations of the mountain systems of both Dominican Republic and Hait. Located primarily in the central Dominican mountain range with the highest point in the Antilles then continuing in the northern massif of Haiti. This ecoregion is mainly in mountainous areas of the Cordillera Caentral, the Sierra de Bahoruco and other small patches of both coutries. There are several other paices in the La Selle massif and in the La Hotte massif and on the Tiburón peninsula, in Haiti (Tasaico 1967; Dominican Republic 1998; WWF-US unpublished). The climate of this ecoregion is varied, depending on altitude (from low montane to montane) and precipitation (from wet to very wet). Average annual precipitation generally varies between 1,000 and more than 2,000 mm and is more intense from April to November. Although irregular, the rains manage to maintain a certain level of moisture in the soil for a large part of the year. Average annual temperature is between 18ºC and 12ºC and may fall below 0ºC between December and February, causing frosts that are more frequent on the montane steppe. These forests usually develop in shallow, carbonate, lateritic, low-producing soils, located primarily on land with rugged topography. Although there are isolated pine trees in the lowlands, these forests develop properly above 800 meters elevation (low montane steppe) and are the only forest formation above 2,100 meters and reaching elevations to 3,175 meters, the highest point in the Caribbean. This ecoregion is important because it lies within the island’s most important water catchment basins and because it controls runoff from rains and soil erosion (Hartshorn et al. 1981; Zonas de Vida n.d.).

The natural vegetation of this ecoregion consists primarily of pine trees. The pino criollo, cuaba or "pin" (Pinus occidentalis), the only native pine of Hispaniola, has an altitudinal range of 200 to 3,175 m, and can be found in mixed populations with latifoliate trees, below elevations of 2,100 meters or pure populations, above elevations of 2,100 meters (Farjon et al. 1997). In the lowlands, pino criollo develops particularly on lateritic soils in a very wet climate. These trees have the ability to grow in acidic, shallow infertile soils because they establish ectomycorrhizal symbioses with types of fungi. Other conifer species found particularly on the slopes of the central mountain range are the sabina (Juniperus gracilior), endemic sabina (J. ekmanii) and Podocarpus buchii. The principal wide-leaf species include Garrya fadyenii and Vaccinium cubense, which are specific to the area located close to Constanza and the Sierra de Bahoruco; Rapanea ferruginea, is common on the slopes of the northern section of the central mountain range, close to Jarabacoa and San José de las Matas; and Buddleia domingensis is in the central mountain range. The forests of the montane steppe are more open than those of the low montane steppe and are usually accompanied by "cara de hombre" (Lyonia spp.), "abey" (Pithecellobium arboreum), "yaya fina" (Oxandra lanceolata), "pajón" (Danthonia dominguensis), Verbena domingensis and Wienmannia pinnata. The pine forests are intermixed with wet montane forests as a result of the degradation of the latter. The undergrowth in the pine grove is rather poor in species and varies in composition depending on the substrate. The native species of this ecoregion have easy natural regeneration due to the moisture in the soils and their growth is moderate (Hartshorn et al. 1981; Zonas de Vida n.d.).

Biodiversity Features
The pine forests of Hispaniola Island contain various endemic species of plants and animals, including numerous specialist species in limestone and serpentine soils that are among those listed in the Global 200 ecoregions that have been assigned the highest conservation priority (Dinerstein et al. 1995; Olson et al. 1997). This ecoregion is found in four of the five most important centers of plant diversity and endemism on the island (Davis et al. 1997). In the Dominican Republic, there are centers in the central mountain range with a total of 1,500 plant species and between 15% to 30% of endemisms on the island in its low montane and montane forests, and the Sierra de Neiba area there are 350 plant species listed with between 25% and 30% of endemics for the island in its low montane forests. In Haiti, we find the low montane forests of Morne la Visite area listed with 335 plant species and 30% of endemisms on the island and those of the Pic Macaya area are listed with 665 species and 30% of endemics. Represented in the Sierra de Bahoruco National Park alone are 166 or 52% of the orchids existing in the country, 32 or 10% of which are endemic species (Grupo Jaragua 1994).

The land fauna of this ecoregion is diverse with numerous species that are in danger of becoming extinct. There is a great variety of insects and other invertebrates as well as reptiles, amphibians and mammals endemic to the island. The most notable endemic mammal of Hispanolia Island is the Hispaniolan Hutia (Plagiodontia aedium).

The avifauna of Hispanolia Island is very distinct, it even has six endemic genera including Calyptophilus, Dulus, Nesoctites, Phaenicophilus, Xenoligea and Microligea (Stattersfield et al. 1998).

Many bird species listed are endemic to Hispaniola. Many birds found in the pine forests of this ecoregion are often also found in the other forested ecoregions of Hispaniola Island; however, the combined amounts of all forests most species share is less than 50,000 km2 (Stattersfield et al. 1998). The black-crowned palm-tanager (Phaenicophiilus poliocephalus) is more restricted than most of the following endemic species listed due to its perference for the southern penninsula of Haiti where it enters the Massif de la Hotte pine forest patch of this ecoregion. Other notable endemic birds include Hispaniolan hawk (EN) (Buteo ridgwayi), and Hispaniolan parakeet (VU) (Aratinga chloroptera) to name a few of the low to middle altitude species then white-winged warbler (VU) (Xenoligea montana), Hispaniolan emerald (Chlorostilbon swainsonii) and Hispaniolan trogan (Priotelus roseigaster) of the middle to higher elvation parts of the ecoregion (Stattersfield et al. 1998; Zonas de Vida n.d.).

Current Status
According to Dinerstein et al. 1995, more than half of the original habitat of this ecoregion has been lost. The ecoregion contains at least one habitat block larger than 800 km2 and the degree of fragmentation is average in that the fragments are somewhat grouped. The annual conversion rate from intact to altered habitat (for the period 1990-1995) is about 2.5%, a high figure due to the large amount of original habitat lost. According to Olson et al. 1996, the gaps in biogeographic data on the ecoregion are sufficient to hamper protection and conservation efforts. The gaps in taxonomic data are not so great, although greater knowledge is still needed. According to the Dominican Republic’s 1999 National Human Development Report, the forest cover based on interpretations of Landsat images from 1988 to 1996; of dense coniferous forest in this country is 4.04%, and open coniferous forest is 2.24%, totaling 6.24%. It is estimated that these forests originally represented 15% of the island’s territory (Tasaico 1967). Haiti’s forest situation is still more troubling in that only 1.44% of the total original forest cover is left (Strauss 2000).

In the Dominican Republic, this ecoregion is protected in parts of the Armando Bermúdez National Park (766 Km2, IUCN category II), the José del Carmen Ramírez National Park (764 Km2, IUCN category II), the Valle Nuevo Scientific Reserve (409 Km2, IUCN category IV), the Ébano Verde Natural Scientific Reserve (23 Km2, IUCN category IV), the Sierra de Neiba National Park (407 Km2, IUCN category II) and the Sierra Bahoruco National Park (1027 Km2, IUCN category II) (CEP 1996, UNEP 1997).

In Haiti, this ecoregion is only represented in parts of the Pic Macaya National Park (55 Km2, IUCN category II) and the La Visite National Park (20 Km2, IUCN category II) (CEP 1996, UNEP 1997).

Types and Severity of Threats
The degradation and destruction of these forests still continues due to agriculture, grazing, gathering of firewood to produce charcoal and fires set by man (Dinerstein et al. 1995). Reforestry activities are being attempted but are done with exotic tree species, not the native endemic pine species. Also, note that when reforesting including planted non-native vegetation to Hispaniola, such as Pinus caribaea, the are doing more harm than good possibly and this speies of pine (Carrebian Pine) does not grow well on Hispanoila Island and is subject to sickness and insect infestation. If the people do introduce a species that does well in this environment then the native vegetation will enter a more risky existance than it is currently in.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
In process (by WWF-US).

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SEA/DVS 1990. La diversidad biológica en la República Dominicana. Reporte preparado por el Departamento de Vida Silvestre para el Servicio de Cooperación Social-Técnica y WWF-US. Secretaría de Estado de Agricultura, SURENA/DVS, Santo Domingo, RD.

Stattersfield, A.J., M.J.Crosby, A.J. Long, and D.C. Wege. (in press) A global directory of Endemic Bird Areas. BirdLife Conservation Series. BirdLife International, Cambridge, U.K.

STD (Science and Technology Division) 1979. Draft environmental report on Haiti. Library of Congress and US Man and Biosphere Secretariat, Washington, D.C.

Strauss V., 2000. Wood has become a scarce commodity. Island beat: News from the Environmental Frontline of the Caribbean.

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Tolentino, L., y Peña, M. 1998. Inventario de la vegetación y uso de la tierra en la República Dominicana. Moscosoa 10: 179-203.

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Valdez, G. y M. Mateo, 1992. Sistema de áreas protegidas de la República Dominicana. Dirección Nacional de Parques, Santo Domingo, RD.

Walter, K.S. and H.J. Gillett, editors. 1998. 1997 IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants. World Conservation Monitoring Centre and The World Conservation Union (IUCN). Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.

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Zonas de Vida n.d.

Prepared by: Ugo D'Ambrosio
Reviewed by: In process