conservation

Paving pine rocklands = saving them?

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In a March 7th letter to the editor Ram Realty chairman Peter D. Cummings defiantly responded to the public outcry over Ram’s plans to develop a significant tract of pine rocklands. He claimed that the development of this site in the form of Coral Reef Commons, a mixed-used residential and commercial complex, is the only viable option to preserve the pine rocklands. However, I’ve spent significant time conducting research in the surrounding Richmond Heights pine rocklands and Mr. Cummings’s claims continue to misrepresent the actual state of the Coral Reef Commons (CRC) site and its development. From his letter:

The development of Coral Reef Commons is the last, best hope for preservation of a major portion of the habitat.

This is simply not true. Mr. Cummings can paint a rosy picture of gentle development but Ram’s plans are to develop over two-thirds of the property. This simply does not preserve a significant portion of the critically endangered habitat.

As it currently sits, the area is severely degraded. Calling it pristine pine rockland isn’t accurate; every objective person that has walked the site agrees. It hasn’t been pristine for more than 70 years, since the U.S. government razed the area to build a blimp base during World War II. It is overrun by exotic non-native species that are choking out the native flora…

Yes, the site is degraded, but it is still able to be restored if Ram does not pave over the site. The foundation of pine rocklands is the oolitic limestone substrate and this is virtually intact on the property. The CRC site was not razed by the Navy to build the NAS blimp base; the property was home to various barracks and administrative buildings during and after the war.  The next owner, the University of Miami, grossly mismanaged this area. The present poor condition of the site is due to the lack of any facility or habitat management by the University, not excessive development. The school even denied access requests from myself and other researchers to this and their other properties around Zoo Miami.

Rather than engage in knee-jerk reactions to unfounded claims, conservationists and the Herald should look to the commitment Ram has made to restore and preserve close to 50 percent of the site.

I’ll just let Ram’s actual numbers speak here:

Rams Reality 2

The whole Coral Reef Commons site is 137 acres but Ram’s planned preserves total just 43 acres (not all of it pine rockland) – just over 30% of the property. So, contrary to Ram’s claims, under a third of this property will be preserved.

The new mixed-use community will be developed on a portion of the property that is most degraded — the site of an abandoned incinerator, shells of gutted buildings that once housed labs, abandoned trash piles, roads and monkey cages.

How do they propose to do this? Here is the actual status of the property:

Ram Site pie chart web

Presently 47% of the CRC site is pine rocklands and a further 19% is other, largely hardwood, forest. About 22% of the site is green space, minimally modified from their original state, and a final 12% is heavily modified or developed (buildings, major roads, and parking lots). This is not the heavily developed, hopeless situation the Ram paints.

… Environmentalists want someone to buy the land to restore it, and that is exactly what we are doing.

RAM site 1938 1952 and 2014

On the left is an aerial photograph from 1938 before any development of the CRC site (outlined in red); notice intact pine rockland habitat. In the center is an image from 1952, after the peak of Richmond Naval Air Station. And on the right is a 2014 satellite image (from Google Earth). Notice how little of the overall CRC site has actually been significantly altered.

These pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since early logging and military developments on the site in the 1940s and these Richmond Heights rocklands represent a quarter of the 1.8% of this habitat left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands and their inhabitants, principally by further fragmenting the remaining rocklands and stifling brush fires, a necessary ecological cycle for survival of the habitat.

The solution is not to develop over two-thirds of the site and its pine rocklands. Under one-eighth of the Coral Reef Commons site has been developed. Perhaps there is a more appropriate use for this rare habitat than yet more development. Let’s restore and preserve the seven-eighths of the property that is undeveloped and constructively use or mitigate the fraction of the property that is already developed. Pine rocklands are a unique and valuable part of Florida’s natural history and are worth preserving.

Notes

Areas for which exact figures were not available were estimated with the polygon tool in Google Earth and the polygon area calculator on earthpoint.us.

References

 URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


Once altered = gone forever?

With efforts to develop globally imperiled pine rocklands met with a public outcry, Ram Realty, developers of the planned Coral Reef Commons, have attempted to portray the Coral Reef Commons (CRC) pine rocklands as largely developed. While this is not true (only 12% of the CRC site is significantly developed), what happens when pine rocklands are altered? Is the site really no longer a place worth preserving as Ram suggests?

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In the image above is one of the best maintained Richmond Heights pine rockland tracts, covering over 60 acres. Today it sits just outside of Zoo Miami (and in the footprint of Miami Wilds!) but in the 1940’s it was the site of Richmond Naval Air Station. Below in an image form 1952 you can see the expansive footprint of Richmond NAS.

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In this side-by-side view you can see the remnants of the blimp mooring pads and the red outline of this 60+ acre tract of rocklands in 1952 and in 2014. What today is a beautiful forest was tarmac, bare earth, and grass back in the 1950s. This land was originally pine rocklands but was cleared (in the early 1940s) to make way for the naval air station. But with the decommissioning of the Richmond NAS and subsequent period of unhindered growth (and semi-regular wildfires/prescribed burns) it is again beautiful pine rocklands. Most importantly this site is home of the rare Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for state and federal protection, along with numerous other endemic and rare animal and plants.

1952 vs 2014

The only visible remnants of the site’s past is a crumbling asphalt roadway cutting through a portion of the rocklands.

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As you can see even pine rockland tracts which have been altered are excellent candidates for restoration and seriously in need of protection. This need is even more urgent for the remaining intact Richmond Heights pine rocklands, which sit in the footprints of Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds. Ram Realty and 20th Century Fox developers are still pushing forward on their Coral Reef Commons and Miami Wilds, respectively, and Miami-Dade county is trying to circumvent any environmental regulations protecting or pertaining to these pine rocklands by attempting to declare a massive swath of land around Zoo Miami as a “slum or blighted area.” These developments are both environmentally unacceptable and poorly planned, with no adequate measures taken to address the pine rocklands.


A March and Misinformation

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On January 17th hundreds of people marched along Coral Reef Drive, outside Zoo Miami, to support the preservation of the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, the habitat of numerous endemic species including the rare Miami tiger beetle. The Miami Herald reports the group of demonstrators stretched out “at least four blocks” in and around Zoo Miami, near the sites of proposed developments threatening the habitat.

Large portions of these pine rocklands are the sites for Coral Reef Commons, a WalMart-anchored shopping center and apartment complex proposed by Ram Realty, and Miami Wilds, a major amusement park which has been pushed through by Commissioner Dennis Moss and backed by 20th Century Fox.

These pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since early logging and military developments on the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a quarter of the 1.8% of the habitat left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands and their inhabitants, principally by further fragmenting the remaining rocklands and stifling brush fires, a necessary ecological cycle for survival of the habitat.

Ram Realty responded to the growing public disapproval in a statement and video tour of the site release the day before the march. I have reproduced their statement below along with my notes:

Efforts to “save” the rocklands are based on a misunderstanding of the true conditions on site

Editors Note: View and download a virtual tour of the Coral Reef Commons site:

http://vimeo.com/116977752

Miami, FL – January 16, 2015

Ram Realty Services is dedicated to the restoration of a significant portion of the land that we own.

It should be noted that the Richmond Pine Rockland complex encompasses more than four square miles, of which 74 percent is under public ownership, with an additional 20 percent long ago developed by others.

Purposely deceptive. The former Richmond Naval Air Station covered 2,107 acres (3.29 square miles). Today this area is the site of Zoo Miami, the Gold Coast Railroad Museum, the University of Miami south campus, a U.S. Coast Guard base, and several smaller developments. There is only about one square mile of pine rocklands remaining in the whole site.

Environmentalists opposing the development of the site have continuously misunderstood the facts and the current condition of the property.

I’ve spent significant time conducting research in the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and Ram’s claims are not an honest representation of the site. Presently 47% of the Coral Reef Common (CRC) site is pine rocklands and a further 19% is other, largely hardwood, forest. About 22% of the site is green space, minimally modified from their original state, and a final 12% is heavily modified or developed (buildings, major roads, and parking lots). This is not the heavily developed, hopeless situation the Ram paints.

Ram Site pie chart web

The Coral Reef Commons development site represents less than three percent of the Richmond Pine Rockland complex, and even less of the total pine rocklands in Miami-Dade County.

Again purposely deceptive. Their figure of 3% is calculated from the total area of the site, not from the area of pine rocklands on the site. There are a total of 585 acres of rocklands on the former Richmond Naval air station out of which 65 acres (11%) sits on the CRC site.

The notion that the Coral Reef Commons site is a pristine forest is erroneous.

The Coral Reef Commons site is primarily (47%) pine rocklands. While not in pristine condition these rocklands have been minimally altered and represent a last chance to preserve this habitat. Out of the original pine rocklands only 1.8% is still standing outside of the Everglades National Park.

RAM site 1952 vs 2014

On the left is an aerial photograph from 1952 and on the right is a 2014 satellite image (from Google Earth). Notice how little of the overall CRC site, outlined in red, has actually been significantly altered.

Over the last 70 years the site has been used for military purposes, a medical research facility, commercial buildings, residential buildings, enclosures for animals, an incinerator and blimp bays.

This site does have a unique past (see Paul Freeman’s great webpage and this history of the Naval Air Station) but these developments only comprise 12% of the CRC site (the blimp bays were located just to the south and east of Ram’s property, largely where the Gold Coast Railroad Museum now stands). Today the greatest threat to the area is continued development and the encroachment of invasive species. The present poor condition of these CRC site is due to the lack of any habitat management by the University of Miami, not excessive development. The school even denied requests from myself and other researchers to this and their other properties around Zoo Miami for access to the habitat.

The best prospect for regaining the natural environment is a comprehensive restoration plan such as the one Ram Realty Services is developing with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Under this plan, almost 40 percent of our property will be restored to its natural native state, set aside and maintained as a natural preserve in perpetuity – a standard never previously achieved in the region.

The Coral Reef Commons site is 137 acres but Ram’s planned preserves total just 43 acres (not all of it pine rockland) – just over 30% of the property. So, contrary to Ram’s claims, under a third of this property will be preserved.

The solution is not to develop over two-thirds of the site and its pine rocklands. Under one-eighth of the CRC site has been developed. Perhaps there is a more appropriate use for this rare habitat than yet another Walmart. Let’s restore and preserve the seven-eighths of the property that is undeveloped and constructively use or mitigate the fraction of the property that is already developed. Pine rocklands are a unique and valuable part of Florida’s natural history and are worth preserving.

Notes

Areas for which exact figures were not available were estimated with the polygon tool in Google Earth and the polygon area calculator on earthpoint.us.

References

 URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


Blight?

[The Committee] accepts the Study identifying approximately 2,146 acres within the unincorporated municipal service area (UMSA), which lie entirely in Commission District 9 represented by Commissioner Dennis C. Moss, to be slum and blighted.

Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509

This month a Miami-Dade county committee approved a resolution from county commissioner Dennis Moss to designate the Richmond Heights pine rocklands (the largest fragement of pine rocklands outside the Everglades National Park and the only habitat of the Miami tiger beetle) along with the surrounding lands “a slum or blighted area.” This resolution stemmed from a county-commitioned study supplied by the firm Calvin, Giordano & Associates which built a tenuous case that slum or blight conditions exist in and around the Richmond Heights pine rocklands. The Committee forwarded the resolution to the full Board of County Commissioners for consideration:

It is recommended that the Board of County Commissioners … consider taking the following actions:

4. The Board declares and finds that there is a need for a community redevelopment agency to function and carry out the community redevelopment purposes of the Act; and

5. The Board directs the County Mayor or the County Mayor’s designee to prepare a plan of redevelopment for the Area, and to submit the plan of redevelopment to the Board for approval after notice and public hearing.

Should a community redevelopment agency be created, the Area covered will make it the second largest in the County, with only the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency larger at 3,540 acres. The Study includes the Zoo Miami, Coast Guard, and the former University of Miami properties.

Miami-Dade Legislative Item 142509

The goal in establishing the existence of slum or blight conditions and subsequent community redevelopment agency (CRA) is to create a special tax district¹ which will channel public funds into development of the site. The development in question is the $930 million theme park, Miami Wilds. As I have written previously the construction of this theme park (in its present incarnation) is a serious and unacceptable threat to the Richmond Heights pine rocklands and the survival of numerous endangered species, including the Miami tiger beetle, a candidate for emergency state and federal protection.

The developers, Miami Wilds LLC, have already received approval for an initial $13.5 million in bond funds to replicate the US Coast Guard communications tower array which currently stands in the footprint of the theme park. However, use of this land requires Federal permission and approval of the developer’s plans; approval which has not yet been given.

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The Richmond Heights pine rocklands have survived comparatively unscathed since the since the early development of the site in the 1940s and these lands represent a major portion of the 1.8% of pine rocklands left outside the Everglades National Park. Any further development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands, chiefly by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessary ecological cycle for the continued health of the habitats.

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Proper management of pine rockland fragments includes prescribed burning (which can generate heavy amounts of smoke)… Construction of hospitals, schools, apartments, and hotels around [rocklands] should be discouraged because of conflicts with smoke generation during prescribed fires. URS Corporation et al 2007

These current plans for Miami Wilds and Coral Reef Commons will severely fragment the remaining Richmond Heights pine rocklands. Once these rocklands are surrounded by heavy development any prescribed burning will be extraordinarily unlikely.

… maximize open space and limit pollution runoff [around rocklands]. URS Corporation et al 2007

A secondary impact of any development is that without sufficient buffer areas around the rocklands the new fragments will be highly susceptible to pollution and encroachment of non-native and invasive animals and plants from the surrounding.

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The current plans for development do not adequately conserve these imperiled rocklands and are not a reasonable option for the continued survival of this unique habitat and its inhabitants. Over 98% of the Miami-Dade rocklands have been lost to development. There are better options for utilization of the non-rockland areas, options which do not fragment or destroy rocklands, alternatives which provide adequate buffers to facilitate the necessary management of the habitat.

The “blight” resolution has been forwarded to the Board of County Commissioners for consideration and a full public hearing on January 21st.

Local residents are planning a rally for the rocklands on January 17th

The Center for Biological Diversity has a letter to the Miami Board of County Commissioners which you can sign and send in support of preserving the pine rocklands.

View the resolution here. Read the Calvin, Giordano & Associates study here.

Also see the Miami Herald article on the this latest development.

Notes

¹In designating an area as a CRA governing bodies are afforded the opportunity to leverage public financing for the purpose of land acquisition, demolition, housing and infrastructure improvements, environmental remediation, neighborhood enhancement and other similar activities. This is accomplished through a funding mechanism known as Tax Increment Financing (TIF). From MetroZoo Finding of Necessity Study 2014 Update

References

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


Emergency protection sought for Miami tiger beetle

Today the Center for Biological Diversity filed emergency petitions to protect the exceedingly rare Miami tiger beetle, Cicindela floridana, a South Florida pine rocklands endemic, as a protected species under Florida law and as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

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Pine rocklands once stretched from the Florida Keys up to the northern edge of Miami-Dade County, but widespread urbanization and agricultural development destroyed the majority of Floridian pine rockland. This fire-dependent community, found on limestone outcroppings, is comprised of a sparse canopy dominated by Florida slash pine, Pinus elliotti var. densa, and a varied understory. Today, only a fraction of the original Miami pine rockland habitat remains; by some estimates as little as 1.8%. Moreover, most of these remaining areas are quite small and often widely separated by miles of heavy development.

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The pine rockland habitats are home to many endemic species, many of which are listed as endangered including the Florida Bonneted bat (Eumops floridanus), Bartram’s hairstreak (Strymon acis bartrami), Florida leafwing (Anaea troglodyta floridalis), Florida brickell-bush (Brickellia mosieri), deltoid spurge (Chamaesyce deltoidea deltoidea), Carter’s small-flowered flax (Linum carteri carteri), tiny polygala (Polygala smallii).

Today many of these remaining pine rocklands and their inhabitants now face another danger; due to the lack of fire, both native and non-native vegetation are taking over the habitats which incrementally transitioning to hardwood hammocks.

Of greatest concern is the Richmond Heights pine rocklands, where the Miami tiger beetle was rediscovered in 2007. In addition to vegetation encroachment, there are plans to develop significant portions of the pinelands. The first, and most immediate, is Ram Realty’s plan to develop and 88-acre parcel of rocklands purchased from the University of Miami.

Microsoft Word - MTB petition.docx
While Ram has set aside some of the land for nature preserves, any development seriously jeopardizes the rocklands by fragmenting the remaining habitat and stifling fires, a necessity for the continued health of the habitats. The second, and most expansive in scope, is the county’s plan to develop a major amusement park in and around the rocklands.

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This plan calls for major development including a four lane highway and major transportation corridor through the rocklands. This development will irrevocably damage all of the Richmond pine rocklands, through fragmentation, pollution, and stifling fires within the remaining habitat.

Both development pose real and immediate risks to endangered and rare species, including the Miami tiger beetle. These developments will results in the destruction and degradation of pine rocklands and will kill endangered and candidate species including the adults and larvae of the Miami tiger beetle.

Even before the current plans for development the Miami tiger beetle (Cicindela floridana) was a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service species of concern. Additionally, Knisley et al (2014) assigned the Miami tiger beetle a 1+ grade, their “highest level of rarity and/or threats” in a comprehensive review of the conservation status of United States tiger beetles. With over 98% of the potential former habitat gone and direct threats to the only remaining habitat this species is in need of urgent action to prevent its extinction.

The Center for Biological Diversity’s press release is available at their website.

References

Knisley, C., M. Kippenhan, and D. Brzoska. 2014. Conservation status of United States tiger beetles. Terrestrial Arthropod Reviews. 7: 93-145.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. South Florida Multi-Species Recovery Plan: Appendix C. Species of Concern and their Associated Community Types in South Florida.

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.


The type locality of Cicindela floridana

Readers of this blog may be familiar with the story of Cicindela floridana, a beautifully iridescent tiger beetle presumed extinct but rediscovered in 2007. This beetle is only known from pine rocklands, a habitat once common in southern Florida but only 1.8% of the original rocklands remain today (outside of the Everglades National Park).

 

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Frank N. Young Jr. collected this species while he was an 18 year old student and gives only vague locality information on his labels. In the rediscovery paper Brzoska, Knisley, and Slotten note that:

The exact type locality for var. floridana is problematic. Cartwright (1939) gives the locality as Miami, Florida based on Young’s label. In the 1980s, R. L. Huber, in an attempt to locate this form contacted Young who told him the specimens were collected in the vicinity of Gratigny Road while he was studying land snails in the sandy hammocks. …. Knisley also contacted Young in the early 1990s and learned that the specimens were taken in the vicinity of Barry [University].

My curiosity piqued, I combed through  Frank Young’s publications and found a 1951 paper “Vanishing and extinct colonies of tree snails, Liguus fasciatus, in the vicinity of Miami, Florida.” In this paper Young includes a map of his study sites, which are tantalizingly close to Gratigny Road and Barry University (located south of Gratigny St. and Miami Ave). If there is a connection between Young’s early snail hunting and this 1951 paper and we might be able to pinpoint the type locality of C. floridana.

Young map

 Further on Young writes:

The distribution of the hammocks around Arch Creek shows the same general pattern as those around New River to the north or Little River to the south. That is, the hammocks occur along the margins of the stream or its estuary, across the rocklands of the East Coast ridge, and fan out along the edges of the transverse glade. This pattern is apparently maintained by the nature of the soils and the periodic fires which sweep the bordering rocky pinelands and encroach upon the edges of the hammocks.

This paper suggests that the area around Gratigny Road and Barry University may have been pine rocklands and substantially narrows the potential area in which Young may have collected the type series in 1934. In this 1947 topographic map you can see that the area around (and north of) Gratigny Road and Barry University is slightly elevated from the surrounding, consistent with (but not necessarily indicative of) pine rocklands habitat.

N Miami 1947

Almost convinced, I searched the aerial photography of Florida collections at the University of Florida Digital Collections and found several index images which included my area of interest. I was unable to find any imagery taken earlier than 1940; however, even the 1940 photograph confirmed my hunch. In this image the land north and west of (what would become) Barry University and Gratigny Road there appears to a partially isolated stand of pines.

1940

This location matches Young’s comments to Huber and Knisley; Gratigny Road runs through these pines which extend into what would become Barry University. But, even in the six years after Young collected the type series of C. floridana there appear to have been significant new development visible (including Barry University, founded in 1940) and the areas east and southeast of the canal are already heavily built up.

This fall I received a note from Knisley, forwarded from Huber, with an exciting message. Huber had found a detailed entry from his collecting notes; this gave an exact location for Young’s specimens:

30 May 1972, visited the intersection of Miami Ave and Gratigny Rd (=119th St). Frank Young said that he had taken floridana in the NE corner of that intersection.

Bingo! Here is the type locality of C. floridana in detail:

Bingo

The next image (showing the area just north of Gratigny St.) is from 1947 and the pines appear to have been largely cut down and the area has been divided up into parcels. I find it unlikely that C. floridana would have occurred at the type locality in 1947, though  perhaps to the west where there appear to still be some pines standing.

1947

The development dramatically increases in 1949-50 and the whole area is largely housing by 1950. Any rocklands habitat that remained after this time was certainly too fragmented and poor quality to sustain a population of C. floridana.

1950

References:

Brzoska, D., C.B. Knisley, and J. Slotten. 2011. Rediscovery of Cicindela scabrosa floridana Cartwright and its elevation to species level. Insect Mundi 2011 162:1-7.

URS Corporation, The Institute for Regional Conservation, and Muller and Associates, Inc. 2007. Miami Dade County Environmentally Endangered Lands Program Management Plan, Part II: Management of specific habitat types, Chapter 1: The pine rockland habitat. Submitted to Environmentally Endangered Lands Program, Miami, Florida by URS Corporation. K.A. Bradley, G.D. Gann, M.J. Barry, contributors.

Young, F. N. 1951. Vanishing and extinct colonies of tree snails, Liguus fasciatus, in the vicinity of Miami, Florida. Occasional Papers of the Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan. 531: 21 p.


Cicindela galapagoensis

A tiger beetle is hardly the first organism that comes to mind when the Galapagos Islands are mentioned. However, the Islands are home to a single endemic member of this subfamily, Cicindela galapagoensis.

Cicindela galapagoensis was first collected by then Stanford student F. X. Williams while he was serving as an entomologist on the California Academy of Sciences 1905-1906 expedition to the Galapagos. It was over ten years until this species was formally described, though this distinction went to German entomologist Walther Horn. In Coleoptera of the Galapagos Islands E.C. Van Dyke curtly mentions: “A tiger beetle collected by Williams was described by Dr. Walther Horn … as Cicindela galapagoensis. It had been submitted to him for his opinion.”

This species is represented by two color forms: a dark and a pale form. As one might suspect, this variation has led to some taxonomic confusion. The dark form of C. galapagoensis was described under the name Cicindela vonhageni in 1938, by American Museum of Natural History curator A.J. Mutchler, from 7 specimens collected by W. von Hagen. Additionally, a subspecies, C. galapagoensis discolorata, was described in 1967 from a single specimen collected on Genovesa Island. However, in 1976, Hans Reichardt synonymized vonhageni and galapagoensis discolorata with galapagoensis after finding evidence for only a single species based on the presence of intermediate forms in a large series of specimens.

Cicindela galapagoensis has been collected from seven major islands¹ where it inhabits sand beaches, mud flats, and salt tidal marshes. The adults have been collected at night with no reported observations of activity in the daytime. The larvae have been described and are found in similar habitats to the adults.

While C. galapagoensis is the sole endemic species of tiger beetle in the archipelago, a mainland species, Cicindela trifasciata was apparently introduced onto Santa Cruz Island and subsequently spread to several sites on during an extreme El Niño event in 1982-1983.  Since the apparent introduction, the trifasciata populations have grown to vastly out number the endemic speceis on the order of hundreds to one. As expected, the number of galapagoensis observed in recent studies has dramatically dropped at the sites where the two species co-occur, almost certainly due to fierce competition for prey and potentially larval habitat.

In addition, Cassola et al. noted that C. galapagoensis was not observed on Genovesa Island and, most distressingly, reported that the species primary habitat on the island, a small sand beach, had been incorporated into the tourist trail. The resultant trampling likely wiped out any larvae and rendered the habitat unsuitable, resulting in the extinction of this population.

Back in January, I have the privilege to spend ten days in the Galapagos. Though I did not see any tiger beetles, one of our stops was the beach at Genovesa, on Darwin Bay. We went ashore just after the equatorial sun rose and I was struck by the traces of human activity. Old graffiti was conspicuously emblazoned on the cliffs and footprints were almost everywhere across the small beach. As we proceeded down the beach the impact of foot traffic became even more apparent.

But, as a whole, Cicindela galapagoensis is not in danger. The Santa Cruz and Genovesa populations are not the rule and most of the species habitat is free from introduced competitors and the menace of human foot traffic. Adequate surveys are needed to assess the extent of tricfasciata colonization and the overall health of C. galapagoensis populations in order to develop management strategies. Ultimately, with careful management, this enigmatic species can continue to thrive.

Notes:

¹ Fernandina, Floreana, Genovesa, Isabela, Marchena, San Cristóbal, and Santa Cruz (Peck 2006)

References:

Cassola, F., Roque-Albelo, L., and Desender, K. 2000. Is the Galápagos endemic tiger beetle threatened with extinction? Noticias de Galápagos no. 61: 23–25.

Horn, W. 1915. Coleoptera, Fam. Carabidae, Subfam. Cicindelinae. In P. Wytsman, ed., Genera Insectorum, 82C: 209-487, pl. 16-23.

Mutchler, A.J. 1938. Coleoptera from the Galápagos Islands. American Museum Novitates 981: 1-19.

Van Dyke, E.e. 1953. The Coleoptera of the Galápagos Islands. Occasional Papers of the California Academy of Sciences 22: 1-181.


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