News from an Island Paradise

by Alistair Griffiths, Eden Project and Denis Mathatikhan, Victoria Botanical Gardens, Mahe, Seychelles

plant talkA new plant research agenda for the Seychelles hopes to prioritise conservation research questions for the next five to ten years that will inform the plant conservation management of the Islands.

In June 2007 the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, Plant Conservation Action Group and the Institutes of Integrative Biology and Terrestrial Ecosystem Management from ETH Zurich (Switzerland) ran a plant conservation research workshop in the Seychelles capital Victoria, on Mahé, entitled “Synergies between Plant Conservation and Ecological Research”. The aims were to review past and present plant conservation and research activities and to identify future priorities and synergies between conservation and research.

Participants from the Seychelles Government, NGOs and private sectors representing the local plant conservation community were involved. In addition, international scientists from other oceanic islands such as Mauritius, La Réunion, Rodrigues, Azores, Pacific islands, Hawaii and New Caledonia were there to share their experiences in ex-situ conservation and species recovery, ecology of invasive species, conservation genetics, and plant-pollinator interactions.
Conservation International currently lists the Seychelles Islands as part of one of the 34 existing global biodiversity hotspots (Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands hotspot). Due to their geological history, geography and isolation the Seychelles supports a variety of endemic and threatened taxa. These include a number of critically endangered bird and plant species, endemic frogs (e.g. Sooglossus sechellensis), and the Aldabran giant tortoise (Aldabrachelys elephantina).

The Seychelles flora comprises African, Madagascan and Indo-Malaysian elements, with the latter having the main influence. The vegetation types on the granitic Seychelles islands are beach crest and dune, coastal lowland, mangrove, riverine forest, intermediate altitude forest, mist forest and inselbergs.

Intermediate altitude forest, mist forests and inselbergs provide the main habitats for many of the endemic plant species.

The flora has a considerable proportion of endemic species. Many represent relict elements from an ancient widespread Gondwana flora that makes the islands of great floristic interest. There are an estimated 1,500 flowering plant species recorded on the Seychelles, including one endemic plant family Medusagynaceae represented by the jellyfish tree (Medusagyne oppositifolia); 12 endemic genera, and between 70 and 90 endemic plant species from a flora of about 250 native plants.

The palms are a particularly interesting group, with six endemics classified into six monotypic genera. This includes the magnificent Coco-de Mer (Lodoicea maldivica) which acquired its common name from sailors who once believed that it grew beneath the sea. The pandans are also unusually diverse, with the islands hosting five endemic species and the Seychelles is the western-most place to have a dipterocarp species (Vateriopsis seychellarum). In addition a number of interesting taxa from the plant family Rubiaceae are abundant including the beautiful Wright’s Gardenia (Rothmannia annae) which can only be found naturally on one island.