Plant biogeography and conservation on a tropical island: Isla del Coco, Costa Rica

Jennifer L Trusty, Florida International University


Isla del Coco (Cocos Island) is a small volcanic island located in the Pacific 500 km west of Costa Rica. Three collecting trips to Isla del Coco, in addition to herbarium research, were completed in order to assess the floristic diversity of the island. The current flora of Isla del Coco contains 262 plant species of which 37 (19.4%) are endemic. This study reports 58 species as new to the island. Seventy-one species (27.1%) were identified as introduced by humans. In addition, five potentially invasive plant species are identified. Seven vegetation types are identified on the island: bayshore, coastal cliff, riparian, low elevation humid forest, high elevation cloud forest, landslide and islet. The biogeographic affinities of the native and endemic species are with Central America/northern South America and to a lesser extent, the Caribbean. Endemic species in the genus Epidendrum were investigated to determine whether an insular radiation event had produced two species found on Isla del Coco. Phylogenetic analysis of the internal transcribed spacer (ITS) of nuclear ribosomal DNA was not able to disprove that the endemic species in this genus are not sister species. Molecular biogeographic analyses of ITS sequence data determined that the Isla del Coco endemic species in the genera Epidendrum, Pilea and Psychotria are most closely related to Central American/northern South American taxa. No biogeographical links were found between the floras of Isla del Coco and the Galápagos Islands. The native and endemic plant diversity of Isla del Coco is threatened with habitat degradation by introduced pigs and deer, and to a lesser extent, by exotic plant species. The IUCN Red List and RAREplants criteria were used to assess the extinction threat for the 37 endemic plant taxa found on the island. All of the endemic species are considered threatened with extinction at the Critically Endangered (CR) by the IUCN criteria or either CR or Endangered (EN) using RAREplants methodology.

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Recommended Citation

Trusty, Jennifer L, "Plant biogeography and conservation on a tropical island: Isla del Coco, Costa Rica" (2004). ProQuest ETD Collection for FIU. AAI3165166.