I'm on my way home today, so I asked Catherine Supple to provide us with some details of the OTEP (Overseas Territories Environment Programme) project that is studying restoration of native and endemic plant communities on Ascension Island. Catherine has only been here a few weeks, and will be on-island for a couple of years.
The project focuses on key plants that are under threat from invasive species or have restricted or uncertain populations, and will include restoring endemic and native plants on sites located on the lava plains and in the Green Mountain National Park. Stedson Stroud is the pioneer of plant conservation on Ascension, and hopefully this OTEP project will be one of many more steps in the recovery of the native ecosystems. The project will survey key areas, produce plant checklists, create Species Action Plans, and produce a plant collection that will ensure long-term survival.
The keystone species on Ascension are the Green Mountain bryophytes as they form the main micro-habitat for endemics such as Xiphoteris ascensionense. The focus for endemic plant species is on: Euphorbia origanoides, Pteris adscensionis, Sporobolus caespitosus, Marattia purpurescens (spores shown in photo below), Asplenium ascensionis, Xiphopteris ascensionensis and Anogramma ascensionis.
Currently the team is collecting seed from local plant populations and propagating them. They will then be included in Stedson already impressive stock (here is Catherine on watering duty at the nursery on Green Mountain).
Restoration sites are being set up around the island and ecological factors assessed and logged. The plants will be in both grazed and fenced off plots, with continual care and monitoring. Some of these plants exist in seemingly completely inhospitable environments, such as out on the lava gravel. Below you can see protective cages around Euphorbia to keep the grazers at bay.
One of the great things about the team here is that everyone has a chance to be involved in several work areas – Nathan and Dane watch out for endemic plants as they go about their bird monitoring, and Catherine came out to Letterbox to learn about tagging, ringing and bird surveys. Jolene and Natasha manage to be involved in everything! I come away from Ascension filled with hope and inspired, as always, by my colleagues there.