The critically endangered Trinidad piping-guan is endemic to the moist forests on the island of Trinidad. This large black bird with blue beak and head crest feeds primarily on fruits and flowers in the upper canopies, where it spends most of its time. They prefer characteristically dense primary forest, with little ground cover and canopy with emergent trees interwoven together by vines and lianas. Once very abundant on the island and the lowlands, today they are primarily restricted to the mountains, where they can take shelter in the steep montane valleys. Guans are very important seed dispersers in the ecosystem and could aid forest restoration as they fly over deforested areas.
This moist forest ecoregion comprises approximately 90% of the land area of the archipelagic state of Trinidad and Tobago. Trinidad and Tobago are the most southerly of the Caribbean’s West Indian Islands, and lie only 11.3 and 40 km, respectively, northeast of the Venezuelan coast of South America. The two islands have a combined land area of 5,128 km2. Both islands lie on the South American Continental Shelf and are directly influenced by the Orinoco and the South Equatorial Current. Separation from the continental mainland occurred in recent geological times, about 11,000 years ago for Tobago and 1,500 for Trinidad.
The biota and terrestrial habitats of Trinidad reflect the ecology of equatorial South America unlike the other Windward Islands which have ecosystems dominated by island endemic species. Four major vegetation communities have been described: littoral woodland, deciduous seasonal woodland, rain forest (the majority) and swamp forests. Typical tree species in the rain forests include crabwood, kapok, and hog plum. There are numerous lianas (woody vines) and epiphytes (growth on trees) of orchids, bromeliads, and ferns throughout the different tiers of vegetation.
The two islands have approximately 175 families and 2,500 species of plants, 110 that are believed to be endemic to the island, including numerous palms. There are over 400 species of birds, the majority of which are of the Passeriform order and found on Trinidad. Around 100 species of mammals have been documented with bats and rodents dominating, but some armadillo, primates, deer, and cat predators as well. Numerous reptiles are reported, the majority being snakes and lizards with 40 and 25 species respectively. There are 30 amphibian species, including the golden tree frog being a notable endemic to Trinidad.
Currently there are around 75 areas receiving some form of legal protection in Trinidad and Tobago. In 1980, 8 new nationals parks were proposed to strengthen the protection of natural habitats and wildlife: Caroni Swamp, Chaguaramas, Madamas, Maracas, Matura, and Nariva Swamp in Trinidad; and Bucco Reef and Eastern Tobago in Tobago. The daily management of biological resources falls under the responsibility of the Ministry of the Environment. Unfortunately, much of the goals on paper have not being achieved, and the level of conservation management has been minimal in the ecoregion. Many natural habitat still suffer from timber exploitation and poaching.
A large extent of the forests in Trinidad and Tobago has been altered by humans. Roads, trails, and clearings have opened up the forests in many areas, especially in the oil-producing districts of the south, while agricultural activities encroach gradually upon the lower slopes of the Northern Range and much of the lowland areas of the east and south. Forest fires, attributed to slash and burn agriculture, have led to large areas of secondary growth. Principal threats to the biodiversity in this ecoregion include inadequate protected-area staffing, a need to enact legislation concerning establishment of protected areas, and a lack of public support for natural resource protection.
The priority conservation actions for the next decade will be to: 1) formalize legislation of protected areas; 2) increase the capacity and staffing of protected area management; and 3) promote education and awareness workshops for locals on the values of biodiversity and intact forests.
1. Armstrong, S. 2019 Islands of Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean https://www.worldwildlife.org/ecoregions/nt0171 Accessed June 19, 2019.
2. French R. 1991. A guide to the birds of Trinidad and Tobago. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
3. Kenny, J., P. Comeau, and L. Katwaru. 1997. A Survey of Biological Diversity, Trinidad and Tobago. United Nations Development Programme, Port of Spain.
4. BirdLife International 2018. Pipile pipile. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species2018: e.T22678401A131029657. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2018-2.RLTS.T22678401A131029657.en. Accessed June 19, 2019.