The beauty and the beast: Endemic mutualistic interactions promote community-based conservation on Socotra Island (Yemen)

Cristina Garcia Perez, Raquel Vasconcelos

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The understanding that biodiversity is supported by an entangled network of interactions is fundamental if we are to guarantee the persistence of endemic and restricted-range taxa. When it comes to remote, isolated and rural areas, local human communities play a pivotal role in preserving their native flora and fauna. Locals typically show contrasting aesthetic appreciation for different species, unaware that the fate of highly valued species might be closely linked to the activity of non-charismatic and disregarded species. Therefore, conveying the importance of biotic interactions in sustaining biodiversity is important to incentivise environmental awareness in those areas. The remote Socotra Archipelago (Yemen), a Natural World Heritage, hosts one of the oldest forest ecosystems on Earth and 31 endemic reptile species. The relic dragon’s blood tree Dracaena cinnabari is classified as Vulnerable and it is highly valued among locals. On the contrary, reptiles are typically persecuted and feared by them, in spite of the fact that they might provide services to D. cinnabari. In order to document the role of nocturnal lizards as pollinators of D. cinnabari, we conducted a trip to Socotra Island and we examined 11 tree populations at night for the presence of reptiles and whether they carry pollen in their snouts. Our results confirmed that three species of geckos carried pollen grains of D. cinnabari and at least seven other unidentified species. This result indicates that these geckos visit D. cinnabari flowers, likely to feed upon pollen or nectar, suggesting that they may pollinate this relic tree. We point out that by focusing on the need of preserving mutualistic biotic interactions, instead of individual species, environmental awareness would increase and Socotri people would steadily shift their attitude towards an holistic preservation of D. cinnabari.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)20-23
JournalJournal for Nature Conservation
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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