Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Discovery of rare wild palm species on WLT-funded Philippines reserve

13 July, 2011 - 12:33 -- World Land Trust

A new population of rare wild palm has been found growing on Danjugan Island, saved from devastating development by WLT more than ten years ago.

Danjugan Island

An aerial view of Danjugan Island - WLT's third land purchase project.

The discovery of the wild palm species growing on Danjugan Island, a World Land Trust (WLT) funded wildlife reserve in the Visayan Island group in the Philippines, highlights the importance of protecting  threatened habitats as reserves. Danjugan is a rainforest-clad tropical island in the Sulu Sea, surrounded by fringing coral reefs now protected as a Marine Reserve. It is uninhabited and protected by WLT partner organisation, Philippine Reef and Rainforest Conservation Foundation. The palm species, Adonidia merrillii, is commonly known as the Christmas palm or Manila palm. A native species to the Philippines, it is one of the most popular and widely cultivated palms in the world. Yet wild populations are rare and its origins are mysterious. Wild populations of the Adonidia merrillii had, for a long time, only been known to exist in the Palawan area of the Philippines, a province of islands stretching from Mindoro to Borneo in the southwest. While more recently, wild populations have also been discovered in the Malaysian state of Sabah, in north-east Borneo.

Beach on Danjugan Island

Danjugan Island is fringed with turtle-nesting beaches and surrounded by diverse coral reefs. Its tropical forests provide an important stopping off refuge to migratory birds in the southern hemisphere as it is one of the few islands in the Visayan group to still have its forest cover. Now rare species of trees are being discovered.

It is a fascinating story. The presence of the palm in the Palawan area has always been regarded as odd and strangely dislocated as related species are only found further east of the Wallace Line, a natural boundary that separates the ecozones of Asia and Australasia. The Philippines and Borneo lie west of the Wallace Line where organisms related to Asiatic species are usually found, while relatives of the Adonidia merrillii are only found east of the line where plants predominantly have Australasian origins. Edwino Fernando, from the Department of Forest Biological Sciences in the University of the Philippines, spent time on Danjugan Island studying the palm. He said:

“Although the new locality [on Danjugan Island] brings the species just a little closer in physical distance to its relatives, its absence on Mindanao and adjacent small islands remains a mystery.”

The discovery of this palm growing in the wild on Danjugan Island is interesting because it is a fairly isolated population and raises questions as to why related species are found on both the east and west of the Wallace Line. The palm is listed as Endangered by the National List of Threatened Philippine Plants and is given a Lower Risk/Near Threatened status by the IUCN Red List. Edwino said:

“The wild population of Adonidia merrillii on Danjugan Island is nationally and globally significant in genetic resource conservation terms. It is hoped that the protected status of Adonidia merrillii and that of Danjugan Island and the El Nido area in northern Palawan will help ensure the continued survival of this palm species in the wild.”

Update: 19/07/11 - Photo of Adonidia merrillii on Danjugan

Adonidia merrillii

Adonidia merrillii photographed on Danjugan Island. Photo © Edwino S. Fernando

More information about WLT's work in on Danjugan Island

Comments

Submitted by chris jenkin on

Great news – These are commonly used and seen in Shopping Centres, hotels etc. Wonderful to see WLT actions are ensuring they are still thriving in their wild state

Submitted by Dominic Belfield on

And again – it is truly heartening news to hear that WLT’s foresight and skillful modus operandi has scored another important botanical success.

WLT took a big risk in trying to secure this island for conservation more than a dozen years ago, not least in raising the money for it when the organisation was much smaller and more financialy frail than it is today. But here’s one more thumping good reason why it was a superb move.

You have to wonder, what else may be hiding out on ‘little’ Danjugan?

Submitted by Mal Gray on

If this palm is widely cultivated then how is it considered to be endangered? Is it genetically different to cultivated plants?

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