Parque Nacional Guanahacabibes

I have just returned from a very exciting research trip to Cuba where I made collections in the western part of the country, visited several herbaria and gave a presentation on my work with Plumeria. There is so much to blog about my work in Cuba, but for now I will leave you with a few photos from the trip and a video from Parque Nacional Guanahacabibes, located on the western most tip of Cuba in Pinar del Rio province. This area is very isolated, especially from tourism, and it was here that I saw the densest, most beautiful population of Plumeria that I have ever seen. This species is likely Plumeria emarginata, a species found widespread in western and central Cuba. It has a beautiful white flower and a glabrous leaf surface, meaning no hairs are found on either side of the leaf. Some authors have considered this species to be P. obtusa, along with other glabrous leaved Plumeria species. However, only DNA will tell if it is a distinct species or not.

The Guanahacabibes peninsula is a Biosphere Reserve, declared so by UNESCO in 1987. Such Biosphere Reserves are internationally recognized areas where biodiversity is managed in a sustainable way. These reserves have three zones, a core area that is strictly protected, a buffer zone where scientific research, monitoring, training and education occur, and a transition area where more activity and human development is allowed. Of the 669 Biosphere reserves worldwide, there are 129 in Latin America and the Caribbean, 6 of which are located in Cuba. The Guanahacabibes Peninsula is a tropical dry forest with evergreen forest, mangroves, sand dunes, coral reefs, coastal scrublands, and agro ecosystems with tobacco and fruit trees.

This area is also home to nesting beaches for 4 of the 7 species of marine turtles (which we did not see)! 172 species of birds also live in this area and I got lucky and spotted several, including the elusive zunzuncito, or bee hummingbird, the smallest bird in the world, measuring only 2.5 inches! I also saw the Cuban Trogon, the national bird of Cuba, also called the Tocororo. It’s bluish/green, red, and white coloring mimic the Cuban flag. The Cuban Tody is a very cute chubby and colorful bird, iridescent green with pink flanks, blue ear patch, and red throat. Birds, which aren’t still for very long are a lot harder for my untrained eyes to see (more so than plants, which don’t move) so I am very excited to have spotted three stunning species!

Photos above top left to bottom right: Visitors Center (Our driver William, N. Tiernan, R. Oviedo Prieto, H. Borrero, Guanahacabibes Park fieldguide), Plumeria habitat, N. Tiernan looking for hairs on the leaf, R. Oviedo Prieto)

Video credit: J. Montes de Oca and N. Tiernan

Nichole Tiernan