Duluth WRS Seminar

Plant Pirates of the Caribbean: Is Cuba sheltered by its revolutionary economy?


Dr. Meghan Brown
Hobart & William Smith Colleges

October 5, 2020


The Caribbean harbors islands with varied biogeography and dynamic political economies, which creates a unique vantage to explore biological invasions. By way of example, Cuba is
tethered between contrasting predictions of non-native species diversity. The island’s large size and habitat diversity prognosticate a high capacity for non-native species establishment, but its low dependence on international trade (the major vector of modern species redistribution) predicts muted introduction of non-native species. We examined how non-native plant diversity (>700 species) relates to biogeographic and environmental characteristics, commercial shipping patterns, historical trade, and tourism pressure among 45 islands in the Caribbean. Island area combined with tourism predicted 90% of the richness of non-native plants. Tourism (not trade) as a predictor and potential source of non-native plants to the Caribbean is, at this large spatial scale, cogent to the field of invasion ecology and pivotal to natural resource management. Cuba, among the least visited and most regionally isolated Caribbean location over the last 60 years, has hundreds fewer non-native plants than expected, and its non-native plant assemblage deviates from other large Caribbean islands. However, Cuba’s tide is changing with a rapidly growing tourism sector and expansion of commercial ports; these present both a vulnerability to increased biological invasions and an opportunity for policies that minimize non-native species dispersal to (and from) Cuba, the Caribbean’s biogeographical center.

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