Uncovering Príncipe Island’s staggering wealth of hidden biodiversity

Conservation Problem
Príncipe contains many unique tree species, but incomplete knowledge of the species present and the threats facing them is limiting effective protection.

Project Goal
Build stakeholder capacity for threatened tree conservation and incorporate threatened trees within local management plans and national forest restoration initiatives.

Why this project?

Sculpted from 31 million year-old volcanic rock, Príncipe Island’s tiny landmass of 142 km2 is a cradle of incomparable biodiversity and is home to scores of endemic species, many of which are still unknown to us.

This island nation sits in the Gulf of Guinea and forms part of the São Tomé and Príncipe archipelago. Its southern lowland tropical rainforest, nestled in the centre of Príncipe Natural Park, is dominated by trees believed to be more than 200 years old. As such, these forests comprise the second most important area for conservation in Africa and sit amongst the top 200 important biodiversity areas in the world.

These remote rainforests – and the unique trees found within them, such as Chytranthus mannii and Carapa gogo – have seen a surge of human threats, in particular legal and illegal logging, unsustainable extraction of bark (for medicinal purposes) and wood for charcoal and firewood, impacts of historic forest conversion to plantations and ongoing forest clearance for agriculture. The general lack of scientific knowledge about the diversity of forest plants, and low local capacity for tree conservation, exacerbates the situation.

An abundance of tropical tree species thrive in the heat and humidity of Príncipe Island. Credit: Felipe Spina/FFI-PTF

What are we doing about it?

Alongside our partners, national NGO Fundação Príncipe (FP) and Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) and in collaboration with the University of Coimbra and the São Tomé Botanical Garden, we are supporting the Príncipe Regional Forest Direction and the Príncipe Natural Park to develop the knowledge and capacity required to deliver effective conservation actions for the island’s threatened and endemic tree species. In particular, we are focusing on:

  • Developing a more complete understanding of the diversity of and threats facing Príncipe’s trees
  • Building local stakeholder capacity to better manage threatened trees, ensuring their long-term survival, including working with local bark harvesters to improve practices
  • Reinforcing small populations of threatened trees where natural regeneration rates are low.

Despite the mounting pressure on Príncipe’s forests, many trees guarded by a dense barrier of vegetation and rough terrain have been growing for over 200 years. Felipe Spina Avino/FFI-PTF

Key achievements

Between 2016 and 2019, Fauna & Flora International, FP, MBG and the University of Coimbra among others, conducted research to produce the first classification of Príncipe’s forest vegetation. These surveys were the biggest joint plant research effort to have ever been undertaken on Príncipe and have led to 45 new records for the island, including eight species that are new to science. In 2019, 25 tree species were assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria and 20 species assigned a threatened status. The work also involved training people across local institutions in plant identification and field techniques.

Overall, the surveys identified the most important habitats for conservation on the island; the ancient coastal lowland ecosystem in the south, and also the sub montane forest of Pico do Príncipe, which possesses unique flora and many species which are still yet to be identified.

We are now focusing on conserving three priority threatened tree species that are threatened by logging, bark harvesting and historic declines due to cacao plantations, which have left isolated groups of small numbers of individuals. We aim to embed species recovery and sustainable management plans – informed by surveys and monitoring conducted across the project – into the natural park management plan, and to improve local stakeholders’ capacity to implement the actions effectively.

Contact details

For more information on this project, please contact globaltrees@fauna-flora.org

Did you know?

Nearly 2,500 trees are listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List – likely to go extinct unless urgent action is taken now to save them.