Guánica Biosphere Reserve and State Forest (Puerto Rico)

Guánica Biosphere Reserve and State Forest (Puerto Rico)

Posted in:

The Guánica Biosphere Reserve in southwestern Puerto Rico comprises coastal areas with mangrove cays and subtropical dry forests. Designated Guánica State Forest in 1919, it is considered the best-preserved subtropical forest and the best example of a dry forest in the Caribbean.

Guánica Biosphere Reserve

Situated in southwestern Puerto Rico, the Guánica Biosphere Reserve comprises coastal areas with several mangrove cays and subtropical dry forests.

The area was designated Guánica State Forest, a forest reserve, in 1919 and is considered the best-preserved subtropical forest and the best example of a dry forest in the Caribbean region.

Its ecosystems include sandy beaches, rocky shores, mangrove forests, seagrass prairies, coral reefs, limestone caverns, saltwater lagoons, salt flats and different types of dry forests (both deciduous and evergreen).

The forest encompasses almost 4,000 ha (10,000 acres) and is maintained by the Departmento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales (DRNA, or Department of Natural Resources).

It is the largest of the 20 state forests of Puerto Rico, and it extends over five municipalities: Guánica, Guayanilla, Peñuelas, Ponce, and Yauco (although the forest units located in the municipalities of Peñuelas and Ponce only consist of keys and small islands).

The dry forest is located in the Southern karst region of Puerto Rico. The soils in the state forest include limestone, thin and soft lime soil, which contains sand and clay where deciduous plants grow, and sand and clay soils where evergreen plants thrive.

Located in the dry orographic rain shadow of the Cordillera Central, Puerto Rico's driest area, temperatures in the forest are, on average, around 27 °C (80 °F) in shaded areas and 38 °C (100 °F) in exposed areas. The average temperature is 25.3 °C (77.5 °F), and the average annual rainfall is 791 mm (31 in).

Flora and Fauna

The Guánica State Forest is of great natural complexity and scientific importance as it is a critical habitat for numerous species of animals and plants unique to the region.

The vegetation in the forest is divided into three main groups:

  • upland deciduous forest, which occupies 23.5 sq km (9.1 sq mi)

  • semi-evergreen forest, which occupies 7.2 sq km (2.8 sq mi)

  • scrub forest, which occupies 5.8 sq km (2.2 sq mi)

More than 700 plant species occur within the forest, of which 48 are endangered and 16 are endemic. In addition, approximately half of Puerto Rico's birds and nine of 16 endemic bird species occur here.

Some of the endangered plant species in the forest include the sebucan cactus (Leptocereus quadricostatus), the palo de rosa (Ottoschulzia rhodoxylon), the Violeta tree (Polygala cowellii), the critically endangered bariaco (Trichilia triacantha).

One of the most famous plant inhabitants of the forest is an old-growth guaiac wood tree or guayacán (Guaiacum officinale), often called the Guayacán Centenario ("the centenary guaiac wood"), which could be as much as 1,000 years old.

In addition to the Puerto Rican crested toad, other protected animal species in the forest include the Puerto Rican vireo (Vireo latimeri), the Puerto Rican nightjar (Antrostomus noctitherus), the red land crab (Gecarcinus ruricola), and the Mona basket shrimp (Typhlatya monae).

The dry forest is also one of the few habitats for Cook's pallid anole (Anolis cooki).

The coral reefs and maritime areas of the forest reserve are also home to numerous coral, animal and plant species, such as the West Indian manatee, which feeds on seaweeds, found in underwater prairies in the Reserve.

{"preview_thumbnail":"/sites/default/files/styles/video_embed_wysiwyg_preview/public/video_thumbnails/147620610.jpg?itok=Bakulf0Z","video_url":"","settings":{"responsive":1,"width":"854","height":"480","autoplay":0},"settings_summary":["Embedded Video (Responsive)."]}