01 March 2024

What’s going on with the Royal Palm?

Biologists are pretty much detectives of nature, but it is not so often that you actually get to feel the rush and the excitement of trying to decipher a mystery. I am happy to say that my last weeks have been full of questions that don’t really have an answer yet. As part of the Resources Assistant Program (RAP), I’m supporting the Forest Health and Protection Program from the International Institute of Tropical Forestry in Puerto Rico. Our work includes the U.S. Virgin Islands, where we are currently collaboratively developing a pest monitoring project with our local partners.  It is precisely in the U.S. Virgin Islands where the mystery is happening.  

During a meeting with the USVI Forestry Working Group, multiple members of the community reported observations of increased mortality of the Puerto Rico Royal Palm (Roystonea borinquena). As far as our knowledge goes, the reasons for these deaths are unknown. As a RAP intern I had the task of reviewing literature from the last five years to see if any recent study could shed some light on what is happening with the Puerto Rico Royal Palm. My quick literature review revealed that Roystonea borinquena has been understudied. Although this might not be the best-case scenario when you are looking for answers, at least it lets us know that this species could use some attention. And hence, establishing a monitoring project for the Puerto Rico Royal Palm is a great place to start.

Now, how exactly do we start a monitoring project? I don’t have a clear answer to that yet, but my experience so far has been very enriching. We recently had an amazing brainstorming session with local partners from U.S. Virgin Islands to discuss and share ideas regarding pest monitoring. It was very interesting to see how you start from scratch a pest monitoring program. Some of the questions guiding our discussion were centered around the symptoms observed, the pests that tend to cause those symptoms and the methodologies that we could implement to determine the cause. In a nutshell, we are starting from zero.

Monitoring projects tend to be very elaborate, but they usually start from simple questions and observations, just like the ones from the community in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Sometimes, it really starts from just a mystery. So far, I can say that you continue moving forward through conversations with the community, scientists, governmental organizations, and universities; everyone adds something until it takes us somewhere. I must say that I feel lucky to be part of this process and I’m very excited to see where it goes.


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