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Guam conservation efforts progress

The U.S. Department of the Navy has initiated a project designed to help conserve one of Guam's important tree species. The tree is called fadang by the region's indigenous people, and it belongs to a group of plants known as cycads. Cycads are represented by about 300 species, and collectively they comprise the most threatened group of plants worldwide. "This will be the first cycad transplantation project of this magnitude, so we are excited," said Jennifer Farley, Environmental Program Manager with Naval Facilities Engineering Command Marianas Guam Build-Up Office.

The local tree is known by botanists as Cycas micronesica and its seeds were once processed into the main source of starch for human consumption. Written accounts from the early European ships that visited Guam mention the prominence of the unique tree throughout Guam's terrain. Historical documents also indicate that reliance on the tree for food was crucial following typhoons when other crop plants had been damaged.

Recent forestry surveys revealed that fadang was sustained as Guam's most abundant tree 10 years ago. But several alien insects that feed exclusively on cycad trees have invaded Guam in recent years. The University of Guam has partnered with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to study the survival of Guam's trees being threatened by these invasive insects. The research has validated that more than 90% of Guam's fadang trees have been killed by the insects since 2004.

The Department of the Navy project is pushing conservation work into new territory. The salvage and transplantation of cycads from the Andersen Air Force Base project in northern Guam will provide valuable insight to conservationists around the globe on the relationship between the health status of cycad trees and potential for transplant success.

"If this project can identify how to select a tree that has a high chance of transplant success, then we can use that information in future conservation efforts," said Farley. Alternatively, if the project reveals factors that indicate a fadang tree is too unhealthy to transplant, then valuable resources can be used more intelligently in future conservation projects.

The project also illuminates the sorts of partnering that may occur among various agencies to enact conservation measures for the protection of Guam's natural resources. A portion of the trees will be conserved at the University of Guam, and a portion of the trees will be maintained at the Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. Department of Defense has initiated a military buildup on Guam, and this construction project is an example of their commitment to local conservation efforts during the buildup. Investing the resources to transplant these important trees demonstrates a commitment to the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the Coastal Zone Management Act. Cycas micronesica has been described as endangered on lists compiled by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and the Government of Guam. The lessons learned and trees saved by this project will advance much-needed conservation of the species.


Contact: Olympia Terral
University of Guam

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