Fiji launches living fossil mascot

Fiji launches living fossil mascot

20th May 2015

Our ref: MV41/003/NTT

For immediate release:

The Fiji Acmopyle (Drautabua) can now receive targeted conservation action as local conservation partners celebrate the first successful propagation of an endemic and critically endangered species at the Colo I Suva nursery of the Department of Forests.

The Drautabua typifies the status of much of our endemic flora – very poorly researched, little known to the Fijian public, no national or international conservation profile, no conservation management and threatened, in this case Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List. It was for these reasons that NatureFiji-MareqetiViti (NFMV) took a leaflet of the Fiji Acmopyle to be its logo, as an ideal flagship representing Fiji’s very special forest biodiversity.

The Drautabua requires specific conditions to survive in the rainforests of Viti Levu: steep slopes in or just below montane cloud forest habitat. Named Drautabua because the shape of the leaflets is like that of a tabua (whale’s tooth), this species has been in decline since 1947.

Today the Drautabua is just managing to survive, it is known from six small populations on isolated mountain ranges of Viti Levu. The population on Koroyanitu (the mountain very visible from Nadi Airport) is feared extinct as searches by experienced botanists in the 1990s failed to find it, and it may be that the cyclones of the 1970’s and 80’s which battered Koroyanitu mercilessly were too much for Drautabua there.

Another population, perhaps the largest known, is right in the middle of the prospective Namosi open-cast copper mine. It seems the odds may be stacked against this remarkable tree.

In May 2014 NFMV joined with the Department of Forests, botanists at the USP-herbarium and with expertise from the Atlanta Botanic Garden, USA to attempt to propagate from cuttings the Drautabua at the Colo i Suva Forest Station, as an initial conservation measure. A year later, we are in a position to judge the results and very encouraging they are too with a good proportion of well-rooted cuttings being produced and a knowledge of the preferred soil medium. The expertise and daily tending of the plants by the Dept. Forests nurserymen at Colo i Suva has proved crucial to the success of the project so far.

NFMV is also working with the landowners of three of the populations to provide them with an understanding of the significance of the plant, and more importantly what it represents as a component of Fiji’s very special upland forest flora. Field training is being undertaken to enable the landowners to monitor their own Drautabua populations and look for other individual trees or populations elsewhere on their land. One of the six populations, also in Namosi, was feared lost because a search several years ago had failed to find it, however, a recent search with the landowners managed to relocate a
population of about 15 plants on a steep ridge with all but one inaccessible for measurement.

With the success of the propagation efforts so far, the project will look at establishing some new ‘insurance’ populations in protected areas or where landowners are keen to conserve this unique, iconic species.

The launch of the Drautabua mascot on World Biodiversity Day on Friday 22 nd May 2015 at the Fiji Museum is no doubt, the beginning of the journey to recovery for the Drautabua.

Over the next three months, the Drautabua mascot will be the voice of Fiji’s unique forest species to the nation and the world.

For further information: Nunia Thomas (Director) [email protected]

Download pdf here: MV41_003_NTT_Media-release