Botanical survey of Playa Delfin, Rainforest Reserve and Research Station, Cantón de Golfito
by Ronald L. Jones, Ph.D., Department of Biological Sciences, Eastern Kentucky University, Richmond, Kentucky
and Humberto Jimenez-Saa, Ph.D., Tropical Science Center, San Jose, Costa Rica
For Área de Conservación Osa (ACOSA) and Tropical Science Center (CCT), San Jose, Costa Rica November 2011 (updated in May 2014)
This two-week study was conducted in late June and early July, 2011, at the Playa Delfin Rainforest Reserve and Research Station. This research station is privately owned by Patrick and Anne Weston. It is located south of Golfito, near Pavones, on the eastern side of the Golfo Dulce, near the Panama border. The Golfo Dulce area is known as a region of great biological diversity due to its geologic and climatic history and its strong floristic and faunistic affinities to South America (Weber 2001). The area was apparently isolated during glacial periods, and this fragmentation likely resulted in accelerated speciation in the area. As a result there are many endemic species in the region, and many species more common in South America.
This southern region of Costa Rica has also been severely impacted by various human activities, not only from the conversion of the land for agriculture, dwellings, and local businesses, but also from past and ongoing efforts to develop the area for tourism. There are few remaining intact stands of primary forest, but one of the most extensive stands of primary forest still exists at Playa Delfin. Some botanical studies have been done in the general vicinity, including two books (Allen 1956; Weber 2001). According to the owners, however, the Playa Delfin region has received only a few preliminary studies (Muñoz 1990), and the flora has not been thoroughly documented. It is hoped that this study will increase our knowledge of the kinds of plants in the area, and of the current status of the forest. The purpose of this report is to provide a list of the woody plant species collected at the site, along with a description of the vegetation, and a discussion of the site as potential wildlife habitat.
This study could not have been accomplished without the assistance and cooperation of Patrick and Anne Weston, the owners of Playa Delfin. Several of the staff members at Playa Delfin, especially Onofre Caballero, acted as guides during the field excursions, and proved to be very skillful at locating flowering and fruiting specimens, handling the extension poles used for taking samples from high branches, and avoiding dangers in the field. The staffs of the Tropical Science Center helped in many ways, from assisting in the obtaining of collecting permits to storage of supplies to handling and transporting specimens. The staff of the Herbario Nacional were also very helpful, with special thanks to Cecilia Pineda, the Director, for allowing the authors to use the herbarium, and to curators Armando Estrada, Alonso Quesada, Armando Ruiz, and Joaquín Sánchez for assisting in the identification of the plants. Armando Ruiz also provided much logistical help, especially in the mailing of specimens back to the U.S. J. Richard Abbott and Jim Solomon were extremely helpful in organizing a visit (by RLJ) to the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG) Herbarium in March 2012. The following staff members of MBG provided much-needed assistance with identifications: J. Richard Abbott, Ron Liesner, Tom Croat, Gerrit Davidse, Shirley Graham, Mike Grayum, Peter Jorgensen, John McDougal, Peter Jorgensen, Rosa Ortiz, Amy Pool, John Pruski, Jon Ricketson, Peter Stevens, and Charlotte Taylor. We would also like to think Barry Hammel for his assistance with Clusiaceae and other families.
Special thanks go to Wendy Barrantes of ACOSA for assistance in obtaining a collecting permit, Eden Chinchilla for his assistance in mailing the specimens from Los Cusingos to San Jose, and to Armando Ruiz for his assistance at the Herbario Nacional in mailing the duplicate set of specimens to the U.S. The second author of this report, Humberto Jimenez, also acted as a facilitator of the project in many ways, especially in coordinating all the logistics required for the study.
Playa Delfin is a 115 hectare preserve located in far southern Costa Rica, near the Panama border (see Figures 1 and 2). The property is owned by Patrick and Anne Weston, and the site includes a main house, 5 cabins, and a dining room/kitchen. Primary forest occupies about ¾ of the property, and there is a network of trails (see Figures 3 and 4). Elevations (based on Google Earth) range from 6.4 to 8.4 meters along the coastal forest border, to 145 meters at the southwest end of the Ridge Trail. The section of the preserve declared as Zona Marítimo Terrestre and Zona Publica Inalienable is a government-owned strip of land extending from the ocean to 200 m inland, mostly below 21 meters in elevation, chiefly north of the main road, but also including a small section south of the road and adjacent to Quebrada El Macho in the northwest corner of the preserve. This zone includes both forested and unforested sections, and is bordered to the east by Quebrada El Higo and to the west by Quebrada El Macho. The unforested sections of the Zona Marítimo Terrestre include a small lake next to a wooden walkway, unmaintained fields, and an open, maintained area where there are 5 visitors cabins and a building for cooking and dining. The two houses on the property are to the north of the main road and south of the limit of the Zona Marítimo Terrestre. Most of the property south of the road is forested, with primary forests occurring along the upper slopes and ridges, except for a few open fields near the beginning of the trails to the ridges. The lowland property south of the main road is mostly below 45 meters in elevation, with the Entry Trail rising to an elevation of about 100 meters, where it junctions with the Loop Trail and the Ridge Trail. The Ridge Trail remains close to 100 meters elevation for about half of its length, and then rises to 145 meters near the Tree Farm area. The Entry, Cacao Flat, and Ajo Loop trails are easy walking trails, and most of the Ridge and Loop trails are also easy walking. These latter two trails, however, have some steep, slippery, and narrow sections, and care must be taken to avoid falling down or falling off the sides of the trail. During June and July it is possible to hike up the two quebradas for considerable distances, but there are no trails, and most of the walking is in the water, with occasional cross-county hiking to avoid deep pools. There are many scenic views available while hiking along the quebradas, including winding and bouldery corridors, small waterfalls, and heavily forested slopes rising high above the streams.
Specimens were collected from June 28 to July 8, 2011. The specimens were collected in duplicate and prepared using standard herbarium techniques of collecting, pressing, and drying. Numerous photographs were taken in the field, and additional photographs were taken during the pressing process. At the conclusion of the field work, the specimens were packed in boxes and transported to the Herbario Nacional, where they were placed in the deep freezer. Identification work at the herbarium involved examining the specimens and comparing them to herbarium specimens. Specimens were then sorted, with one set deposited at the Herbario Nacional, and another set mailed to Eastern Kentucky University Herbarium in Richmond, Kentucky. This set was received in October, 2011. During the field studies notes were taken on the general status of the vegetation of the site, especially regarding any particularly large trees and the species composition at the different sites, and potential for the area for wildlife habitat.
References used for identifications include the following books: Allen (1956), Garguillo (2008), Gentry (1993), Zuchowski (2005), Hamel et. al., (2003a, 2003b, 2004, 2007, 2010) ,Weber (2001), Krings and Braham (2005), and the three volume set on Arboles de Costa Rica (Holdridge and Poveda 1975; Zamora et. Al. 2000; Zamora et al. 2004). Other references included the notebook prepared while participating in the Tropical Dendrology course in 2001, taught by Humberto Jimenez and colleagues, and other available keys and books provided by Dr. Jimenez. Additional identification work was done by comparing the collections to specimens deposited at the Herbario Nacional.
A total of 150 sets of specimens were collected in June and July, 2011, involving about 140 different species. About 88% of the specimens have been identified to species. Appendix I is a list of plant specimens collected at Playa Delfin in June and July 2011, with vouchers deposited at the Herbario Nacional in San Jose, Costa Rica, and at the Eastern Kentucky University Herbarium, Richmond, KY. In Tables 1, 2, and 3 there are lists of species for the three major habitats of the area (upland, lowland, and stream corridors), and these tables include some species (mostly cultivated plants) that were observed on the property but were not vouchered with collections (specimens from some species were unobtainable, and in other cases the failure to obtain a voucher was inadvertent). Onofre Caballero identified several species by their local Spanish names, but specimens were unreachable, and these have not been verified by collections, including reseco, which is a name associated with Tachigali versicolor in the Fabaceae, a species considered to be endangered in Costa Rica (Jimenez-Madrigal 1995).
Other Costa Rican endangered species at Playa Delfin, based on Jimenez-Madrigal (1995), include Astronium graveolens, Tabebuia guayacan, Copaifera aromatica, Caryocar costaricense, Dalbergia retusa (at least some of these have been planted), Platymiscium pinnatum, and perhaps Tachigali versicolor (if identity is confirmed).
In an earlier survey of Playa Delfin (Muñoz 1990), the following species were reported, but these were not documented in this study: Licania arborea, Rollinia sp., Qualea sp., Brunellia costaricensis, Ceiba pentandra, Gaurea sp., Bursera simaruba, Rheedia (Garcinia) sp., Calophyllum brasiliense, Brosimum costaricanum, Sapium sp., Dialium guianense, Thouinidium decandrum, Chimarrhis latifolia, Terminalia amazonica, and Terminalia chiriquensis (T. oblonga). It is most likely that these species were just overlooked in this short two-week study. In particular, it was pointed out by Anne Weston that Ceiba pentandra was known to occur in the uplands.
Among the largest trees along the ridge, these often 1 to 2 meters in diameter, were Brosimum utile, Copaifera aromatica, Ficus spp., Hura crepitans, and Pseudobombax septenatum. An individual Hura crepitans on the east side of the trail approached 3 meters in diameter, and a strangler fig near the junction of the Entry Trail and Ridge Trail formed a massive complex of numerous stems over 5 meters wide. Several large trees are also present in the lowlands, including a huge ajo (Caryocar costaricense), of 2.2 meters in diameter, on the Ajo Trail, and several large fig trees of 1 meter or more in diameter in the lowland forests near the beach.
Vegetation of the Uplands
This upland community occurs on the slopes and ridges above 45 meters in elevation. Most of the collecting was accomplished along the Ridge Trail; canopy species along this trail include the following: Apeiba tibourbou, Astrocaryum standleyanum, Brosimum utile, Castilla tunu, Chrysophyllum cainito, Cojoba arborea, Copaifera aromatica, Ficus spp., Goethalsia meiantha, Guatteria amplifolius, Hura crepitans, Luehea seemannii, Ocotea sp., Platymiscium pinnatum, Pseudobombax septenatum, Pterocarpus hayesii, Spondias mombin, Virola sebifera, and Vochysia guatemalensis. Among smaller trees Castilla tunu was very common, and Heisteria acuminata, with its bright red and green fruiting structures was conspicuous in the understory. Other species observed or documented in the uplands are listed in Table 1.
Table 1. Notable species of the uplands (45 m to 145 m in elevation) are the following species. An asterisk (*) indicated that the species was observed but not vouchered.
|Apeiba tibourbou||peine de mono, peinemico|
|*Astrocaryum standleyanum||pejibaye de montana|
|Brosimum utile||baco, vaco|
|Castilla tunu||ule, hule|
|Ficus sp.||matapalo (strangler)|
|Goethalsia meiantha||guacimo blanco|
|Gaurea chiricano||cedron amargo|
|Heisteria acuminata||limoncillo de montano|
|Luehea seemannii||guacimo colorado|
|Pouteria subrotata and P. glomerata||nispero|
|*Pseudobombax septenatum||ceibo barrigon|
|Virola sebifera||Fruta durado|
Vegetation of the Lowlands (below 45 meters elevation)
Coastal Fringe Forest
The coastal fringe forest (forest edge facing the beach) at Playa Delfin includes the following species: Amphitectna latifolia, Bunchosia nitida, Chrysobalanus icaco, Cocos nucifera, Hibiscus pernambucensis, Hippomane mancinella, Hymenaea courbaril, Mangifera indica, Randia sp., Terminalia catappa, and Ximenia americana. The larger trees along the beach were individuals of Cocos nucifera and Terminalia catappa. The most extensive ground cover was formed by the tangled stems of the yellow-flowered Sphagneticola trilobata. Smaller areas were covered by a grass, Uniola pittieri.
Lowland Interior Forest
This type of community occurs beyond the coastal fringe forest, throughout the Zona Maritimo Terrestre, around the houses and cabins, along the roadsides, and south of the road to an elevation of 45 meters. A continuous strip of lowland interior forest extends from Quebrada El Higo to Quebrada El Macho, about 800 meters in length, and varying from about 20 to 100 meters wide. Notable species in this section of the property included Aspidiosperma spruceanum, Astronium graveolens, Bactris major, Bombacopsis quinata, Byrsomina crassifolia, Cananga odorata, Cecropia sp., Cocos nucifera, Ficus spp., Gmelina arborea, Guazuma ulmifolia, Hymenaea courbaril, Inga spp., Jacaranda mimosifolia, Lonchocarpus heptaphyllus, Luehea seemanii, Myriocarpa longipes, Ochroma pyrimadale, Platymiscium pinnatum, Psidium guajava, Simaba cedron, Tabebuia guayacan, T. ochracea, T. rosea, Trema micrantha, Vitex cooperi, and Zanthoxylum kellermanii. The introduced melina (Gmelina arborea) is now widely naturalized in the area. Other exotic plants in the lowlands include species of Citrus, Averrhoa, Cananga, Mangifera, and Terminalia. Many of these same species, both native and exotic, are found around the houses and cabins, along the roadsides and fences, and in the lowlands south of the main road. A list of species observed or collected in the lowlands is provided in Table 2.
Table 2. Notable species of the lowlands at Playa Delfin (below 45 m elevation) from along the beach, around the cabins and houses, and in the flatlands south of the main road. An asterisk (*) indicated that the species was observed but not vouchered. Plants characteristic of the forest edges adjacent to the playa are indicated by (P).
|Amphitectna latifolia (P)||Jicarillo de la playa|
|*Artocarpus altilis||Fruta de pan|
|*Attalea (Scheelea) rostrata||Palma real|
|Bunchosia nitida (P)||Flor de cerezo|
|*Cheilocostus speciosus||Cana agria|
|Chrysobalanus icaco (P)||icaco|
|*Cocos nucifera (P)||coconut|
|*Cordia alliodora||Laurel macho|
|Guazuma ulmifolia||Guacimo ternaro|
|Hibiscus pernambucensis (P)||Amapola de la playa|
|Hippomane mancinella (P)||manzanillo|
|Hymenaea courbaril (P)||guapinol|
|Ixora coccinea (B)||Flor de fuego|
|Luehea seemannii||Guacimo colorado|
|Lygodium venusta (P)|
|*Mangifera indica (P)||mango|
|Randia aculeata (P)|
|Sphagneticola trilobata (P)|
|Tabebuia ochracea||Corteza amarilla|
|Tabebuia rosea||Roble de la sabana|
|Terminalia catappa (P)||Almendro de la playa|
|Trema micrantha||Capulin blanco|
|Uniola pittieri (P)|
|Ximenia americana (P)||pepenance|
Vegetation of the Quebradas
Two quebrada hikes were taken, one along Quebrada El Higo, and one along Quebrada El Macho. Specimens were difficult to obtain, as most hiking was in the water and tree branches were too high to reach, even with extension poles. Table 3 provides a list of the specimens that could be obtained. The tree fern, Alsophila firma, was seen only in this habitat, along the Quebrada El Higo. One of the endangered trees of Costa Rica, Buchenavia costaricensis, was found along the Quebrada El Higo.
Table 3. Notable species from along the two stream corridors, Quebrada El Higo and Quebrada El Macho.
|Alsophila firma||Helecho arboreo|
|Carapa guianensis||Cedro bateo|
|Carludovica rotundifolia||Palma de sombrero|
|Guarea chiricano||Cedro macho|
|Heliconia sp. 1|
|Heliconia sp. 2|
|Posqueria latifolia||Fruta de mono|
|*Sterculia apetala||Arbol de panama|
General Comments about the Vegetation
According to Weber (2001) the life zones of the Golfo Dulce region are classified in the Holdridge system as either Tropical Wet Forest, Tropical Moist Forest, or Tropical Premontane Wet Forest
The plant communities along the coast include species specially adapted for the harsh environment created by full exposure to sand, wind, and waves, referred to in this report as Coastal Fringe. This type of vegetation is described as Coastal and Beach Vegetation in Weber (2001) and as Littoral Woodland in Allen (1956). Allen (1956) is more specific in his community descriptions for Golfo Dulce forests, and his description of the species occurring in the beach-front forest (Littoral Woodland) is very similar to that observed for the Coast Fringe during this study.
Many of the species listed for the Lowland Interior Forests and Upland Forests in this report were listed by Allen (1956) for his Evergreen Lowland Forest.
The species composition of the upland forests of Playa Delfin, consisting of such characteristic species as Astrocaryum standleyanum, Brosimum utile, Castilla tunu, Chrysophyllum cainito, Cojoba arborea, Copaifera aromatica, Ficus spp., Hura crepitans, Luehea seemannii, Platymiscium pinnatum, Pseudobombax septenatum,Pterocarpus hayesii, and Virola sebifera may represent an undescribed community for the region. Previous publications describe a variety of communities in the area, these often with characteristic palms or other species not observed at Playa Delfin. Much more work is needed, as this conclusion concerning the uniqueness of the upland community is based on very preliminary data collected over a two week period.
Playa Delfin as a Refuge for Plant and Animal Biodiversity
Many different habitats occur at Playa Delfin, including coastal fringe forests, lowland interior forests, forests along the quebradas, a small lake, open fields, and upland primary forests. This topographic diversity provides a variety of habitats for plants and animals. This report documents the presence of well over 100 species of woody plants, including seven species of trees endangered in Costa Rica, and a number of species that are either endemic to Costa Rica (such as Buchenavia costaricensis and Caryocar costaricense) or endemic to the southwestern portion of Costa Rica and adjacent Panama (such as Copaifera aromatica). Further and more extensive studies, especially if conducted during the period from January to April (when more plants are flowering and fruiting), will no doubt reveal many more species, perhaps twice as many as documented in this short investigation. This study also documents the presence of primary forest in the uplands, characterized by many large trees in the 1 to 2 meter range (and a few even larger) of diameter. Thus it appears that the plant life is very rich at Playa Delfin.
Playa Delfin also has a variety of resources for animal life. There are two major streams and a small lake that provide sources of water. A narrow but continuous strip of vegetation extends along the beach between the two quebradas, varying from 20 to 100 meters in width, and includes a number of plant species that can provide habitat and food for a variety of animals. Many fruit trees, both native and exotic, are found around the cabins and houses. Primary forests, featuring many very large trees, are found throughout the uplands and especially along the ridge tops. These primary forests include many older trees and dead trees that can provide shelter, and also include many trees bearing fruit that can be consumed by a wide variety of wildlife, especially birds and mammals.
A number of notable mammals have been observed at Playa Delfin (Anne Weston, personal communication), including ocelots (Leopardus pardalis), margay cats (Leopardus wiedii), nutria (Lutra longicaudis), pacas (Agouti paca), howler monkeys (Allouata palliata), capuchin monkeys (Cebus capucinus), and squirrel monkeys (Saimiri oerstedii). Bird sightings include king vultures (Sarcoramphus papa), Gray-necked Wood-Rail (Aramides cajanea), Crested guan (Penelope purpurascens), Scarlet Macaw (Ara macao), Three-wattled Bellbird (Procnias tricarunculata), and Great Curassow (Crax rubra),. The spider monkey (Atteles geoffroyi) has not been observed at Playa Delfin, but populations are known from the Burica Peninsula (Brechter 2007). Many of the species listed above are considered Endangered, Threatened, Vulnerable, or in decline in Costa Rica.
Wainwright (2002) treats 106 of the 212 mammal species in Costa Rica (many of the bats and small rodents are not included). Of the 106 mammal species all but 28 species were mapped for the Playa Delfin and BuricaPeninsula region. Wainwright (2002) listed the following groups of plants (all present at Playa Delfin) as useful for Costa Rican mammals, mostly as sources of food and shelter: Annona, Astrocaryum, Attalea, Bactris, Bombacopsis, Brosimum, Carapa, Cardulovica, Cecropia, Chrysophyllum, Citrus, Cordia, Ficus, Guazuma, Heliconia, Hymenaea, legumes (many species), Mangifera, Miconia, Ochroma, Palicourea, Phoradendron, Piper, Pouteria, Pseudobombax, Psidium, Psychotria, Randia, Spondias, Sterculia, Terminalia, Virola, Vismia. Most of these species were found in both uplands and lowlands, except for a few that were more associated with the lowlands, such as species of Annona, Attalea, Bactris, Bombacopsis, Citrus, Cordia, Hymenaea, Mangifera, Phoradendron, Psidium, Randia, and Terminalia. Several large fig trees (Ficus) and jobo trees (Spondias mombin) were also found in the lowlands, and these trees provide a food source for a wide variety of wildlife.
Wainwright (2002) provides these listings of plant foods for animals: for howler monkeys (mono congo), leaves from a variety of trees, including Hymenaea and Ficus, and fruits of Cecropia, Ficus, and Spondias; for capuchin monkeys (mono carablanca)—over half the diet consisting of fruits from many different species; and squirrel monkeys (mono titi)—a variety of fruits, including those of Mangifera, Cecropia, Inga, Ficus, Attalea, Piper, and Palicourea. For capuchin and squirrel monkeys also feed upon a variety of animals (insects, amphibians, birds, and small mammals) present in Playa Delfin. During this two-week study squirrel monkeys were observed at the reserve, and the characteristic calls of the howler monkeys were heard at Playa Delfin.
A number of studies at nearby sites suggest that the bird life of the region is exceedingly rich. Tebb (2008) reported 330 species at the La Gamba Tropical Research Station. Various websites report more than 400 species of birds found on the Osa Peninsula (www.osapeninsula.org). The numerous woody species bearing fleshy fruits in Playa Delfin provide ample sources of food and shelter for a wide variety of the birds of the region. Rare birds known from the nearby Osa and Corcovado areas include the Crested Eagle, Harpy Eagle, Red-fronted parrotlet, Baird’s Trogon, and Black-cheeked Ant-Tanager.
The amphibian and reptile fauna of the region is also highly diverse. Savage (2002) reports that the Lowland Pacific Wet Forest of the Golfo Dulce region has a very rich herpetofauna, with a minimum of 125 species occurring at relatively well collected sites.
These summaries of known animal life of the region, along with the description of the various species and vegetation types revealed by the current study, suggest that Playa Delfin has high potential as a refuge for plants and animals. It can be readily observed from Google Earth images that the 115 hectares that make up the Playa Delfin Rainforest Reserve and Research Station represent one of the largest remaining tracts of primary forest in the region. In addition, there is considerable forest cover for about one kilometer to the southwest, south, and northeast of Playa Delfin, increasing the potential benefits of utilizing Playa Delfin as a reservoir and corridor for maintaining plant and animal biodiversity in this unique and highly threatened region of Costa Rica .
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Appendix I. A list of specimens collected at Playa Delfin, June and July 2011.
|Annonaceae||Cananga||odorata||(Lam.) Hook. F. & Thoms.|
|Annonaceae||Guatteria||amplifolia||Triana & Planch|
|Annonaceae||Cananga||odorata||(Lam.) Hook. F. & Thoms.|
|Bombacaceae||Ochroma||pyramidale||(Cav. Ex Lam.) Urb.|
|Clusiaceae||Vismia||baccifera||(L.) Triana & Planch|
|Euphorbiaceae||Alchornea||costaricensis||Pax & K. Hoffm.|
|Fabaceae||Senna||reticulata||(Willd.) H.S.Irwin & Barneby|
|Fabaceae||Cojoba||arborea||(L.) Britt. & Rose|
|Fabaceae||Cojoba||arborea||(L.) Britt. & Rose|
|Lethycidaceae||Amphitecna||latifolia||(Mill.) A.H. Gentry|
|Menispermaceae||Hyperbaena||leptobotryosa||(Donn. Sm.) Standl.|
|Myrsinaceae||Ardisia||opegrapha Oerst.||subsp. opegrapha|
|Rubiaceae||Posqueria||latifolia||(Rudge) Roem. & Schult.|
|Sapindaceae||Dilodendron||costaricense||(Radlk.) A. Gentry & Steyerm.|
|Tiliaceae||Luhea||seemannii||Triana & Planch|
|Tiliaceae||Mortoniodendron||anisophyllum||(Standl.) Standl. & Steyerm.|
|Tiliaceae||Goelthalsia||meiantha||(Donn. Sm.) Burret|
Dr. Ronald L. Jones
Department of Biological Sciences
521 Lancaster Avenue
Eastern Kentucky University
Richmond, KY 40475
Dr. Humberto Jiménez Saa
Centro Científico Tropical