Spindly Trees and Spiny Shrubs
The Jamaica Dry Forests ecoregion extends along the perimeter of the island, surrounding a lush and mountainous interior. Small trees and scrubby vegetation dominate the terrain, with magnificent West Indian mahogany trees and stately Spanish plum trees emerging above the canopy in some places. Tangled climbers, vines, and strangler figs grow between the red birch and wild bauhinia trees. The island of Jamaica emerged from the sea about 10 to 15 million years ago and has never been attached to any other landmasses. This isolation has caused large numbers of endemic species to evolve.
In the remote Hellshire Hills of the Jamaican Dry Forests ecoregion, you'll get the hiking challenge of a lifetime. Sharp and pitted rocks rip up even the toughest shoes. Elevations change rapidly, and holes appear everywhere in the limestone. The rough terrain, combined with high temperatures and the lack of freshwater, makes this area quite uninhabitable for humans and many other animals. Vegetation is limited to thorny cactuses and cassia scrub. But this inaccessible region is a valuable refuge for rare species such as the Jamaican hutia (described as a cross between a rabbit and a guinea pig), the Jamaican rock iguana, and the enormous Jamaican boa. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jamaican Dry Forests ecoregion has not escaped the impact of humans.
If you were to visit the Jamaican Dry Forests, you’d need to stay up around the clock to see all of this ecoregion’s diversity. By day you would see golden-yellow Jamaican orioles perched in trees, using their stout beaks to extract insects from beneath the tree bark. Small black and yellow bananaquits buzz through the forest, while colorful Jamaican mango hummingbirds hover in the air, extracting nectar from wild bauhinia blossoms. A shiny green hummingbird called a red-billed steamertail flies by, its long tail feathers generating a high whining hum. At night, you might see a Jamaican owl, which hunts for insects, tree frogs, mice, and lizards. That's your best time, too, to see Jamaica's land mammals, almost all of which are bats. Butterflies found in this ecoregion include the West Indian buckeye and the Andraemon swallowtail. Orchids and bromeliads grow on the tree branches, and the large blossoms of the agave plant attract orioles and hummingbirds.
Cause for Concern
Except for the Hellshire Hills area, the Jamaican Dry Forests have largely been cleared for agriculture, urban development, and tourist resorts. They are also subject to excessive firewood gathering and heavy recreational use. Introduced and feral animals, especially mongooses, prey on native wildlife.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001