Pine Forests in Paradise
Visit the Bahamas island chain and you'll find more than just beautiful beaches. Rich pine forests grow across these islands, which are home to birds, butterflies, lizards, and more. Among the many creatures that hide in the dense undergrowth of the pine forests is the endangered Kirtland’s warbler. This small brown and yellow warbler spends its whole life in pine forests, passing the winter here feeding on insects and fruit and then migrating as far north as Michigan in the summer to breed in stands of jack pine.
The Bahamas is a chain of more than 700 small and low-lying islands and islets that begins just off the coast of Florida and stops just north of Hispaniola. The plant and animal communities on these islands show influences from nearby Florida and the Greater Antilles. The islands become more arid as they progress farther south, with open pine forests mainly found on the northern islands. The native Caribbean pine dominates these forests, growing up to 100 feet (30 m) in height. Beneath the trees grows a dense understory of palmettos, ferns, and cabbage palms.
These forests are crawling with reptiles. Large rock iguanas, pygmy boas, and geckos can all be found in this ecoregion. West Indian woodpeckers drill holes in pines, hunting for insects. Orange and black Antillean dagger wings flit through the trees. Found only in the West Indies, this elegant butterfly has two long, thin tails extending from each hindwing. The Bahama yellowthroat, Bahama swallow, and Bahama woodstar, all endemic bird species, thrive in these pine forests. The diminutive woodstar is a brightly colored hummingbird, with males sporting vibrant green and purple feathers. At night, buffy flower bats emerge from their caves and set off in search of nectar and insects. These bats play an important role in pollinating native plants.
Cause for Concern
Native vegetation of the main islands has been heavily altered. Firewood gathering, recreational use, tourist development, and logging are all serious threats. The loss of older trees is especially significant for bird species such as the Bahama swallow, which make their nesting holes in mature trees. Introduced animals such as raccoons, pigs, and domestic cats threaten native wildlife.
For more information on this ecoregion, go to the World Wildlife Fund Scientific Report.All text by World Wildlife Fund © 2001