The flora and vegetation of the Gulf of Ana Maria keys.
Flora is the plant life occurring in a particular region or time. It is defined as the diversity of plant species and is part of the vegetation.
Vegetation is a broader term and refers to the ground cover provided by plants, their habits and size and gives a particular physiognomy to every plant community. The flora of Cuba has the largest number of species of all the Caribbean islands (≈7000), 50 % regarded as exclusive of the Cuban territory. Although the earliest plant studies in Cuba date back to 1553, information from some areas of the country, like the Gulf of Ana Maria, is limited.
During the last ten years, the Coastal Ecosystems Research Center (CIEC) has carried out inventories to characterize marine and terrestrial biodiversity in the Jardines de la Reina archipelago. However, most of them have focused on the National Park area. To make the inventories of the flora and the vegetation of the Gulf of Ana Maria central keys, field surveys, literature reviews, as well as consultation of herbarium materials were performed. Field trips were made in October 2011 and March 2012. Eight sites were surveyed and the taxa were identified in situ and at the herbarium of the Coastal Ecosystems Research Center (CIEC) consulting classic literature.
The study area has three plant formations: mangrove forest, xeromorphic coastal scrub and sandy shoreline vegetation. The mangrove forest covers most of the surveyed keys area with predominance of red mangroves. In the coastal lagoons of the Cargado, Cuervo, Palomo and Santa María de Afuera keys, black mangroves and white mangroves are present which adds more structural complexity to the vegetation. In the central part of Algodon Grande key, open areas with isolated individuals of buttonwood were observed and predominance of sand couch (coastal non-bunching tussock grass with a wide distribution) as part of the herbaceous stratum.
The xeromorphic coastal scrub on sand is found in Santa Maria de Afuera key and is made up by eight species with elements of the sandy shoreline vegetation. Among the most abundant species are Greenheart, Buttonwood and the Cuban silver palm. The sandy shoreline vegetation covers most of the said substrate and is the plant community with the highest floristic richness (40 species), present in most of the surveyed keys. This community has a number of rhizomatous grasses and is characterized by the abundance of Cuban silver palms.
A total of 47 species of vascular plants from 43 genera and 25 families were listed. Only three taxa were endemic: the Cuban silver palm, Cuban cactus (pitahaya) and a species of heliotropes. Algodon Grande and Santa María de Afuera keys showed the highest floristic richness with 32 and 21 species respectively.
The flora and vegetation described are typical of Cuban coastal areas and their features are in correspondence with the geology of such area. In spite of the distance from the main land, invasive species like the Australian pine and Prickly pear are present. The occurrence of such exotic species is a potential threat for the biodiversity of these keys, often vulnerable to biological invasions.