Ecological Survey in Fort Sherman, Piña Range, Galeta Island and Naval Security Group Activity

Of the 23,790 acres encompassed by these installations, 22,071 (93%) are covered by tropical forests. Marsh, flooded shrubland, semi-natural flooded grassland and facilities cover the remainder.

Six different types of forest occur on the installations: evergreen seasonal forest, semideciduous seasonal forest, flooded cativo forest, flooded palm forest, deciduous forest and mangrove swamp forest. The evergreen and semideciduous seasonal forests were further divided into three distinct subclasses which correspond to stand age and the degree of disturbance sustained by the forest type. The three subclasses are as follows:

  1. TALL FOREST: This is the oldest forest type. It is relatively undisturbed for at least 200 years, and is comprised mostly of species characteristic to mature forests.
  2. MIXED FOREST: This forest is similar in age to the tall forest, yet has experienced some disturbances within the last 200 years. It has more variation in species composition, containing both species characteristic of a mature forest and pioneers.
  3. LOW FOREST: .This is the youngest of the three forest types and the most drastically and recently disturbed, where the vast majority of the vegetation has been affected within the last I 00 years.

In the evergreen seasonal forest three subclasses, tall, mixed and low, were recorded, while in the semideciduous seasonal forest only two subclasses, mixed and low, were recorded.

Of all the vegetation types the forests are the most biologically diverse, particularly the tall and mixed forests. The flooded shrubland, semi-natural flooded grassland and marsh are the most disturbed and most homogeneous in species composition, as few species can survive in their flooded conditions.

In total, 809 plant taxa were observed during field surveys. Plants are not considered by Panamanian wildlife laws and no plant species treated by the US Endangered Species Act are known to occur in the project study area. However, one hundred and four-teen of the plant taxa observed are globally and/or nationally imperiled according to The Nature Conservancy/Natural Heritage system for setting conservation priorities. One hundred and thirty-six plant species were recorded in the study area that are of economic importance, such as for timber, folkloric medicine, edible fruits and construction material.Many animal species were observed in the forests of the Atlantic slope of the Panama Canal. Among them were 213 species of birds, including 24 migratory species and 189 resident species; 60 mammal species; 27 reptile species and 26 amphibian species. It is believed that a majority of the animal species equally utilize all of the forest types (excluding flooded forests) since they are similar in composition and border one another as pieces of a much larger forest mosaic.Moreover, these forests are home to a great number of threatened and endangered species. Five mammal species were listed as endangered according to the U.S. Endangered Species Act, which included the Titi monkey (Saguinus oedipus geoffroyi), Howler monkey (Alouatta palliate), Jaguarundi (Felis yaguarondi), Ocelot (Felis pardalis) and Southern river otter (Lontra longicaudis)*. Also recorded were 25 species protected under Panamanian wildlife laws, including seven birds, 16 mammals and two reptiles. Many of these species have disappeared from other parts of the country as the result of hunting and habitat loss.Of the migratory birds observed, seven species are experiencing significant declines in their US populations according to Breeding Bird Survey statistics. One of the contributing factors in the decline of these species is the loss of habitat in their wintering grounds in the neotropics. Panama is well known as an area of high concentration for migratory birds and plays an important role as a wintering ground for some species. It also has a hemispheric importance as a critical region for migrants which follow land routes between the Americas and utilize Panama as a stop over point along their journey. The Panama Canal watershed is particularly well known for its importance as migratory bird habitat. Surveys were carried out during the migratory season, November, December, January, February and March.*The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service includes the Southern river otter in the genus Lutra. However, Van Zyll de Jong (1972, 1987, 1991) separated New World river otters into their own genus Lontra. Although this is not a widely accepted change, there are no publications that so far dispute this new taxonomy.

One of the unique forest types occurring in the study area is the deciduous forest. Once well distributed throughout Mesoamerica, the tropical deciduous forest has been nearly eliminated by agricultural practices and logging during the past 200 years. In the current study area, this vegetation type was found only on Fort Sherman where it covers over 282 acres. The deciduous forest was found to harbor at least 46 species of plants, 73 species of birds, 20 mammal species and 3 reptile species. This forest is believed to be as old as the tall forest due to its comparable height and the diameters of the trunks of its trees (DBH).The most commonly occurring vegetation type is the evergreen mixed forest which covers 12,229 acres or 51% of the study area. Floristic data analyzed by vegetation type, indicate that the greatest richness of flora was recorded in the evergreen mixed forest, with 252 plant species (Table 4), which can be attributed to the vast area covered by the mixed forest and its variation in number of strata and composition.

A similar number of species were observed in the evergreen tall and low forests with 197 and 186 plant species respectively. The best examples of tall forest are located in Fort Sherman and northern Piña Range while the low forest is best represented in Fort Sherman’s northern sector, near the infrastructures and north of the San Lorenzo ruins.

The cativo flooded forest spans 2,548 acres, is the second most common vegetation type in the study area and occurs only on Fort Sherman. Due to the high commercial value of its dominant species, this forest type is threatened in Panama. The stand of cativo forest that occurs in Ft. Sherman represents 3% of the total cativo forest remaining Panama. One hundred and six plant species, 56 bird species, 25 mammal species, 10 reptile and eight amphibian species were observed here.

The military installations located on the Atlantic side of the isthmus have experienced different degrees of disturbances due to past subsistence agricultural practices as well as more recent military uses (McCullough et al., 1956). Early in this century much of the natural vegetation was converted or eliminated. Currently, none of the vegetation could be considered virgin habitat and is all secondary growth occurring in different successional stages. In spite of this, the forest types described for these installations are home to a large number of flora and fauna species.

Of the three military installations located within the study area, Fort Sherman occupies the largest area and shows the largest diversity in ecosystems, with 12 vegetation types. The greatest richness of flora and fauna was also observed here, with 500 plant species, 195 bird species (23 of them migratory and 172 resident), 53 mammal species, 23 amphibian species and 24 reptile species. Forests at Fort Sherman are also home to a large number of endangered and threatened species. Five mammal species listed as endangered according to the US Endangered Species Act (USESA) were recorded here, including the Titi monkey (Saguinus oedipus geoffroyi), the Howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), the Jaguarundi (Felis yaguarondi), the Ocelot (Felis pardalis) and the Southern river otter (Lontra longicaudis). Twenty-five species protected by Panamanian wildlife laws were also recorded, including seven birds, 16 mammals and two reptiles.

In the four vegetation types described at Piña Range, 300 species of plants, 99 bird species (5 migratory and 94 resident), 33 mammal species, 14 amphibian species and 14 reptile species were recorded. Due to limited access of Piña, surveys were conducted mainly around the perimeters. Since the interior forests are less disturbed and in a more mature stage of succession, it is likely that these same species and more occur throughout the installation.

Two mammal species listed as endangered according to USESA, the Titi monkey (Saguinus aedipus geoffroyi) and Howler monkey (Alouatta palliata), occur in Piña Range. Also noted were 10 species protected by Panamanian wildlife laws, including four birds and six mammals.

In NSGA, Galeta Island, the only vegetation type present is the mangrove swamp forest. In this vegetation type a number of species were recorded including, nine plant species, 28 bird species (6 migratory and 22 resident) and one mammal, the raccoon Procyon lotor, which is protected by Panamanian wildlife laws.



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