Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve
In the heart of the small island of Praslin, the reserve has the vestiges of a natural palm forest preserved in almost its original state. The famouscoco de mer, from a palm-tree once believed to grow in the depths of the sea, is the largest seed in the plant kingdom.
2017 Conservation Outlook
However, the future of the site’s key value, the coco de mer palm, is currently under threat from illegal collection and over-exploitation for its nuts and kernel. The site's management has recently reduced both commercial harvesting and illegal collection of nuts, although the conservation impacts of these requires assessment. The National Government and the managing agency are implementing targeted conservation measures and aim to tighten law and legislation to protect the species, which include an increase in penalty for poaching of coco de mer nuts.
Current priorities for the Nature Reserve include continuation and expansion of the outreach and education programme; finalizing a fire contingency plan; promoting an increase in the size and connectivity of Vallée de Mai within the Praslin Island landscape, with a legally designated buffer zone; increasing anti-poaching; and continuing to control the harvesting of coco de mer seeds while expanding a programme of replanting seedlings.
The site's monitoring programme requires urgent improvement to ensure (a) effective monitoring of key values before, during and after Invasive Alien Species control; (b) fully functioning databases and developed protocols. Invasive Alien Species management has been mainstreamed in the site management, and an emergency action plan has been put in place to control and manage the invasion by yellow crazy ants.
Current state and trend of VALUES
Overall PROTECTION and MANAGEMENT
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Description of values
Scenic palm forest
An oustanding example of an ancient monodominant ecosystem
An outstanding example of biological evolution dominated by endemic palms
Endemic palm species
Endemic animal species supported by the palm habitat
The Vallée de Mai is the finest remaining representation of a once dominating habitat on Praslin (coco de mer also grows more sparsely on Curieuse Island), providing a cultural and scientific base-line for a close-to-natural state of a once dominating habitat type and its associated fauna. One important benefit of the Vallée de Mai ecosystem is the delivery of ecosystem services (e.g. little soil erosion within the site, intact watershed dynamics of water retention and holding capacity) which directly benefits the Praslinois people.
From a more regional and global perspective, the protection and preservation of the Vallée de Mai is of scientific and cultural importance. Much scientific insight has been generated by understanding ecological and evolutionary processes of this ancient palm forest. From a cultural point of view, the Vallée de Mai forest has been depicted on thousands of paintings and provided inspiration of much craftwork, for both of which exists a high demand globally.
|№||Organization/ individuals||Project duration||Brief description of Active Projects|
|1||Seychelles Island Foundation (SIF)||Ecology, genetics and conservation of the Seychelles black parrot: long-term research programme into the endemic Seychelles black parrot including population monitoring, breeding monitoring, blood sample collection for genetics, disease research and sexing, feeding ecology, and habitat suitablility surveys on other islands. Project has included four MSc theses to date. Results published internationally (Reuleaux et al., 2013; Reuleaux et al., 2014a; Reuleaux et al., 2014b). Recently elevated to full species status (Jackson et al., 2016).|
|2||SIF||Life history and reproductive ecology of coco de mer: project aims to unravel the elusive reproductive system and life history of the coco de mer including identification of the main pollinator, determining growth rates, reproductive success and variation, and investigating age and longevity. The nutrient economy of the coco de mer was also studied (Edwards et al., 2015).|
|3||SIF/ETH Zurich||Demographic and genetic processes underlying reproduction in Lodoicea maldivica, the largest-seeded plant in the world: PhD research carried out by student Emma Morgan, based at ETH Zurich, investigating genetic processes, genetic variation, seed and pollen dispersal, reproduction and genetic sex determination of coco de mer palms. Results published internationally (Morgan et al., 2016; Morgan et al., 2017).|
|4||DICE/ NHM/ local partners||A cutting-EDGE approach to saving Seychelles' globally unique biodiversity: a multi-partner project focusing on research and conservation of the Seychelles EDGE species (Sooglossid frogs, caecilians, sheath-tailed bats, black parrots, corals).|
|5||SIF/Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE)||Amphibians on the EDGE: evolutionary relationships and conservation ecology of sooglossid frogs (Sooglossus sp): PhD research carried out by student Jim Labisko based at DICE, University of Kent, UK, looking at ecology, genetics, vocalisations, pathogens and IAS impacts on this endemic frog family (continuation of Mres research).|
|6||SIF/Natural History Museum, UK||Phylogeographic patterns and systematics of Seychelles caecilians: PhD research carried out by student Simon Maddock. Results published internationally (Maddock et al., 2016).|
|7||SIF||Monitoring and control of yellow crazy ant distribution patterns across the site. Project aims to understand and control the threat by the recent invasion of this species, which now covers 70% of the site. Results published internationally (Kaiser-Bunbury et al., 2014b).|
|8||SIF/Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust||Giant bronze gecko (Ailuronyx trachygaster) movement patterns at the Vallée de Mai. The gecko species is one of the largest in the world, and is endemic to the native palm forest of Praslin. Research is ongoing, looking into territory size and movements, and whether individual geckos move frequently between coco de mer adult trees. Project has included two MSc theses to date.|
|9||University of Vigo||The evolutionary history and geographic structure of the endemic Seychelles and Wright’s skinks (Trachylepis sechellensis and T. wrightii respectively) across the Seychelles inner islands: research carried out by Dr Sara Rocha. Results published internationally (Rocha et al., 2016).|
|10||SIF||Coco de mer regeneration scheme. Incentive-driven stewardship scheme to reduce commercial harvesting via increased seed planting and monitoring.|
|11||SIF||Pioneering a holistic approach in managing invasive species in protected areas and testing it in the Vallée de Mai UNESCO World Heritage site, funded by IUCN|
|№||Site need title||Brief description of potential site needs||Support needed for following years|
|1||SIF and university partner||Strengthening community and site custodian capacity for disaster preparedness and response including forest fires, to enhance the protection of the Vallée de Mai. Project aims to build a public sense of responsibility for the VdM via community-led emergency response and fire management training and capacity building.|
|2||Assessment of poaching||The effects of poaching across the Vallée de Mai and adjacent palm forest area (including Fond Peper) are not fully known.|
|3||Research on endemic reptiles||Endemic reptiles - no baseline data on abundance or density exists for the reptiles, which include 15 endemic species, three of which are endemic to palm forest. SIF will be developing and implementing a reptile monitoring programme in 2017 to collect data on these species. Several reptile species are likely to be threatened by the increasing yellow crazy ant and rat populations.|
|4||Research on endemic amphibians||Endemic amphibians – unknown status (as above) – this group includes two endemic frog species (one of which is endemic to Praslin) and several caecilian species.|
|5||Research on endemic invertebrates||Endemic invertebrates – unknown status – the invertebrates of the site have not been well studied and monitoring needs to be put in place to assess the effects of invasive species. It has been shown that endemic arboreal snails and slugs are largely absent from areas that are infested with yellow crazy ants so the spread of these ants is of major concern to these species and their ecosystem functions.|
|6||Research on freshwater streams||Freshwater streams and biodiversity - unknown status.|
|7||Research on leaf litter||Leaf litter – unknown status - the thick palm leaf litter of the site is a hugely important part of the ecosystem and trampling/disturbance of this substrate is likely to have unpredictable effects on leaf litter fauna and possibly also nutrient recycling.|
|1||BirdLife International. (2013). Important Bird Areas factsheet: Praslin National Park and surrounding areas.|
|2||Edwards, P.J., Fleischer-Dogley, F. and Kaiser-Bunbury, C.N. (2015). 'The nutrient economy of Lodoicea maldivica, a monodominant palm producing the world’s largest seed'. New Phytologist 206:990–999.|
|3||Fleischer-Dogley, F., Kettle, C.J., Edwards, P.J., Ghazoul, J., Määttänen, K. and Kaiser-Bunbury, C.N. (2011). 'Morphological and genetic differentiation in populations of the dispersal-limited coco de mer (Lodoicea maldivica): implications for management and conservation'. Diversity and Distributions 17:235–243.|
|4||Hart, T.B., Hart, J.A. and Murphy, P.G. (1989). 'Monodominant and species-rich forests of the humid tropics: causes for their co-occurrence'. The American Naturalist 133:613–633.|
|5||Jackson, H. A., Bunbury, N., Przelomska, N. and Groombridge, J.J. (2016). 'Evolutionary distinctiveness and historical decline in genetic diversity in the Seychelles Black Parrot Coracopsis nigra barklyi'. Ibis 158:380–394.|
|6||Kaiser-Bunbury C.N., Fleischer-Dogley F., Dogley D., and Bunbury N. (2014a). 'Scientists’ responsibilities towards evidence-based conservation in a Small Island Developing State'. Journal of Applied Ecology 52:7–11.|
|7||Kaiser-Bunbury, C.N., Cuthbert, H., Fox, R., Birch, D. and Bunbury, N. (2014b). 'Invasion of yellow crazy ant Anoplolepis gracilipes in a Seychelles UNESCO palm forest'. Neobiota 22:43–57.|
|8||Ketterer, L. (2010). Management Effectiveness Assessment UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site Vallée de Mai.|
Maddock, S.T., Briscoe, A.G., Wilkinson, M., Waeschenbach, A., San Mauro, D., Day, J.J., Littlewood, D.T.J., Foster, P.G., Nussbaum, R.A. and Gower, D.J. (2016). 'Next-generation mitogenomics: a comparison of approaches applied to
caecilian amphibian phylogeny'. PLOSone 11:e0156757.
|10||Morgan, E.J., Kaiser-Bunbury, C.N., Edwards, P. J., Fleischer-Dogley, F. and Kettle, C.J. (2017). 'Keeping it in the family: genetic implications of limited seed dispersal for the dioecious palm Lodoicea maldivica, the largest-seeded plant in the world'. Conservation Genetics doi:10.1007/s10592-017-0982-2.|
|11||Morgan, E.J., Määttänen, K., Kaiser-Bunbury, C.N., Buser, A., Fleischer-Dogley, F. and Kettle, C.J. (2016). 'Development of 12 polymorphic microsatellite loci for the endangered Seychelles palm Lodoicea maldivica (Arecaceae)'. Applications in Plant Sciences 4:1500119.|
|12||Reuleaux, A., Bunbury, N., Villard, P. and Waltert, M. (2013). 'Status, distribution and recommendations for monitoring of the Seychelles black parrot Coracopsis (nigra) barklyi'. Oryx 47:561–568.|
|13||Reuleaux, A., Richards, H., Payet, T., Villard, P., Waltert, M. and Bunbury, N. (2014a). 'Breeding ecology of the Seychelles Black Parrot Coracopsis barklyi'. Ostrich 85:255–265.|
|14||Reuleaux, A., Richards, H., Payet, T., Villard, P., Waltert, M. and Bunbury, N. (2014b). 'Insights into the feeding ecology of the Seychelles Black Parrot Coracopsis barklyi using two monitoring approaches'. Ostrich 85:245–253.|
|15||Rist, L., Kaiser-Bunbury C.N., Fleischer-Dogley, F., Edwards, P., Bunbury, N. and Ghazoul, J. (2010). 'Sustainable harvesting of coco de mer, Lodoicea maldivica, in the Vallée de Mai, Seychelles'. Forest Ecology and Management 260:2224–2231.|
|16||Rocha, S., Perera, A., Silva, A. and Posada, D. (2016). 'Evolutionary history of Trachylepis skinks in the Seychelles islands: introgressive hybridization, morphological evolution and geographic structure'. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 119:15–36.|
|17||SIF. (2009). Unpublished report: tourism survey report.|
|18||Seychelles Island Foundation Annual Report 2008.|
|19||Seychelles Island Foundation Annual Report 2013|
|20||Seychelles Island Foundation’s website www.sif.sc.|
|21||Seychelles Islands Foundation (Ed.) (2001): Vallée de Mai Management Plan: A Management Plan for Vallée de Mai Natural World Heritage Site. 2002-2008.|
|22||State Party of the Seychelles (2010) Periodic Report Second Cycle Section II: Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve. Paris, France: UNESCO World Heritage Centre.|
|23||Taylor, M., Bunbury N., Chong-Seng, L., Doak, N., Kundu, S., Griffiths, R. and Groombridge, J. (2012). 'Evidence for evolutionary distinctiveness of a newly discovered population of sooglossid frogs on Praslin Island, Seychelles'. Conservation Genetics 13:557–566.|
|24||Vesey-Fitzgerald, D. (1940). 'On the vegetation of Seychelles'. Journal of Ecology 28:465–483.|
|25||World Heritage Committee (2010) Decision 34 COM 8E. Vallée de Mai Nature Reserve (Seychelles) Statement of Outstanding Universal Value. <http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/261/documents/>.|