The Western Pacific Tropical Research Center at the University of Guam has been awarded a continuation grant from the U.S. Forest Service to sustain their ongoing efforts to study the threats to Guam's important cultural and biological resource, the fadang tree. This tree is of interest to a range of scientific disciplines, but more importantly it has been growing in the Mariana Islands for thousands of years and was one of the most common garden plants in Guam homes about 200 years ago.
"We believe this species has been a major historical driver of ecosystem services in Guam's various habitats," said Dr. Thomas Marler. Marler is the recipient of the $18,000 grant. "But the invasion of Guam by one alien insect in 2003 and a second one in 2005 has caused epidemic levels of fadang plant mortality," said Marler.
When it became clear that Guam's fadang population may not survive the threats caused by these alien invasions, the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center secured funds from various agencies for conservation efforts. Many government and private organizations were willing to help out during the first two years following the invasion. But according to Marler, the U.S. Forest Service has shown a sustained commitment to the ongoing needs as the plant population declines further each year. This is his third grant from the agency.
The funds are earmarked for continuing the surveys that Marler has been conducting since 2003. "These surveys are crucial for understanding the cascading responses of other plants and insects as the fadang plants continue to disappear from the forest," said Marler. The information will aid in identifying how other threats to the fadang population begin to capitalize on the decline in plant health. It may also shed light on how other native plants and animals depend on fadang plants for their own survival.
"One of the chronic problems with current granting agencies is they are unwilling to fund long-term projects," said Dr. Greg Wiecko, Associate Director of the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center. "The U.S. Forest Service has demonstrated an unusual level of commitment to Guam's ecosystems by continuing to fund Marler's long-term research efforts" said Wiecko.