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Vegetation of the Society Islands

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Title:Vegetation of the Society Islands
Authors:Fosberg, F Raymond
Date Issued:Apr 1992
Publisher:University of Hawai'i Press
Citation:Fosberg FR. 1992. Vegetation of the Society Islands. Pac Sci 46(2): 232-250.
Abstract:The vegetation of the Society Islands, 16°-18° south of the
equator, in the wet SE trade wind belt, is described. The flora is primarily of
Indo-Malayan derivation with a few New Zealand, Australian, American, and
Hawaiian elements. There is little doubt that the volcanic islands at the time of
human arrival, perhaps 4000 yr ago, were forested from mountaintop to
seashore. The original vegetation consisted of broad-leaved, usually hygrophilous,
montane rainforest. There was an abundance of shrub and small tree
species, and terrestrial ferns dominated the ground layer. The sequence of
vegetation from forest on the coastal zone and in deep valley bottoms through
montane rainforest, mossy or cloud forest, and mossy scrub-covered crests and
peaks is distinguished. With the arrival of the Polynesians, nonindigenous plant
species were introduced for food, medicine, and fiber,and "camp followers"
arrived accidentally. Native species, especially in the lowland coastal zone, were
replaced with coconut groves; taro marshes; and valley-bottom forests of mape,
breadfruit, and bamboo. The advent of Europeans brought further, often
disastrous, change as newly introduced goats and pigs and logging and clearing
opened up originally closed formations. Exotic species such as mango and guava
came to dominate the vegetation in some places. The flora of the five atolls and
the barrier-reef islets is essentially that of strand habitats throughout the
Indo-Pacific and is impoverished. There was a mixed broad-leaved forest of
several common widespread strand species such as Pisonia, Guettarda, Pandanus,
etc., and the halophytic Tournefortia and Scaevola toward the seaward
periphery. The original vegetation has also been changed by human activity,
replaced by coconut and breadfruit groves and, in wet places, by taro pits. The
vegetation patterns of the individual islands are also described.
Appears in Collections: Pacific Science Volume 46, Number 2, 1992

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