Thomas E. Marler, a research scientist with the University of Guam’s Western Pacific Tropical Research Center, has been studying Guam’s native cycad since the 1990s. Photo courtesy of University of Guam
Thomas E. Marler, a research scientist with the University of Guam’s Western Pacific Tropical Research Center, has been studying Guam’s native cycad since the 1990s. Photo courtesy of University of Guam

Guam’s threatened cycad being preserved around the world

University of Guam

University of Guam research scientist Thomas E. Marler’s work to propagate and preserve Guam’s declining native cycad population has landed the species in thriving botanical collections around the world. Healthy populations of Cycas micronesica, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, now exist in Miami, Thailand, and just recently, Long Beach, Calif.

The accidental introduction of the Asian cycad scale insect to Guam has decimated the population of this once abundant tree. The uncontrolled tree mortality led to the plant being listed as threatened, or “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future,” on the Federal Lists of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants in 2015.

Marler, who has been studying Guam’s native cycad — or fadang, as it’s known in CHamoru — since the 1990s through UOG’s Western Pacific Tropical Research Center, has coordinated seed exchanges and cycad research with the Montgomery Botanical Center in Florida since 1997. The botanical facility now has an extensive population of Cycas micronesica trees from seeds that Marler originally contributed.

Later, in 2006, Marler was contracted to start a fadang germplasm collection on the neighboring island of Tinian to help preserve the plant. The expansive seed collection for this effort made it possible to expand the fadang germplasm collections at theMontgomery Botanical Center in Florida and also to Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden in Thailand, which are now able to supply seedlings to others.

The latest recipient of cycad seedlings was Brian Thorson, the botanical curator at California State University, Long Beach, who is originally from Guam.

“I had fond memories of going into the jungle to collect cycad seeds to grind into flour for making titiyas,” he said.

During a visit back to Guam in January, he went to the University of Guam to find a way to obtain seeds or plants to take back for a collection at CSU. Marler connected Thorson with the Montgomery Botanical Center, which was able to provide him cycad seedlings and offered to provide him more seedlings next year.

“It was very exciting for me to see that there are some populations that are still unaffected by the invasive scale and other insects,” Thorson said.

In an email to Marler with a photo of himself and his new seedlings, Thorson said, “I had no idea that you were so passionately involved with their preservation. We [CHamorus] are so grateful for your work.”

Scientists at the Western Pacific Tropical Research Center continue to explore topics that are relevant to the well-being of the environment and people throughout the region. This includes research encompassing tropical agriculture, aquaculture, invasive species, plant pathology, protecting native plants, soil health, and more. For more information about WPTRC research activities, visit www.uog.edu/wptrc/

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