Springs, streams, sources, and marshlands of Cockpit South that we've mapped so far
Jenny Tarbun was an important source of water until twenty years ago, when the stream became clogged after a failed eco-tourism venture. The waterlogged area became marshlands which now hosts native herpetofauna
A number of Eleutherodactylus spp. have been sighted in Jenny Tarbun. Such species are usually identified by their calls; it is hard to distinguish between native species in the Eleutherodactylus genus especially as so few of them are pictured in iNaturalist. Based on the markings and calls of species observed, we have reason to believe that among the relatively common species E. gossei (Least Concern) and E. grabhami (Least Concern) are also critically endangered species such as the cockpit frog (E. griphus) and the leaf mimic frog (E. sisyphodemus). We are in the process of compiling morphometric measurements to see how many of Jamaica’s 19 rain frogs are present in Jenny Tarbun
“Sometimes me see dem beeny [little] one dem ah bush [deep forest], nuh so far doh. Ah more di big, flat green one dem [tree frogs]”
As part of doctoral research, team member L. Gibson accompanied hunters and traditional practitioners as they worked in the deep forest. As the group traversed the series of hills (karsts) that characterise Cockpit Country. Such rain frogs were present much more at the start of the journey than as they went deeper into the forest. At first we thought this was the result of altitude; amphibian species often inhabit the cooler, more humid niches of forest valleys (see Sundberg et al., 2006 on forest hilltops as "heat islands" and our reference pages for literature on forest microclimate). Jenny Tarbun, however, is 407.3m above sea level (Cockpit karsts are 200-600m above sea level, see Newman et al., 2014) and has low-medium forest cover.
The marshlands of Jenny Tarbun may have created a specific set of highly suitable environmental conditions for amphibians. Jamaican sliders, also known as the Cat Island Freshwater Turtle, have been introduced to the marsh, believed to be an escaped pet of a visitor to the community. In 2018, a Maroon farmer made the first sighting of a Jamacan slider in the region. By 2019, the population has exploded; in one pool over 10 minutes, five baby sliders were observed.
Jamaican slider/Cat Island Freshwater Turtle (Trachemys terrapen)
Native: Jamaica; Bahamas (introduced); range: unknown
See the images captured by our underwater drone (click for fullscreen)
In early 2019, the Cannabis Licensing Authority (a Jamaican government agency) endorsed and authorised a medical marijuana pilot project. One of the pilot plots was located in Jenny Tarbun. The further clearing of the region and the presence of mismanaged food waste have resulted in an increase in small mammal predators as well as an explosion in the cane toad population
In an attempt to keep human activity out of the forest reserve, an important ecosystem – home to very rare and threatened frogs – suffers extreme disturbance. We are monitoring the situation and hope to begin the marshland restoration soon, as the development project seems to have stalled
This is also an important note for conservationists
Not all human disturbance comes from the unrestrained and ignorant actions of local communities. Many of the external pressures, influences, and directions evaporate without trace once a development project fails to materialise, leaving communities to foot the environmental bill. Think about legacies of development projects and extra-local interactions as you assess a community’s footprint
This example also show the importance of countermapping. State actors in environmental government agencies, many of whom we have met and conversed with numerous times, would not have suggested the use of this region if it was understood to be an Eleutherodactylus stronghold. We hope to find more of these niches, so we can get them the exposure and protection they require!
CAMERA TRAP IMAGES
When we first mapped Riverside, there had been no human disturbance for between 2-5 years, according to one local Maroon. And we could tell. The grazinglands that precede the stream area gave way to an immediate wall of forest cover – we had to hack our way in with machetes like they do in the movies. We later visited through another entrance higher up the stream; this also requires breaking through the wall of trees that surround the stream – all along the stream, there is no transition from grassland to forest
The length of the stream that we have covered so far is approximately 400m long on a downhill slope. The base is 152.24m above sea level, where the stream continues underground. Whilst we have not observed any rain frogs in this region, a number of invasive species have been sighted by our camera traps (see below). We have also found evidence of small invasive mammal presence in the deep forest, suggesting that both the core and low-disturbance forest fragments serve as feeding havens for invasive predators who depredate small amphibians and nests of endemic avifauna. While there are some challenges installing monitoring equipment in the core, we will continue to use forest fragments such as Riverside to monitor the activity of invasive species
This still comes with some challenges; Riverside’s banks can burst within 10 minutes of heavy rain taking with it our data logger that we installed to monitor stream temperature
CAMERA TRAP IMAGES
Once a pasture many decades ago, Cowgate is now an area at the mouth of the deep forest, covered by medium-density hardwood and saplings, suggesting reforestation. It is 326.1m above sea level
Watch as we explore the Cowgate stream!
Like Riverside, we have not observed rain frog presence in this region, but the stream is inhabited by a number of small blue crabs that we believe to be from the Sesarminae family of crabs endemic to Jamaica (see Reimer et al, 1998 for more on the Sesarminae family) We will return to document the species in more detail (have picture ofcowgate with crab)
Located in the heart of a former flood plain, Poliere was once used by pastoralist Maroons as a watering hole/well. Today Maroon communities are much more sedentary (see Barker and Spence, 1988) and Poliere has gone unused for decades.
“Growing up, we never used to see these kinds of spiders round here”
The banana spider (also known as the Golden Silk spider) appears to have become invasive to Cockpit Country South some time in the last thirty years, according to Maroon accounts
Golden Silk/Banana spider (Trichonephila clavipes)
Range: global (particularly found in Florida, Central America, Caribbean and northernmost countries of South America)