Dry Needle Leaf Evergreen Formation

All You Need to Know About The Pine Woodlands of The Bahamas

By Ethan Freid, PhD
Botanist, Leon Levy Native Plant Preserve

Pine Woodlands (PW) are systems with an emergent tree layer dominated by Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis (Bahamian Pine) with an open canopy. Pine Woodlands occur in the northern Bahamas (Abaco, Andros, Grand Bahama, and New Providence) with a disjunct population occurring on Middle Caicos (Turks and Caicos Islands).

It is classified as a Pinus caribaea var. bahamensis Woodland Alliance.

PW is a fire-dependent system in that fire is required to open up the shrub layer to increase light at the ground level and release nutrients. Fire is not required for cones to open and disperse seeds. Fires typically burn through Pine Woodlands every 3 -5 years. If an area of Pine Woodlands has been fire suppressed for a long enough period of time, there will be no recruitment of Pine seedlings, and the area will convert to a Dry Broadleaf Evergreen Formation—forest/Shrubland.

This plant community occurs on limestone in areas with extensive freshwater lenses. It has an open canopy with a shrub layer that can vary in its dominant species. The shrub layer is generally 1-4 meters in height, depending on the time that has passed since the last fire.

There are three major understory types:

  • Metopium toxiferum dominated shrub layer
  • Palm dominated shrub layer
  • Multi-species shrub layer

In many areas, PW occurs along the edges and into Freshwater Wetlands if there is a slight elevation gain. Ephemeral freshwater wetlands can also occur throughout PW areas in low-lying areas.

The PW of the Bahamas were heavily logged during the 1950s-70s.  The logging was conducted by Owens-Illinois to produce pulp for cardboard shipping containers.  They left approximately one tree per acre as seed trees. There are no old-growth Pine Woodlands in the Bahamas, with the closest to old-growth located in Little Abaco.  There have been no current active forestry measures being taken in the PWs, and they have regrown unchecked, unthinned, or managed.

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