SAVE FLORIDA'S BROMELIADS CONSERVATION PROJECT
Saving Florida's Bromeliads
We tried to control the Mexican bromeliad weevil (Metamasius callizona) in Florida using a fly (Franki fly (Lixadmontia franki); Cooper et al. 2011; CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE). Unfortunately, the fly was not successful. We are looking for alternative methods to control the weevil (CLICK HERE TO LEARN MORE), but, meanwhile, Florida's bromeliads continue to disappear, because of the weevil. Conservation of these bromeliads will require scientific research, field work, and commitment.
Conservation of Florida's Bromeliads
The Giant Airplant
When the Mexican bromeliad weevil first arrived in Florida (1989), the first obvious victim was the giant airplant (Tillandsia utriculata; Frank and Thomas 1994). Before the weevil's arrival, the giant airplant was widespread from central to southern Florida and could be found growing in huge populations in forest canopies. When the weevil infested such a population, the infestation would spread like wildfire. In one study, the weevil killed 87% of a giant airplant population, numbering in the 10's of thousands, in just 6 months (Cooper et al. 2014).
Howard Frank and MC Thomas (1994) observed that the weevil wiped out the largest giant airplants quickly and the cores of those plants could be found littering the forest floors. The decline in the giant airplant populations, and the changes in the canopies due to the loss of the giant airplants, were obvious. Many years later, the same type of destruction caused by the weevil has been witnessed again and again, and now, the giant airplant is sparsely populated and much less abundant (Cooper 2006; Cooper et al. 2014; Frank and Cave 2005).
In early 2015, a group of land managers, scientists, and volunteers gathered in Venice, Florida to form the first GAP (Giant Airplant) Workshop. The goal of the workshop was to develop and put into practice strategies to save the giant airplant from extirpation in Florida. There are 11 other species of bromeliads native to Florida that are affected by the weevil. Two of those species, the cardinal airplant (T. fasciculata) and the strap-leaved guzmania (Guzmania monostachia), are also being severely reduced by the weevil. The cardinal airplant and the strap-leaved guzmania are being included in our conservation efforts. Nine other species of bromeliads may also be affected by the weevil.
Seeds! Seeds! Seeds!
Giant airplants are very slow growing and long-lived. They may take 15 to 20 years to go from seed to producing seed (Frank 1983), at which time the plants are quite large. When a giant airplant is ready to reproduce, in the spring months, the plant grows an inflorescence. The inflorescence is a large spike (it can get up to 6 ft. high) with lateral braches that forms a structure on which the flowers grow, are pollinated, and then form seeds. The seeds develop over the year and are released the following spring. While the seeds develop, the giant airplant senesces and eventually dies. The weevil prefers these very large plants and can kill a plant even while the seeds are developing; weevil larvae are often found mining the inflorescence; pupal chambers with pupae are also often found inside the inflorescence (Frank and Cave 2005). The destruction of these large giant airplants by the weevil has caused a catastrophic decline in the number of seeds that are released in the wild. It is this drop in seed production that will eventually cause the extirpation of the giant airplant in Florida, unless something is done. Because the seeds are viable for only a short time, the only way to make more seeds is to grow giant airplants.
Growing Giant Airplants
Giant airplants must reach a certain size before the Mexican bromeliad weevil will attack the plant. It can take a giant airplant 5 to 7 years before it reaches this size. During that time, the plants can be grown in Gardens, where they need to be watered and kept clean, but they do not need to be protected from the weevil.
help tend Gardens.
When the giant airplants reach the size that the weevil will attack, we protect the plants while they continue to grow for another 5 to 7 years, at which time, the plants produce seeds.
rescue giant airplants.
When the plants produce seeds, the seeds are harvested and used to repopulate the forests.
And the seeds are used to grow new plants in the Gardens.
start the next generation.
We make counts of the Gardens, Protected giant airplants, and the wild giant airplants, to monitor growth and survival.
count the plants.
We look for and collect weevil specimens from fallen, dead giant airplants.
We input, organize, and analyze our data, to monitor our progress and to refine our strategies.
Please contact Dr. Teresa Cooper at SFBCP@SaveBromeliads.com, if you:
...would like to volunteer your time and skills to help save Florida's bromeliads.
...are a land manager of a natural area in central or southern Florida with any of the native bromeliads that are affected by the weevil and are interested in learning more about conserving these plants.
...are a scientist and would like to know more about this project and the research associated with it.
...are a student looking for a good research project.
If you are able, please make a donation to the Al Muzzell Weevil Fund, managed by the Florida Council of Bromeliad Societies, a non-profit organization who has been helping us save Florida's bromeliads since the weevil arrived. Proceeds are used to purchase supplies and to fund research.
Every little bit helps!