Trees play a vital role in terrestrial ecosystems and forests provide a wide range products and services to the rural and urban people that live in and around them. When forests are cleared for development or agriculture, the benefits they provide can be sustained by incorporating trees into the agricultural systems and landscapes that replace them. This practice is called Agroforestry. It is a sustainable land use practice utilized around the world since the earliest human development.

Since 1999, UVI-Agriculture Experiment Station's (AES) research in Agroforestry has focused on Virgin Islands native tree species and forests. There are a wide range of reasons for utilizing native trees from conservation, to their adaptation to local conditions to their cultural importance. We observed few native trees in production in the territory and determined little information was available on how to grow them from seed. This research aims to improve the quality and quantity of available native tree and forest data and thereby facilitate increased production. The current researcher is Michael Morgan. He started working at UVI in 2010 after 11 years of forestry research  specializing in the propagation of native trees in the tropical dry forests of Ecuador.  Many of the trees species in the Virgin Islands are the same or closely related to the trees of Ecuadoran tropical dry forests. Here is an example of his research: Increasing germination of Bursera graveolens seeds via pre-treatments.

Native Trees and Seeds The goal of native tree research is to develop efficient methods or 'protocols' for growing all of the Virgin Island's native trees. Many of the native trees we work with are attractive ornamental plants, including palms that are well-suited to landscaping and urban forestry.

What is a Virgin Islands native plant? Click here. We also give special attention to trees that are underutilized (Solanum conocarpum) or federally listed as threatened & endangered (Buxus vahlii and Catesbaea melanocarpa). UVI-AES native tree research is made possible through a USDA-McIntire-Stennis grant.

Today, AES Agroforestry research has expanded into three primary areas. Each is briefly described below. Click on the titles for more detailed information.

Forests and Mapping While forests provide environmental services to humans, we also influence and impact forests through our various land use practices. The UVI-AES Agroforestry Program conducts research on whole forest systems using the latest technology, including Geographic Information Systems (GIS). This research was made possible through a partnership between the USDA, International Institute of Tropical Forestry (USDA-IITF), the University of Florida and UVI. The research uses remotely sensed Landsat satellite images to look at the surface of the St. Croix and examine how forest, agriculture and developed areas are changing over time.

Forest Restoration and Enrichment When forest land is cleared or disturbed, it is often able to recover through the natural process of succession. If the land is severely degraded or becomes colonized by invasive species such as tan-tan (Leucaena leucocephala), casha (Acacia macracantha) or sweet lime (Triphasia tripholia) succession can become arrested. The UVI-AES Agroforestry Program explores efficient, inexpensive methods for restoring native forests. "Enrichment planting" using artificial gaps and native tree seedlings is one of these low-cost, experimental methods.

Michael Morgan can be reached in the field at 340-244-1467

This site was made possible by a grant from State and Private Forestry, Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.