An invasive plant may cost a Caribbean island 576,704 dollars per year

Guest blog post by Wendy Jesse

Coralita overgrowing vegetation. Photo from

A recent study in One Ecosystem has estimated the severe loss of ecosystem service value as a result of the widespread invasion by the plant species Coralita (Antigonon leptopus) on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius. The results illustrate the drastic impact that a single invader can have on the economy of a small island and inform policy makers about priority areas for invasive species management.

See for full article: Huisman, S., Jesse, W., Ellers, J., & van Beukering, P. (2021). Mapping the economic loss of ecosystem services caused by the invasive plant species Antigonon leptopus on the Dutch Caribbean Island of St. Eustatius. One Ecosystem6, e72881.

The invader: Coralita

Coralita is a fast-growing, climbing vine with beautiful pink or white flowers. Originally from Mexico, it was introduced as a popular garden plant to many Caribbean islands and around the world. Its fast-growing nature means that it can outcompete most native species for terrain, quickly becoming the dominant species and reducing overall diversity (Jesse et al. 2020, Nature Today 2020, Eppinga et al. 2021a). This is especially the case on St. Eustatius, where published ground surveys indicate that the plant already appears on 33 percent of the island.

Losses of ecosystem services

Coralita overgrowing cars. Photo by Rotem Zilber

We estimated the total terrestrial ecosystem service (ES) value on St. Eustatius to be $2.7 million per year by mapping five important terrestrial ecosystem services: Tourism, Carbon sequestration, Non-use (i.e., intrinsic biodiversity) value, Local recreational value, and Archeological value. Subsequently, we calculated Coralita-induced loss of ecosystem services under two realistic distributional scenarios of Coralita cover on the island: 3% of island dominantly covered (based on Haber et al. 2021, Nature Today 2021) and 36% dominant cover (if entire range would reach dominant coverage), causing an annual ES value loss of $39,804 and $576,704 respectively. The highest ES value (17,584 $/ha/year) as well as the most severe losses (3% scenario: 184 $/ha/year; 36% scenario: 1,257 $/ha/year) were located on the dormant Quill volcano; a highly biodiverse location with popular hiking trails for locals and tourists alike.

Consequences for policy makers and practitioners

Coralita blocking water a drainage channel. Photo by Wendy Jesse.

There is an urgent need for studies such as this one that help to bridge the gap between academia and policy planning, as these translate abstract numbers into intuitive information. Instead of invasive species being just a biological term, direct impacts on people’s value systems and sources of income immediately strike a chord. I experience this on a daily basis, because in addition to being a coauthor on this paper, I currently work as a policy employee in nature protection and management.

Coralita overgrowing archeological heritage on St. Eustatius. Photo from St. Eustatius Center for Archeological Research (SECAR)

This study helps to prioritize locations for invasive species prevention, management, eradication, and restoration. It is imperative that invasive species do not reach locations of high ecosystem service value. Management of isolated satellite patches of Coralita close to locations of high ES value will likely be most effective in halting the plant’s invasive spread (Eppinga et al. 2021b). Setting up a targeted monitoring and rapid response strategy, as well as legislation for biosecurity measures to prevent other invasive species from entering the island, would likely help to reduce impacts on the important ecosystem services on St. Eustatius.


Academic literature:

Eppinga, M. B., Haber, E. A., Sweeney, L., Santos, M. J., Rietkerk, M., & Wassen, M. J. (2021a). Antigonon leptopus invasion is associated with plant community disassembly in a Caribbean island ecosystem. Biological Invasions, 1-19.

Eppinga M, Baudena M, Haber E, Rietkerk M, Wassen M, Santos M (2021b) Spatially explicit removal strategies increase the efficiency of invasive plant species control.

Ecological Applications 31 (3): 1‑13. E, Santos M, Leitão P, Schwieder M, Ketner P, Ernst J, Rietkerk M, Wassen M, Eppinga M (2021) High spatial resolution mapping identifies habitat characteristics of the invasive vine Antigonon leptopuson St. Eustatius (Lesser Antilles). Biotropica 53 (3): 941‑953.

Jesse, W. A., Molleman, J., Franken, O., Lammers, M., Berg, M. P., Behm, J. E., … & Ellers, J. (2020). Disentangling the effects of plant species invasion and urban development on arthropod community composition. Global change biology26(6), 3294-3306.

Blog posts on Nature Today website:

van Maanen, G. Molleman, J., Jesse, W.A.M. (2020) Drastic effects of coralita on the biodiversity of insects and spiders. Nature Today.

Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (2021) Using satellite imagery to map St. Eustatius’ coralita invasion. Nature Today.

Fishy “juveniles” from the Caribbean to be recognized as a new species, the Hourglass basslet

Living in deep reefs in the Atlantic Ocean, the banded basslet, a small and colorful species with a wide range of distribution, has long been thought to undergo significant changes during its growth into an adult. Suspiciously, the juveniles appeared much more heavily banded. Recently, however, American scientists figured out that the ‘juveniles’ were in fact a new species.

lipogramma-levinsoni-img-2In a paper published in the open access journal ZooKeys, Dr. Carole C. Baldwin, Ai Nonaka, Dr. Luke Tornabene, all affiliated with the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, and Dr. Ross Robertson, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Panama, describe two new basslet species discovered in the Caribbean off the southern coast of Curaçao. Their finding comes as part of the Smithsonian’s Deep Reef Observation Project (DROP), devoted to documenting the biodiversity in the poorly studied depth zone of 50–300 m with the help of a special submersible, called Curasub.

Having been previously confused with the banded basslet’s juveniles, one of the new species was discovered after the submersible’s hydraulic arms collected specimens with smaller size and thicker bands from shallower depths. Subsequent study of the specimens revealed additional morphological, as well as molecular, evidence that suggest the specimens represent a new species.

The species is characterized by predominantly white to tan colored body with three vertical blackish bands, one running across its head, and two along the body. The latter often appear hourglass-shaped, with their middles being narrower and lighter. Due to this resemblance, the authors suggest that the new species is commonly called Hourglass basslet, while its scientific name is Lipogramma levinsoni, in recognition of the generous and continuing support of research on neotropical biology at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (Panamá) made by Frank Levinson.

The second new basslet from Curaçao can be distinguished by the three dusky bars likewise running across its head and body. Its ground color is yellow to white, with the bar at the rear being much lighter than the rest. Reflecting its appearance, its common name is proposed to be Yellow-banded basslet, while its scientific identity is Lipogramma haberi, in recognition of Spencer and Tomoko Haber, who funded and participated in one of the submersible dives that resulted in the collection of a paratype of the new species.the-second-newly-described-basslet-species-lipogramma-haberi

In their study, the researchers also point out that it is likely that there are at least two additional cryptic species belonging to the same genus. Those species are  currently being analyzed in ongoing investigations of the Caribbean deep-reef ecosystems.

Past discoveries made as part of the DROP Project at Curaçao include adorable fishes such as the Stellate scorpionfish and the Godzilla goby. To recognize all involved in the DROP research program, the team have described the small blenny fish as Haptoclinus dropi, after the project itself, while another goby species, Coryphopterus curasub, bears the name of the submersible used in the dives.  

Original source:

Baldwin CC, Robertson RD, Nonaka A, Tornabene L (2016) Two new deep-reef basslets (Teleostei, Grammatidae, Lipogramma), with comments on the eco-evolutionary relationships of the genus. ZooKeys 638: 45-82.