Development of a population of Boswellia elongata Balf. F. in Homhil nature sanctuary, Socotra island (Yemen)

Lvončík, Samuel; Vahalík, Petr; Bongers, Frans; Peijnenburg, Jan; Hušková, Karolína; Rensburg, Julian Jansen van; Hamdiah, Salem; Maděra, Petr


We assessed seven decades of change in the largest known population of the endangered endemic Boswellia elongata Balf. F. (Burseraceae) on Socotra Island (Yemen). To quantify the population change we evaluated tree number and locations on digitized images from various sources in the period 1956–2017 and combined this with direct field measurements of the population between 2011 and 2017. Our study reveals that the Homhil Nature Sanctuary B. elongata population shows a continuous decline since 1956. The steady but slow natural decline was strongly accelerated by two catastrophic cyclones in November 2015, when 38% of the trees were directly destroyed by strong winds. During the following 2 years 29% of the remaining trees died additionally. The remaining population has a bell-shaped size distribution; most trees are around 40 cm in diameter (range 18 to 70 cm). Tree ring analysis of 11 dead trees with a diameter of 29 to 44 cm without bark, resulted in estimated tree ages between 80 and 101 years. We estimate that similar-sized trees showing strong signs of senescence have a maximum age of a little over 100 years. The age structure of the Homhil population is, therefore, unbalanced with large sized trees prevailing. Natural regeneration is absent for decades. Viable seeds are available and have been shown to germinate, but the development of seedlings into saplings is a bottleneck. If the decline continues at the current rate, only 30 trees will remain there in 2036. Protection, planting and awareness activities are needed to keep this unique frankincense tree in Homhil Nature Sanctuary.