Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Situating the Merremia Peltata Invasion in Samoa

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Situating the Merremia Peltata Invasion in Samoa

Article excerpt

Merremia peltata, a little-known vine of the family Convolvulaceae, has been identified as an invasive species of environmental concern in several Pacific Island nations, including Samoa, even though botanists regard the vine as native to the Pacific (Smith 1991; Whistler 2002). The South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) has targeted it for control, despite the fact that the declared intent of the program is the control of non-native species (Meyer 2000). To date the Samoan government has no official strategy for controlling M. peltata, and the only recommendations for managing it are contained in a report the U.S. Forest Service prepared for the government of Samoa (Space and Flynn 2002). The report's authors identify the plant as a native species behaving aggressively, indicate that comprehensive control would be difficult, and emphasize the importance of laws requiring the control of invasive species on privately owned and customary lands in rural villages. Given that management of this species involves the interaction of an international community of experts acting through local governments to effect change at the local level, social and political concerns can be expected to influence the effectiveness of implementing control measures. Because of the apparent contradiction that the nativeness of M. peltata poses, study of its invasion in Samoa can both elucidate the ecological aspects of the invasion and identify potential political pitfalls in the implementation of control measures.

This field note presents some of the preliminary findings of the doctoral research I have been conducting since November 2002. The larger research project centers on a biogeographical study of Merremia peltata, utilizing a random stratified sample of quadrats to analyze vegetation communities and environmental data by means of cluster analysis and nonmetric, multidimensional scaling. Here, however, I focus on the social and political dimensions of the invasion.

The primary study site is the village of Fa'ala on the island of Savai'i (Figure 1). The village lands--spanning littoral, lowland, and upland rain forest as well as managed lands--provide an ecologically and socially diverse landscape. The village council controls most of the lowland and upland rain forests; individual households control the managed lands. The village's lowland rain forest is largely vested in the Tafua Peninsula Rainforest Preserve (TPRP), a private contractual agreement between the villages of Fa'ala, Tafua, and Salelologa and the Swedish Conservation Society, facilitated by the O le Siosiomaga Society (OLSS), a local nongovernmental organization. The landscape of Fa'ala is an excellent site for my research because it possesses a wide range of ecosystems, within which Merremia peltata can be observed, and is subject to a variety of social arrangements and managerial practices.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

METHODOLOGY

During the initial phase of research I split my time between residing and working in the village setting and collecting information from various government agencies and the OLSS. I consulted the Department of Forestry, several departments within the Department of Lands, Surveys and Environment (DLSE), including the Division of Natural Resources, the Parks Department, and the Mapping Division, and the OLSS in order to familiarize myself with their knowledge of and perspectives on the Merremia peltata invasion. The Mapping Division provided aerial photographs of the Fa'ala area, which I scanned and imported into a geographic information system (GIS) program to obtain the stratified random sample of vegetation plots. The OLSS also provided information about the administration of the rain-forest preserve.

In the village setting I mapped the village roads to obtain control points for importing the scanned aerial photographs into the GIS program, a task that also offered a valuable opportunity to meet people in their fields and to discuss their activities and their perspectives on Merremia peltata. …

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