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Aubregrinia Taiensis: In search of an endangered tree

This tree is named after the town of Taï, but you may not see it when you go to Taï.

Biodiversity loss is a real threat in tropical countries, given the rate of deforestation. The Guinean High Forest, which covers a large part of the coastal countries of West Africa, is not immune to this erosion of biodiversity, with the disappearance of species endemic to this region. This is the case of a forest tree endemic to Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana: Aubregrinia taiensis. This species of the Sapotaceae family (the shea butter tree family) is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as critically endangered (CR). The plant is named after the town of Taï (the name that the first researcher who discovered the plant gave it). However, there are no individuals of the species in or around Tai.

Locally, initiatives are being taken to preserve these species. For example, for several years, Ivorian researchers from the Centre Suisse de Recherches Scientifiques en Côte d’Ivoire (Prof Adama Bakayoko and Dr Doudjo Ouattara) have been working with researchers in Ghana to research, locate and propagate this plant. The task is not at all easy for this team for several reasons. The remoteness of the distribution area (the Taï National Park region in the west of Côte d’Ivoire) does not facilitate several long-term prospecting missions. The plant is naturally rare and many people do not know it. While the plant has a vernacular name (Zankoressou) in the Soubré region, there is no local name for the plant among the Taï people. Very few samples of Aubregrinia taiensis have been collected and deposited in herbaria. Thus, it is difficult to choose which areas to investigate once you are in the region.

After 3 years of investigation in and around the Tai National Park (TNP), the researchers were only able to locate one individual of Aubregrinia taiensis. Furthermore, no flowering or fruiting was observed on this individual after 3 years of observation. As this individual is not located within the NTP, its survival remains problematic. Vegetative propagation trials using cuttings taken from the plant’s branches did not give satisfactory results. Indeed, although budding is observed, this is not followed by rooting of the cuttings, resulting in their death a few months after the appearance of leaves. We hope that the Mairie of Taï will work with researchers to make this tree its emblem and a “flag species” for conservation and ecotourism in the region.

Photo captions: Setting up a cutting nursery of Aubregrinia taiensis

Dr Ouattara Noufou Doudjo
Forest biologist,
Teacher-Researcher at NANGUI ABROGOUA University
Associate Researcher and Head of the Main Activity Area Plant Biodiversity and Bioproductions at the Swiss Centre for Scientific Research in Côte d’Ivoire

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