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The Flora of Samoa: Native and Naturalized Flowering Plants of the Samoan Archipelago


The Flora of Samoa unites and synthesize a disparate body of work authored by Dr. W. Art Whistler over the past 40 years as well as specimen collections from the Samoan archipelago. The project generates a single critical synthesis of all known information on the plants of the Samoan archipelgo. It is hoped that it will produce new, emergent insights that are greater than the sum of the individual suite of previous research. This project completes the synthesis of taxonomic treatments and plant descriptions of 810 species that include: descriptions of families, genera, species, distribution, checklists of related herbarium specimens, images, ecological and ethnobotanical information, lists of characters that facilitate identification, and conservation status. In addition, the website portal will include electronic keys for identifying species. The text will also highlight needs and opportunities for future research.

The resource is the definitive reference for both scientists and non-scientists, providing relevant information that bears directly on plant conservation and tropical ecology, and that will be valuable for the development of future research and educational curricula dealing with the complexity of tropical ecosystems in the Pacific Islands. The relationships elucidated by the flora will serve as a basis for further studies in biology, conservation and other scientific fields.

This project represents a continuation and culmination of more than 40 years of botanical research by Art Whistler in the Samoan archipelago. Dr. Whistler conducted more than 77 collecting expeditions, totalling more than six years of field research in the region and collected more than 8700 specimens, 12,500 live plant photos, and established a large publication record. This is the first published comprehensive flora of the archipelago.

This project synthesizes existing floristic data and electronically publish the flora of native and naturalized flowering plants (excluding ferns and fern allies) of the Samoan archipelago, including both American Samoa and the Independent State of Samoa. To achieve these goals a synthesis of core research and plant specimen collections from the region was developed that follows modern taxonomic concepts and is based on Darwin Core biodiversity information standard and iDigBio image file format and data ingestion recommendations. The Samoan archipelago is a unique region for floristic studies for several reasons:
1) it is botanically under-explored;
2) organizational and research infrastructure is in place due to prior decades of research by W.A. Whistler;
3) preliminary information has been collected and previously published;
4) the Samoan archipelago plant biodiversity is threatened throughout much of its area by human development and other anthropogenic activities;
5) islands and atolls in the Pacific are among the first landscapes experiencing the effects of rising sea levels; and
6) the Samoan archipelago is a culturally and biologically cohesive area that would benefit from having a single, modern regional plant biodiversity resource for studying and monitoring the effects of global climate change.

Regional Background
Samoa is a volcanic archipelago running in a north-northwest direction east of Fiji, north of Tonga, and east of the Cook Islands and Tahiti. It lies on the Pacific Plate, and consequently has never had any connection with the continental islands of Melanesia and Southeast Asia. The archipelago is divided politically into Samoa, an independent country formerly known as Western Samoa, and American Samoa, an unincorporated territory of the United States. To avoid confusion, the country Samoa will herein be referred to as “Independent Samoa,” and the archipelago as “Samoa.” The archipelago, lying at a longitude of 168–173° W and a latitude of 11–15° S, comprises nine inhabited islands, plus Swains Island and uninhabited Rose Atoll, with a total area of ca. 3100 km2 (Whistler 1992a). The main islands of independent Samoa, which comprise the western portion of the archipelago, are Savai‘i (1820 km2 area, 1860 m elevation) and ‘Upolu (1110 km2, 1100 m). These two islands represent about 94% of the total area of the island chain. The main islands of American Samoa are Tutuila (124 km2, 650 m) and Ta‘u (39 km2, 930 m)(Whistler 1992a). Because the archipelago is a single natural unit, the following proposal encompasses all the islands.

Table 1. Whistler's Samoa Archipelago Expeditions: Field days, and Specimen Numbers.
Year No. of Expeditions No. of Days Specimen Number
1960s Numerous 700 69
1970s 12 804 3938
1980s 10 106 759
1990s 28 381 3036
2000s 24 147 695
2010s 3 28 231
77 2166 (~6 yrs.) Total 8728