Dolphin Head

Country/territory: Jamaica

IBA criteria met: A1, A2 (2007)
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Area: 5,372 ha

IBA conservation status
Year of assessment (most recent) State (condition) Pressure (threat) Response (action)
2006 unfavourable high low
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Site description (2007 baseline)
Dolphin Head and adjacent forested mountains (hereafter referred collectively as Dolphin Head) are located at the western end of Jamaica. The area is recognized as the western-most portion of the mountainous spine stretching across Jamaica from the John Crow Mountains (limestone) and Blue Mountains (igneous shales) in the East through Mount Diablo and Cockpit Country (limestone) and igneous Central Inlier of the Central Plateau, to the limestone-over-shale Dolphin Head mountains of the Hanover Block in the West. Considered part of the Western Uplands: “Although partly isolated from each other, these upland areas all lie on the western side (Hanover Block) of north-south trending fault zone (Montpelier-Newmarket Graben). Although the southern areas (801 m) are higher in elevation, Dolphin Head (545 m) has the better-developed wet limestone forest.” (Hedges,1999). The forests of Dolphin Head have been broadly classified as evergreen seasonal and closed broadleaf forest (Beard, 1955; Forestry Department, 2001). Dolphin Head includes a core area consisting of two Forest Reserves (Raglan Mtn. and Bath Mtn.), Crown Lands managed by the Forestry Department (FD), and privately-owned lands of natural, closed- and disturbed broadleaf forests and forestry plantations. Surrounding this core is a mosaic of mixed- and non-forest land use, including bamboo, sugarcane, pasture, small family farms of yam, banana, and fruit trees, and rural communities. The remnant forest has been depleted for more than 300 years by the harvesting of valuable timber species and for fuelwood associated with sugarcane and slaked lime production. Illegal timber harvesting and clearing of hilltops for marijuana (Cannabis sativa) cultivation occurs within the Forest Reserves and on private lands.

Key biodiversity
Although no species of bird is restricted in range to Dolphin Head, 21 of Jamaica’s 28 endemic land birds, 23 of 70 resident breeding birds and 11 migratory species occur across the gradient of available habitats. Forest-dependent birds include the endemic Ring-tailed Pigeon, Jamaican Elaenia, and the Arrow-headed Warbler. Of additional ornithological interest is the presence of species that make pronounced altitudinal migrations, nesting in mid- and upper elevation forest and extending their ranges into the lowlands and secondary-growth habitats during winter months (outside the breeding season). This pattern is pronounced in the Rufous-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis), which is endemic to the insular Caribbean.

Non-bird biodiversity: Dolphin Head supports the highest density of endemic plant species and rare or threatened species per unit area for Jamaica. Nearly 150 species, representing 61 families in 10 classes of 4 phyla, have been reported historically or were observed in the 2001 study in the Dolphin Head Area. At least 50 of these species are endemic to Jamaica and a minimum four (1 Sesarma freshwater crab, 2 Lampyridae fireflies, 1 species of Operculate snail) are endemic to Dolphin Head. Identification of several unknown species of earthworms (Class Oligochaeta), cricket (Order Grylloptera), and grasshopper (Order Orthoptera) may increase the number of localized endemic species. Fourteen butterfly species were observed, the majority during the summer survey period. This increases known species richness from two (Brown and Heineman, 1972) to 16 for the Dolphin Head area. Only one species, Calisto zangis, is endemic to Jamaica; all other species are widespread and common throughout the Americas. The species endemic to Dolphin Head are relatively small animals with limited dispersal capabilities and predicted small home ranges. To contrast, there were no birds or bats whose ranges were restricted to this relatively small area. However, 21 of Jamaica’s 28 endemic landbirds and one of four endemic bats were identified, thus contributing to the recognition of Dolphin Head as important habitat both nationally and globally. Three species of reptiles were unique to one of three quadrats, including the Jamaican Black Groundsnake (Arrhyton funereum), which represents the first known sight-record for this small colubrid snake in Dolphin Head (see Schwartz and Henderson, 1991). The most species-rich site for reptiles, which included the location of the Black Groundsnake, was the same saddle corridor located along the trail leading to Dolphin Head Monument where invertebrate species richness was highest. Perhaps the most important new discovery of the field surveys with regards to wildlife was the identification of a large bat roosting and nursery chamber in King’s Pen, Westmoreland (Line 9, Plot 49; 18021’01”N, 78009’14”W). This cave had been known by several local persons for more than 50 years, but it was not documented in the Jamaica Cave Registry. At least two species were resident in the cave, the Moustached Bat (Pteronotus quadridens) and the Leaf-chinned Bat (Mormoops blainvillii). The current IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN, 2000) lists Mormoops blainvillii and Pteronotus quadridens as "Near-Threatened," meaning they are not conservation dependent but are close to being considered "Vulnerable". Both of these species are endemic to the Greater Antilles. This cave represents the largest colony of roosting and breeding bats in the Dolphin Head environs identified thus far. Because of their biomass, the bats probably represent the most important consumers of insects in Dolphin Head. In contrast to the King Pen cave, the next largest identified bat colony was found in Clifton Cave. Two species were present, the insectivorous Parnell’s Moustached Bat (Pteronotus parnellii) and the frugivorous Jamaican Fruit Bat (Artibeus jamaicensis). Their populations were estimated to be fewer than 500 individuals. The Jamaican Fig-eating Bat is one of four bats endemic to Jamaica and is the sole species in the genus Ariteus (i.e. the genus is endemic to Jamaica). It is not believed to be a cave-dwelling bat, but most likely roosts and breeds in tree hollows. It is rare in collections and as early as 1942 was thought likely to become scarce because of intensive agricultural development. The Jamaican Fig-eating Bat is listed as “Vulnerable” by the IUCN. Almost nothing is known of its ecology and habitat requirements.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Important Bird Area factsheet: Dolphin Head. Downloaded from on 01/12/2023.