Explore Conservation Efforts

It takes a lot of people and work to keep Caly and her friends safe.

Hawaii’s Unique Flora and Fauna

The plants and animals that evolved in the Hawaiian Islands are very unique. Most are unlike any other species in the natural world because the Islands are so isolated in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. Socially extravagant birds like the ʻelepaio and distinctive, mostly harmless insects like the happy-face spider developed close relationships with native plants without any mammals, reptiles, amphibians, or even mosquitoes. The flora and fauna were separated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of ocean, making new visitors few and far between. In this environment, evolution went in its own direction. For example, the Lobeloid family of plants (Campanulaceae) consists of about 140 known species, and are all thought to be descendants of a single ancestor that arrived about 13 million years ago! One of those descendants still around today is Caly.

Threats to a Changing Environment

Unfortunately, an ecological crisis has unfolded in Hawaiʻi since the arrival of the first Europeans a few centuries ago. Many species have gone extinct and several more are threatened with the same fate.

ʻŌhiʻa trees are the foundation of Hawaiian ecosystems, shown here full of bright red lehua blossoms. The scientific name is Metrosideros polymorpha because it has many growth forms.

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ʻŌhiʻa tree (left) growing next to a koa tree (right). These plants are pals.

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Strawberry guava (leaves shown here) is a particularly problematic invasive species in Hawaii's wet to moderately wet forests, where it forms monotypic stands.

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ʻŌhiʻa trees are the foundation of Hawaiian ecosystems, shown here full of bright red lehua blossoms. The scientific name is Metrosideros polymorpha because it has many growth forms.

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The unique forest ecosystem that Caly lives in is transforming because animals and plants that people brought to Hawaiʻi within the last few hundred years have become established and ‘invaded’ the forest ecosystem. Now, the remaining native ʻōhiʻa trees in the canopy are flanked by many other trees, shrubs, and grasses. Animals such as pigs, rats, and mosquitoes that originated in far-away tropical lands disturb native ecosystems as well. Most of the plant invaders are growing and reproducing much faster than the native trees like the crooked ʻōhiʻa trees revered in Hawaiian cultural tradition. The lehua blossoms of the ʻōhiʻa trees and other seasonally flowering plants in the understory are critical resources for nectarivores such as the the ʻapapane and ʻamakihi–the last two of the Hawaiian honeycreepers on Oʻahu after many bird species recently disappeared. The native birds and the insects do not know how to utilize most of the the new plants in the lowland forests, and the remaining native animals and plants that now inhabit the high-elevation native forests are threatened from predation and disease. There is a ray of hope for a couple bird species–scientists say that the ʻapapane and the ʻamakihi have some resistance to avian malaria. However, they still need the resources and shelter provided by the native forest to survive. These days, Caly has over 40 cousins (the genus Cyanea) on the endangered species list. There are only a handful of others like Caly, living on the top of a mountain in Hawaiʻi.

Conservation Efforts

Despite the dire situation and disappearance of many of Caly’s family and friends, Caly is growing and appears healthy, and people have started looking after her to make sure invasive plants don’t take over. Caly and many other fragile plants now live inside fences so pigs can’t trample them, and rat trapping is ongoing! Land managers have removed Invasive species from large sections of the mountain and have replanted native species to restore the ecosystem. Managers are trying to reintroduce Cyanea calycina where it has disappeared, but they are still trying to understand Caly’s life cycle to collect and plant seeds. It’s hard work to know what a plant wants, but people are finally listening. Exceptional efforts are underway by conservationists in Hawaiʻi to preserve Caly and her relatives, as well as other rare and endangered species, including Hawaii’s unique birds and tree snails. The goal: to keep these beautiful species around for future generations. State and federal agencies responsible for managing Hawaii’s forests have teamed up with scientists and students at the University of Hawaiʻi to try to learn more about Caly and her friends. They also help others learn about how Caly got to the top of the mountain and the people and efforts that keep her safe. With so many endangered plants to look after, Caly hasn’t got a lot of attention, until now.

Caly's Management Plan

For the long term management of this species of haha, Cyanea calycina, there should be at least 3 fenced management units that receive ungulate and weed management at an ecosystem level. As rats have been documented to carry away fruits and consume them, automatic rat traps, such as Goodnature A24’s, can be deployed around the site during the fruiting season. Ideally, as many wild individuals as possible should have their fruit collected, seeds stored in seed banks and germinated in plant nurseries, and plants outplanted into protected management units via reintroduction (or translocation) efforts.

The caretakers of native Hawaiian plants often have cultural relationships with the the plants in the forest. This care translates to success!

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Accessing plants in the forest requires a lot of hiking, an enjoyable part of a days work

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Automated (and humane) rat traps have now been deployed to prevent damage to the native forest around Caly

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The caretakers of native Hawaiian plants often have cultural relationships with the the plants in the forest. This care translates to success!

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Right now, there are 3 sites where Cyanea calycina are found within fenced management units in the Waiʻanae Mountains. They are still, however, in need of weed control directly around these plants, outplanting efforts to increase the number of plants at these sites, and fruit collections from other individuals to be stored and grown. There is also a need to survey old known locations of Cyanea calycina in the Koʻolau Mountains so managers are able to better understand the range of habitats and areas where this species grows, as well as how many total locations and plants exist.

Thanks to her loyal caretakers, Caly is already within a managed fenced unit that protects her against ungulates, rats, and weeds. Fruit collections should be analyzed to determine viability of her seeds. In general, we have seen more fruits and seeds and higher percentages of viable seeds as a result of hand pollination. Therefore, we will bring in some pollen from another Cyanea calycina to pollinate Caly's flowers once they are open. We plan to collect fruit from both hand pollinated and open pollinated flowers (no manipulation - what happens naturally) for comparison. We collected open pollinated fruit from Caly last year and will be germinating those seeds over the summer. The young plants will be grown in the nursery for approximately 2 years until they are large enough to plant. This larger size helps them to withstand potential slug predation. Using the detailed information collected from Caly and her forest home, we will be able to find new outplanting sites that give the best chances of success to the keiki plants originating from the base of Caly's stem.