About Conservation Efforts

 

Hawaii's unique flora and fauna

The plants and animals that evolved in the Hawaiian Islands are very unique, and most are unlike any other species in the natural world because of 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 a mosquito. The flora and fauna were separated from the rest of the world by thousands of miles of ocean, and therefore new visitors were 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, and many species have already gone extinct, and many more are threatened with the same fate. This unique forest ecosystem that Caly lives in is in the process of 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 Oahu 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. Scientists say that the ʻapapane and the ʻamakihi have some resistance to avian malaria, a disease transmitted to birds my mosquito bites, a ray of hope for those bird species. 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, 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! Invasive species have been removed from large sections of the mountain, and native species replanted to restore the ecosystem. Land managers are also trying to reintroduce Cyanea calycina where it has disappeared, but they are still trying to understand Caly’s life cycle, so that seeds can be collected and planted. Its hard work to know what a plant wants, but people are finally listening.  Exceptional efforts are underway by conservationists in Hawaiʻi to preserve this and other rare and endangered species, such as Hawaii’s unique birds, tree snails, and other plants related to Caly - and keep them 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 the other plants in the forest, and to help others learn 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 and seeds stored in seed banks, seeds germinated in plant nurseries, and plants outplanted into protected management units via reintroduction (or translocation) efforts. Right now there are 3 sites where Cyanea calycina are found within fenced management units in the Waianae 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, as well as 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 Koolau Mountains, so managers are able to better understand the range of habitats and areas where this species grows, and how many total locations and plants exist.

 

We are lucky that Caly is already within a managed fenced unit that protects her against ungulates, rats and weeds, thanks to her loyal caretakers. Fruit collections should be analyzed to determine viability of the 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. Last year we collected open pollinated fruit from Caly 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.

plantCam is a collaboration between USGS, PICCC, University of Hawaiʻi, US FWS, Hawaiʻi DLNR