PlantCam: A direct real-time connection with Hawaii’s unique and endangered wao akua


How can we learn to better manage extremely rare plant species? How do we connect the diverse communities of Hawaiʻi with the wao akua where rare native plants reside? Discussions among scientists, resource managers, and conservation experts eventually led to the idea of bringing a Hawaiian forest online to showcase a magnificent rare species in its natural environment in real time.

With this objective, we have developed an autonomous and high precision sensor array (‘plantCam’) to monitor extremely rare native plants in Hawaiʻi in real-time.  PlantCam collects real time information on the plant’s health, webcam images, bird visits and information on the local conditions (rainfall, temperature, etc) making our monitored plants likely the most well-monitored wild plants in the world. This includes monitoring plant growth in real time using high precision digital dendrometers. The developed sensor array is unobtrusive, autonomous and when coupled with wireless data loggers can provide real-time data available to managers and the wider public.

PlantCam serves two main purposes: 1) Provide a methodology to help managers better understand the status of the individual/ species and relation to climate and wider environmental variability; and 2) Create a web portal that is essentially a plant version of 'critter cams' that allow people to connect directly with rare native plants. We expect this plantCam approach will result in detailed demographic, phenological, environmental information that help managers understand how rare species are affected by changing growing conditions; all while helping the general public learn more about the science and management of Hawaiian rare plant conservation.

PlantCam is a collaboration among several research and management partners:

Lucas Fortini (USGS-Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center). 

Lucas focuses on how the responses of populations and communities to natural and human-made disturbances determine ecological resilience and shape opportunities for conservation and management. Lucas uses modeling methods to make conservation and management efforts more science-based. His research interests are focused on Pacific Island ecosystems, but he also has significant research experience in tropical forest ecology and management.

Ryan Mudd (UH Mānoa Department of Geography, Kapiolani Community College)

Ryan is interested in the relationship between plants and their environment at multiple scales in space and time, and their response to climate variation and climate change. Ryan is a PhD student at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and works as a lecturer teaching geography to undergraduate students.

Susan Ching (Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife)

Susan works on the conservation of rare plant species in the Hawaiian Flora as the Oahu District Botanist for DLNR DOFAW.


Lauren Weisenberger (Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office)

Lauren is the Plant Recovery Coordinator at the Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office. She tries to support and assist managers in their plant recovery efforts in Hawaii and other Pacific islands. 

Kenneth Kaneshiro (UH Mānoa, Department of Biology, Center for Conservation Research and Training)

PlantCam was made possible by support from:

The Pacific Islands Climate Change Cooperative

The US Fish and Wildlife Service

The Phenocam network and related National Science Foundation support