Hibiscadelphus woodii Rediscovered Thanks to Drone Technology

Hibiscadelphus woodii, is a rare flower endemic to Hawaii which was presumed to be extinct, but recently it was rediscovered through the use of a drone.

The Hibiscadelphus woodii is a flowering plant species endemic to Hawaii. Hibiscadelphus literally translates to “brother of Hibiscus,” aptly named for its similar appearance and close taxonomic relationship. The plant was last seen alive in 2009 and has since been presumed extinct due to the impacts of invasive species and rock slides. However, with the help of drone technology and the National Tropical Botanical Garden it has been once again rediscovered in the wild!  

The plant was recently found on a vertical cliff face and this remarkable new development demonstrates the ingenuity of drone technology in its ability to reach and survey areas of land largely inaccessible by humans. Dr. David Lorence, director of science and conservation for the garden, said: 

This incredible rediscovery was made possible by our staff using drone technology and was supported by a grant from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund. Drone technology greatly facilitates botanical surveys in rough terrain areas.” 

Photo of H. woodii without flowers. Credit: Ben Nyberg/National Tropical Botanical Garden

The rediscovery offers renewed hope for other rare plant and animal species thought to be extinct which may in fact still exist in hard or impossible to access areas. Ben Nyberg, GIS coordinator and drone specialist for NTBG, said:  

Drones are unlocking a treasure trove of unexplored cliff habitat.” 

There have already been similar discoveries.  Back in 2017, the NTBG set out to locate the Critically Endangered Laukahi. The drone, scaling sharp mountain peaks, was able to discover 10 Laukahi plants, adding to the previous count of only 25.  

Flowering Hibiscadelphus woodii. Photo: Ken Wood/National Tropical Botanical Garden

Drones are proving to be vital in other areas of conservation as well. Island Conservation recently used drones to remove invasive rats from two islands within the Galapagos Archipelago. Using drones allows for greater maneuverability in hard to reach areas than a helicopter and can also be a more cost-effective approach for small and mid-sized islands around the world.  

Conservationists can rejoice as this innovative technology provides a powerful emblem of hope for wildlife conservation. The use of this technology for conservation helps to inform the restoration and management approaches, bringing innumerable species back from the brink.  

Source: CNN
Featured Photo: A flowering Hibiscadelphus woodii
Credit: Ken Wood/National Tropical Botanical Garden

About Stephanie Dittrich

Stephanie Dittrich is a current senior in Environmental Studies at UC Santa Cruz and a transfer student from De Anza College. She is also currently pursuing a Certificate of Achievement in Geospatial Technologies and a second Associates Degree in Graphic Design from Foothill College. She has worked in multiple marketing and design focused roles at environmental nonprofits as well as the Genomics Institute at UC Santa Cruz. She just finished spending 3 months in Costa Rica conducting field work where she did an independent research project and wrote a scientific paper about flight response time in the Morpho peleides butterfly. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys working on creative photography and design projects, often centered around wildlife photography, as well as more experimental and contemporary subject matter.

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