island conservation preventing extinctions rapid ohia death ohia

Working to Slow Down Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death

Hawaii’s ʻŌhiʻa forests are increasingly afflicted by Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death. Researchers are studying the spread of the disease-causing fungus and are working toward a solution.

In Hawaii, ʻŌhiʻa forests are home to a host of native species and ʻŌhiʻa trees are considered a keystone species. They provide food and habitat for endangered birds and provide important ecosystem services for watersheds. After a lava flow, ʻŌhiʻa trees are the first to grow and help to regulate soil conditions to facilitate colonization of other native species. In recent years however, Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, a disease caused by invasive fungus, has devastated these native forests.

island conservation rapid ʻŌhiʻa death ʻŌhiʻa flowers

Blossom of an ʻŌhiʻa tree. Credit: Russ Atkinson

Researchers have been working to understand Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death, which has infected over 50,000 acres of native ʻŌhiʻa forests. At the moment there is no real solution to the problem, but studying the epidemic is advancing understandings of the problem. James Friday, a University of Hawaii Forester explained:

There are two species of fungus; both are new, both have never been described before.

Although this information makes the fight against ʻŌhiʻa Death more complicated, it is a piece of the puzzle to finding a solution. Researchers have used genetics to reveal that one fungus is from Latin America while the other originated in Asia. Although the Latin American strain causes more damage, they both block the tree’s ability to move nutrients through its vascular system.

Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death research aims to uncover more valuable information. Citizens are helping to monitor local forests, likewise supporting efforts to find a solution. ʻŌhiʻa trees are integral to the forest ecosystem and losing them would cause irreparable harm. Thankfully, dedicated researchers are working to find a solution.

Featured photo: ʻŌhiʻa Lehua tree. Credit: Jim Morefield
Source: Civil Beat

About Emily Heber

Emily is a recent graduate from UC Santa Barbara with a BS in Zoology. As a student, she discovered that she had a passion for the conservation of endangered species and their ecosystems. Her background in informal education has allowed her the opportunity to share her passion for animals with others, something she seeks to continue doing while working with the communication team. In her spare time, Emily enjoys exploring the amazing hiking trails found in Santa Cruz and tries to SCUBA dive whenever possible. Emily is excited to join the Island Conservation team and to help share the amazing work that is being done here.

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