Pollinators in Hawaii
by Camila Cortina
This summer the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars at NAU have participated in conservation internships across the country. Their blogs give us a peek into what they’ve been up to. Check ’em out!
This summer I had the opportunity to intern in Flagstaff, AZ and Hilo, HA. I worked with research professor Dr. Clare Aslan on a pollination study focusing on the Ohia tree and its relationship with pollinators over an elevational gradient. We were interested in which pollinators, native bees, honey bees, and birds were visiting the plant on different parts of the island. This is important because as the climate continues to change, so will the habitats in which these species thrive.
The Ohia Lehua tree is a culturally significant plant in Hawaiian culture because of the ancient legends and the fact that it grows on all parts of the island. When natives think of forests, they think of the Ohia. It is characterized by having dark grey, almost black bark, dull or bright green leaves, and fluffy red flowers. The Ohia is faced with several problems, some of which have been interfering with the Ohia for decades. The first is a fungal disease that kills the Ohia tree called Rapid Ohia Death or ROD. This is an epidemic to the trees on the island and it is very well known with the citizens on the island. Almost everyone who stopped to ask us what we were observing on the tree asked if we were studying the ROD. Another issue dealing with what we are studying is the shift from native pollinators to non-native species. Historically, the Ohia has been pollinated by the native honey bees on the island and several bird species: the Japanese white eye, the Apapane, the I’iwi, and the Amakihi. Some of these birds are endangered and rapidly declining due to habitat loss from urbanization and also invasive mosquitoes that carry malaria at lower elevations. This is an excellent example of how ecosystems are adapting to human caused negative impacts. As humans have displaced the native bird species by introducing invasive species and causing habitat degradation, the Ohia and its pollinators have had to adapt in order to survive. The non-native honey bee has become one of the Ohias main pollinators, which shows that perhaps despite change due to humans, the Ohia may continue to thrive.
The research question we investigated is also firmly tied into preservation of landscapes and species. In general, I believe that while the honey bee may be able to fill the native bees ecological role in the ecosystem it is still important to maintain native bee populations. In questioning how the native bees interact with the Ohio tree across the island it will give us a better understanding of how we may preserve these individuals. The project that Clare is working on also deals with endangered plant species, the threats they face from predators, and how to best pollinate them. This work definitely promotes preservation of species in their natural form, as the goal is to eventually bring these rare plants back up to flourishing numbers once again. This also deals with restoration because we would be resculpting the landscape to how it was before these plants had vanished.
The project that Stacey and I worked on has lots of different takeaways, things to learn from, and other questions that can be posed from it. We got to see parts of the island that most people never do. Part of the study was conducted on a military base called PTA that has a conservation area on it. This allows for some of the rare plants Clare was working on to exist. All in all this summer has been an amazing adventure and I can’t wait to share more of it with you in my video exposé.