Kauai News

UH-Hilo Center Helps Re-Establish Endangered Maunakea Silversword

Posted August 7, 2022, 10:03 AM HST

Freshly planted silverswords in nursery. (Photos courtesy of University of Hawai‘i at Hilo)

A University of Hawai‘i at Hilo center tasked with the stewardship of Maunakea on the Big Island is partnering with the state to aid recovery of a highly endangered plant on the mountain.

The Center for Maunakea Stewardship and its partner, the state Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife, is reintroducing Maunakea silversword at several sites atop Hawai‘i’s tallest mountain from seedlings that were grown from seeds sown at the Center for Maunakea Stewardship greenhouse at Halepōhaku in February.

The first seedlings emerged in March and were transplanted in June. Currently, there are more than 100 seedlings about 2.5 inches tall in the nursery that, under the close care of Center for Maunakea Stewardship staff, will continue to grow until they reach planting size in 2023.

“It is absolutely incredible watching the Maunakea silverswords grow from a seed into a plant that is so very precious and significant to the conservation and management of the species,” Jessica Kirkpatrick, natural resource specialist at the Center for Maunakea Stewardship, said in a press release. “Words cannot even explain the excitement and rejoice of this project.”

The center will continue to partner with Division of Forestry and Wildlife to plant Maunakea silversword seedlings grown inside the greenhouse at sites on the mauna, sites where previous plantings were successful.

“This project illustrates what lies at the very core of our stewardship efforts, a steadfast commitment by our land stewards here at (the Center for Maunakea Stewardship) to mālama these precious lands on Maunakea through efforts shaped around restoration and preservation,” Nahua Guilloz, director of stewardship at the Center for Maunakea Stewardship, said in the press release. “We are hopeful this project will help to reignite efforts to repopulate a native plant that once thrived on the mauna.”

According to experts, the introduction of hooved animals on Maunakea in the late 1700s severely impacted the silversword population. In 1986, the plant was declared an endangered species at high risk of extinction. The Division of Forestry and Wildlife launched propagation efforts in the mid-1970s, which were expanded significantly in the early 1990s.

Throughout the past three decades, the Division of Forestry and Wildlife has reintroduced thousands of silverswords on Maunakea. According to scientists, it is important to continue to incorporate seedlings from additional wild individuals, such as the seedlings currently being grown at Halepōhaku, to help increase genetic diversity, giving the plants a better chance to adapt to changes in the environment caused by factors such as invasive species and climate change.

Increasing the number of silverswords on Maunakea can also help expand food and habitat sources for native insects such as Agrotis helela and A. kuamauna, two moths unique to Hawaiʻi Island.

The Center for Maunakea Stewardship oversees regular monitoring of native and invasive species on Maunakea and has been commended for its efforts in native plant restoration and invasive species management.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed the native wēkiu bug from the candidate endangered species list in 2011, after Center for Maunakea Stewardship land stewards compiled years of research on the insect’s biology, genetics and habitat, assuring its conservation and protection. The endemic bug can only be found on puʻu on the summit of Maunakea.

In 2019, the center launched a native plant restoration project around the Maunakea Visitor Information Station aimed at enhancing the area’s ecosystem with common and rare native plants to help provide a habitat refuge for native birds, as well as educational opportunities for visitors who come to the visitor station to acclimate.

As of November 2021, propagated native plant counts include 495 māmane, 120 ʻāweoweo, 1,295 ʻenaʻena, 17 pāwale and 782 native grasses.

In 2012, the center also launched the Mālama Maunakea campaign, which connects community volunteers to help in resource management and stewardship on the mauna. Last year alone, more than 8,600 pounds of invasive weeds were removed from the center’s restoration area.

For more information about the Center for Maunakea Stewardship, click here.

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