|Pu`uhonua O Hōnaunau|
|Victims of Rapid Ohi'a Death|
|Nene, Hawaii's (endangered) state bird, and a relative of the Canada goose|
Today, vast swaths of mature ohi’a forest are dying of a fungus called Rapid Ohi’a Death. An invasive species, the fungus is currently limited to Hawaii, but that is also home to most intact, unfragmented rainforest in the Hawaiian archipelago. Since ohi’a is the keystone species for this rainforest, it's death will have sweeping impacts on the ecosystem. Loss of the colonizer means vast swaths of lava will take far longer to become forest, as the beneficent ohi’a canopy will not provide shade and earth to nurture tree ferns, thornless hollies, and other species that grow in the mid and understory of Hawaii’s rainforests. Loss of ohi’a makes it even more difficult, perhaps impossible, to sustain Hawaii’s last surviving species of honeycreepers, such as the Apapane, whose primary food source is ohi’a blossom nectar.
Without this improbable settler of lava fields and nurturer of rainforests, it is difficult to imagine how Hawaii’s other trees and shrubs will give life to the new earth that continues to emanate from Kilauea.
|Tree fern midstory under an ohi'a canopy, in Volcanoes National Park|
|Ohi'a colonizes the forty year old Kilauea iki lava field|