Protecting Kauai’s plants

KALAHEO — So far, 47 more plants have been added to the Red List of Threatened Species on Kauai, bringing the grand total to 138, and the number is climbing.

That’s due to a centralized effort by statewide conservationists, the University of Hawaii and state agencies to grow the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species in Hawaii.

“Listing more native Hawaiian plants on the IUCN Red List is beneficial to the entire conservation community, as well as to the island ecosystem,” said Rachel Smith, with the Kauai Invasive Species Committee.

The organization targets invasive species management on the island, some of which are threats to threatened and endangered plants.

“If we can stop an invasive species population before it disturbs a critical habitat, the hope is that those plants will have a better chance of survival, and potentially prevent more species from being listed in the future,” Smith said.

The IUCN Red List is a global assessment system that ranks plant and animal species into seven categories, ranging from “Least Concern” to “Extinct.”

“Red listing is very important for all rare, threatened and endangered, and otherwise vulnerable Hawaiian species because it helps broadcast the message about the unique status of the Hawaiian flora to a far-reaching audience,” said Maggie Sporck-Koehler, state botanist for the Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife.

Red listing can lead to increases in species recovery and conservation by opening doors to possible new funding sources or more international collaboration, she explained.

The goal, Sporck-Koehler said, is raising a greater awareness about the rarity of Hawaiian flora, which could lead to new avenues for aiding Hawaiian plant conservation.

In August 2015 the Hawaiian Special Plant Group, of which Sporck-Koehler is a part, met on Kauai for a workshop in collaboration with the National Tropical Botanical Garden. The five-day session brought together experts from around the world.

NTBG conservation biologist Seana Walsh said the process of information gathering was “well worth the effort.”

“Working together through the red listing process allowed us to compile data and discuss new management ideas for species occurring on multiple islands and/or being managed by different agencies,” Walsh said in a press release.

Those who attended the workshop committed to concentrating their efforts toward adding 780 of the 1,375 native species in Hawaii to the Red List.

“Botanists throughout Hawaii who have been working closely with native plants are targeting nearly 57 percent of the flora as the highest priority,” said Sporck-Koehler. “A large number of the targeted plants are rare, but we’re also working on listing plants that are important as part of the wildlife habitat and some that are seriously threatened by disease.”

Since last year’s workshop, new additions have increased the number of Hawaii species on the list by nearly 35 percent.

On Oahu, the number of red listed species is expected to increase from 88 to 147; on Maui, from 84 to 117; on Lanai, from 40 to 50; on Molokai, from 44 to 66; and on Hawaii Island, from 72 to 79.

“Kauai is the oldest of the main Hawaiian Islands and biologically speaking, that can translate to more evolutionary time for species diversification to happen,” said Sporck-Koehler.

As a result, Kauai is home to the largest number of endemic plant species of any of the main islands.

“This means that Kauai botanists and resource managers working with rare plant species on Kauai have many good reasons to be motivated to get them on the Red List,” she said.

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