There are many benefits to restoring a watershed and its ecosystems and the services that these places provide are priceless to our culture and way of life.
Learn about each of the ways that the land sustains us.
PROTECT NATIVE BIODIVERSITY
Mōhala I ka wai ka maka o ka pua
Unfolded by the water are the faces of flowers
ʻOlelo Noʻeau by Mary Kawena Pukui
wiliwili | 'repeatedly twisted'
wao kele | upland forests
Like other endemic species in Hawaiʻi, the wiliwili is threatened by competition with non-native species that are free of the diseases, parasites, and herbivores that constrain them in their original habitats.
In the leeward upland forests, keystone species like the wiliwili often indicate how the forest as a whole is doing. The co-evolution of our native plants mean they developed here in isolation and evolved with unique traits, such as mints that don't taste like mint or flowers that fit the beak of a pollinator bird perfectly!
Today, many of the remaining endemic species of plants and animals in the Hawaiian Islands are considered endangered, and some critically so. Plant species are particularly at risk: out of a total of 2,690 plant species, 946 are non-indigenous with 800 of the native species listed as endangered.*
*David Pimentel; Lori Lach; Rodolfo Zuniga & Doug Morrison (January 24, 1999), "Environmental and Economic Costs Associated with Non-Indigenous Species in the United States", Cornell Chronicle, Cornell University.
BENEFITS OF BIODIVERSITY
On the leeward Haleakalā volcano, decades of damage from fire, feral ungulates, and invasive species have reduced native forest cover to 5‐10% of former extents. We know that native forest species do a better job at collecting, storing and filtering water. In fact, native Hawaiian plants absorb 30% more water than non-native ones.*
If health and cover of native forest are increased, resources available
to support Maui’s projected residential growth and sustain agricultural production would be enhanced. Key ecosystem services are provided by our native biodiversity that single species cannot do on their own: water interception and transfer, contributing to aquifer recharge; stream flow, soil conservation, sediment retention, and improved water purification.
Native forests collect, filter, and store rainwater better than non-native forests.
Upper elevation cloud forests of LHWRP are ecologically rare statewide and as such provide habitat that is virtually irreplaceable. In addition, avian conservation experts agree that leeward forests appears to present a nearly ideal situation for conservation of several Hawaiian bird species, most specifically the Endangered Kiwikiu, also known as the Maui Parrotbill (Pseudonestor xanthophrys), and Hawaiian petrel or ‘ua’u (Pterodroma sandwicensis). It is also home to pueo, u’au, nene, ope’ape’a, and other native invertebrates worthy of protection.
Specifically, the Maui Parrotbill is a highly specialized insectivorous species that is restricted to a single, small population on windward East Maui. They are highly endangered due to their small population, distribution, low productive rate, and because they require a highly diverse forest ecosystem to sustain their populations.
The koa-’ohi’a forest of LHWRP is the best remaining native forest on Haleakala’s south slope, and holds the resources required to reclaim native habitat, watershed function, aquifer recharge, and coastal resource protection in the region.
Leeward forests are home to species found no where else on Earth.
Photo courtesy of: MFBRP, taken by C Robby Kohley
Pollinators have co-evolved with plants in isolation in the islands.
More than 1,000 miles from the nearest landmass, Maui and the other islands are home to species that traveled extreme distances by wind, waves and wings to get here naturally. These native species could have started from a few individuals or a single individual and then seeds, spores or eggs journeyed or were transported from one area of suitable habitat within an island to another such area, or from one island to another, carrying just a subset of the total genetic variability within its species. As a result, a founder population could evolve to better suit its surroundings, changing significantly from the ancestral population and eventually become a new species altogether. For example, there are 30 species of plants belonging to what is called the silversword alliance, but it includes trees, shrubs, mats, vines, and the rare flowering silverswords that live on the high slopes of the volcanoes(1).
Evolving from a single finch-like bird, about 50 living and extinct species of honeycreeper birds have been described in Hawaiʻi. The radiation of this single species produced a great diversity of ecological types with varying beak shapes that were adapted to their food, including seed eaters, fruit eaters, bark-pickers, nectarivores and snail specialists (2).
Approximately 13 million years ago, a bellflower seed landed and grew on volcanic soil in the islands. Over hundreds of thousands of years, its descendants evolved into 124 distinct species — each developing its own flower shape that distinctly matches the beak size and shape of the honeycreepers who were also evolving here (3).
(1) Facts/Data from National Academy of Sciences: https://www.nap.edu/read/10865/chapter/2
(2)Current Biology: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960982211011894
(3) Maui No Ka Oi: