Native Wildlife

‘Alalā captive breeding at the Keauhou Bird Conservation Center

Wildlife of the dry forest, like all life, is interconnected — what affects one, may in turn influence another. 

If a pollinator such as a bird or insect reduces in number, so may the plants that depend upon it.  Likewise, if a food source disappears, wildlife that depends upon it may suffer.  Some living beings that support a healthy forest are smaller than the eye can see, yet no less important.  Healthy soil composed of beneficial micro-organisms and fungi—along with insects, plants, birds and mammals are all parts of the whole, supporting a dynamic ecosystem.

The Hawaiian Kumulipo creation chant has its parallels with the theory of evolution and life’s intrinsic interconnections that recognizes life coming up out of the slime, and the earliest wildlife being born in the ocean.  (Refer to the first two verses of the First Era of the Kumulipo, from these excerpts as translated by Queen Liliuokalani.)  Other excerpts tell of relationships mauka-makai (mountain-ocean) of the following dry forest plants:  “Alaalawainui, Walahee [Alahe`e], Kauila, Ulei, Naio, and Ao [iliahi]”.

This ancient wisdom unfortunately seems lost to the world today, as not only in Hawaii, but across the planet, wildlife is being massively threatened. On a global scale, latest scientific findings conclude that the sixth mass extinction of Earth’s wildlife is underway, causing “a massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilization“.  Humankind must learn to respect and nourish all life and its interconnections to avert this massive extinction, which begins with learning about the native wildlife in our communities.

The information and links below will start you on the path of learning about Hawaii’s dry forest wildlife and various species being propagated for restoration and perpetuation.

Native Flora Links:

Native Dryland Trees and their Flowers - Hau heleula (Kokio) flowers and budsThe photo galleries of dry forest plants on this website will begin introducing you to these plants:  Native Plant Gallery.

To learn a lot more about native plants, the University of Hawaii provides a searchable knowledge base promoting understanding and use of native Hawaiian plants:

The following video of a talk by Sam ‘Ohu Gon at the 2011 Dryland Forest Symposium gives an excellent overview of the cultural and botanical diversity of dry forest ecosystems across the state of Hawaii:  “Hawaiian Dry Forest Restoration: Guidance in an Era of transformed Landscapes”

The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands by Joseph F. Rock, is a rare out-of-print book with valuable information about native tree communities in the early 1900s. Rock provides descriptions of dry forest ecosystems such as Pu`uwa`awa`a and the Ka`ūpūlehu region and their rich tree diversity just a hundred years ago. Following are downloadable files of this book. (Due to file size, it is in two parts for downloading.)
Rock: Indigenous Trees Part 1    and    Rock: Indigenous Trees Part 2

The Hawaiian Ecosystems at Risk Project (HEAR) also provides  information on various native plants: flowering, conifers, ferns

Native Fauna Links:

Hawaiian Hoary Bat. Photo credit USF&WS

Hawaii’s only native terrestrial mammal, Ope`ape`a or Hawaiian Hoary Bat, Lasiurus cinereus semotus, is federally and state listed as endangered.  It has been seen in dry forests such as Ka`upulehu and other regions on Hawai`i Island.

It is a rare treat to see this endangered flying native mammal, which can often be found nesting in trees, or taking shelter in caves.  They usually go out foraging for insects around sunset, which may be the best time to look for them.

To learn more, read the following fact sheet Ope`ape`a.

The `Ōka`i or Blackburn’s Sphinx Moth,  Manduca blackburni, is also on the Federal and State endangered species list. This endemic insect is found in dry forest habitats.

Munduca Comp 3h details

Caterpillar stage of `Ōka`i. Photos by Yvonne Yarber Carter

`Ōka`i has been seen frequently at Ka`ūpūlehu and Pu’u Wa’awa’a in its caterpillar or pupae stage shown in these photographs where it is munching on a rare native `Aiea tree of the Solonaceae (nightshade) family.

`Ōka`i is known to feed off other plants in the nightshade family including the invasive tree tobacco plant, which has complicated the removal of this invasive plant species along roadsides and in dry forests.  Biological surveys which look for pupae of the caterpillar on tree tobacco plants are being conducted yearly at Pu’u Wa’awa’a.  For more information on the`Ōka`i  visit these links:

`Ōka`i download 147 KB

Other native insects such as Pulelehua (Kamehameha Butterfly), Pinapinao (Damselfly), Pu`u Koa (Koa Bug) can live in dryland habitat if the conditions are healthy.

You can learn more about them and other native insects in the General Wildlife Links listed below and at:

Invertebrates: insects, snails, worms, spiders, centipedes

Native Birds seen in the widest range of dryland habitat include:  Amakihi, Pueo (Hawaiian Short-eared Owl), I`o (Hawaiian Hawk), and Kolea (Pacific Golden Plover).  Palila is seen in higher elevation dry forests with an interdependence on the native Māmane tree. The dry coastal strand or beaches may host a variety of native birds if predators such as cats and mongoose are kept away, and if humans don’t negatively impact nesting areas. And in those special dry forests with a fresh water source such as Pu`u Wa`awa`a, there is a richness of native birds including the Nene goose, Ae’o or Black-Necked Stilt and the ‘Alae ke‘oke‘o or Hawaiian Coot.  The following paper provides an overview of the biodiversity loss of Hawaiian birds: A Case Study of Hawaiian Birds .

For a wonderful overview of Hawai’i Island dry forest birds, be sure to view the following video of a talk given at the 2019 Symposium by Dr. Patrick Hart of the University of Hawaii – Hilo:

The ‘Alalā (Hawaiian crow), an endangered and very important seed disperser, were recently reintroduced into an Hawaiian forest but had to be recaptured.  We look forward to the days when they are back in the dry forests helping to disperse dry forest seeds.  The following video shares the ecological importance of the ‘Alalā in forest ecosystems and more information can be found at the DLNR ‘Alalā Project Website:

General Wildlife Links:

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