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Hawaii's Species of
Greatest Conservation Need
(SGCN fact sheets):
Forest Bird Videos
There are about 150 distinct ecosystem types in the Hawaiian Islands. These ecosystems are so distinctive that the Hawaiian Islands constitute a unique global bioregion. These ecosystems range from tropical dry forest, to subalpine grasslands, snowy alpine deserts, to brackish anchialine pools, subterranean lava tube systems with eyeless creatures, to windswept coastal dunes.
Some native ecosystem types have been very hard hit. For example, over 90% of Hawaiian lowland dry forests have been lost to fire, development, agriculture, or weed invasions. Other systems have been relatively little affected (alpine deserts on the summit of Mauna Loa, for example are very much as they were before humans). All told, perhaps half of the 150 ecosystem types are considered in trouble, imperilled by human-related changes in the landscape. Most of the loss has occurred along the coasts and in the lowlands, where the majority of human habitation exists today.
No reptiles or amphibians ever made it to Hawaii before the arrival of humans.
No ants, honeybees, earthworms, parrots, hummingbirds, seagulls, pine trees, coconut trees ever made it to Hawaii naturally.
The Hawaiian Islands were living laboratories of evolutionary processes that existed in isolation for almost 70,000,000 years.
The first plants and animals that came to Hawaii on their own adapted to their new environment in ways that made them extremely unique:
Over 90 % of the native flora and fauna is endemic! This is the highest rate on Earth. In other words Hawaii's native plants, trees, birds, snails and insects are the most unique assemblage of life in the world.
Unfortunately Hawaii is also "The Extinction Capital of The World". Over 75% of the United States extinctions have occurred here. We are also known as "The Endangered Species Capital Of The World" with over 25% of the United States endangered species located in Hawaii. These unfortunate distinctions occur in Hawaii which has only 0.2% of the land area in the country!
Over 70 million years of evolution produced species unlike those anywhere else on earth. few plants and animals found their way to these isolated islands. But the few that made it here gave birth to a bewildering variety of species. Recent findings conjure up a vision of an almost mythical world where birds, not mammals, dominated. Hawaii was idyllic for the native birds. Honeycreepers shared the islands with an array of other unique bird species. Songbird chicks instinctively dropped to safety on the forest floor if a hawk threatened them. No mammals or reptiles had made it to the islands, so no predators were waiting on the ground to gobble them up. With the need to fly gone, many of the castaway bird species, such as endemic ducks, ibis, and rails, lost their powers of flight. Large flightless waterfowl called moa nalos were the islands' large herbivores. A harrier, a hawk, an eagle, and four species of owls topped the food chain as predators.
Scientist make a distinction between two groups of native species:
endemic: those species that evolved here and are found only here and nowhere else on the Globe.
indigenous: the ones that arrived here from somewhere else on their own, without man's aid.
All the other species that were introduced by humans are called alien species.
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Last Update: January 13, 2006
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