Silversword recovery effort sprouting on Maunakea
Efforts to re-establish the highly endangered silversword on Maunakea are germinating through a partnership between the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo Center for Maunakea Stewardship (CMS) and the Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW).
The University of Hawaiʻi reports that silversword seeds first sown at the CMS greenhouse at the Halepōhaku mid-level facility in February 2022 sprouted into more than 100 seedlings under the care of CMS staff and are currently 3-7 inches tall. Plans are to outplant the silversword in a fenced enclosure within the Maunakea Forest Reserve.
“I want this partnership to continue and be an example of what we can do if we work together as conservation agencies. Not only for silverswords but for all the reforestation efforts around the higher elevations of Maunakea,” said Justin Yeh, resource manager at CMS in a news release. “ We want to be a hub for restoration, astronomy and education. This partnership is a step in the right direction.”
High risk of extinction
Experts say the introduction of hooved animals on Maunakea in the late 1700s severely impacted the silversword population. In 1986, it was declared an endangered species at high risk of extinction. DOFAW launched propagation efforts in the mid-1970s that also expanded significantly in the early 1990s, according to UH.
In January 2023, more than 7,000 seeds were sown at the CMS greenhouse and will continue to be nurtured by staff.
The goal of CMS’ ongoing partnership with DOFAW is continuing to raise seedlings in the greenhouse and outplant them at reintroduction sites across Maunakea where previous plantings have been successful and that offer protection from hooved animals.
“There’s no words that can express how my heart feels to see this happening and to know that the silversword hopefully will be preserved for generations to come,” said Patty Heidenfeldt, a native plant restoration specialist at CMS.
Throughout the past three decades, DOFAW has reintroduced thousands of silverswords on Maunakea.
According to scientists, it is important to continue to incorporate seedlings from additional wild individuals, such as the seedlings currently being grown, to help increase genetic diversity, which will give the plants a better chance to adapt to changes in their environment caused by factors such as invasive species and climate change.
Increasing the number of silverswords on Maunakea can also help expand food and habitat sources for native insects such as Agrotis helela and A. kuamauna, 2 moths unique to Hawaiʻi Island, according to the release.
CMS is currently on a path to expand its conservation work on Maunakea and extend more opportunities to the community and visitors who come to the mid-level elevation to acclimate. CMS land stewards envision creating a working classroom within the mid-level elevation on Maunakea, such as providing UH student internships and field trip sites to teach Hawaiʻi’s keiki about evolution and subalpine and alpine zones.
“We want to welcome visitors, scholarly groups, researchers, conservationists, cultural practitioners to enjoy an area where it is considered restored,” said Yeh.