USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station

Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

Research TopicsTropical Ecosystems

Tropical Forest Management

A climate tower associated with a HIPPNET plot in Hawaii
View from the top of the climate tower associated with the HIPPNET plot in Laupāhoehoe.

Tropical ecosystems support endemic plant and animal species found nowhere else and are among the most vibrant indigenous knowledge systems on Earth. Native ecosystems and traditional agro-forests in the Pacific also provide numerous ecosystem goods and services that are critical for human survival, such as clean drinking water, fisheries, food, fiber, medicine, and other products as well as ecological and cultural resilience to climate and landscape change, which increasingly are leading to the loss of societal identity and traditions, biodiversity loss, in the too common worst case extinction.

Mitigating such eco-cultural threats requires new solutions-based tools, creative implementation of management prescriptions and large-scale coordination. The Pacific Southwest Research Station’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry (IPIF) directly addresses these challenges by providing managers with these tools and prescriptions and by helping to build foundational partnerships that include: Island governments and their agencies; Universities; non-governmental organizations; and other Forest Service deputy areas including the Pacific Southwest Region (R5) and International Programs.

Mapping Wildfires in Hawaiʻi and the USAPI
Map of wildfires across Guam in 2019, showing that 7.1% of the island area burned.

The Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry has supported wildfire awareness work in the western Pacific with the goal of enhancing:

  1. Understanding of the extent of human caused wildfires in the region
  2. Knowledge of the impacts of this disturbance on the ecology and hydrology of Pacific Island ecosystems
  3. Practical, cost-effective strategies for preventing human caused wildfires
  4. Efficient, community based strategies for restoring wildfire degraded ecosystems

Our work on wildfire mapping supports regional forestry programs and other US affiliated agencies and departments that have been provided with summary statistics and maps to report and monitor fire trends over time.

Up-to-date fire history maps for the Western Pacific:

Forest Dynamics and Monitoring
Map of the Palau ForestGEO plot within Ngardok Nature Reserve of the Melekeok Conservation Network.

Permanent forest plots and remote climate stations have been established in native-dominated forests, in Hawaiʻi and Palau that are part of the Smithsonian’s Forest Global Earth Observatory (Forest GEO) network of forest plots. The Hawaiʻi Permanent Plot Network (HIPPNET) is a collaborative effort among IPIF, the University of Hawaiʻi, and University of California - Los Angeles that provides core infrastructure for studying the impact of climate on long-term dynamics of Hawaiian forests and streams across broad gradients of climate and in the face of diverse threats to ecological integrity. The Palau Permanent Plot Network (PIPPNET) is a collaborative effort among IPIF, the Palauan government and non-government organizations, to help meet terrestrial monitoring objectives as part of the Micronesia Challenge. The forest monitornig plot in Palau is within the Ngardok Nature Reserve of the Melekeok Conservation Network (MCN) and is the first forest dynamics plot in the ForestGEO network to focus on forest recovery within an officially protected area.

More information on ForestGEO plots:

Promoting Disease Resistance in Culturally and Ecologically Important Tree Species
A native Hawaiian forest ravaged by Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD).

Ecological and culturally, Hawaiʻi's most important tree is ʻōhiʻa (Metrosideros polymorpha), but this tree is being impacted Ceratocystis based diseases including Ceratocystis wilt and ʻŌhiʻa canker, collectively called rapid ʻōhiʻa death (ROD). This disease appears to affect all Metrosideros species and varieties. Work being led by IPIF and USDA-ARS based scientists seeks to better understand Metrosideros disease resistance via a multidisciplinary approach that addresses an important lack of knowledge about resistance. Currently, we are leading ROD disease screening for Metrosideros species and genotypes across the Hawaiian Islands, with the goal of identifying disease resistant individuals that will be used for outplanting in restoration programs and if needed to be candidate genotypes for tree improvement research. Our goal is to provide managers with lines showing increased disease resistance for local applications across Hawaiʻi.

Enhancement of Urban Forest Resources and Sustainability
A delivery of breadfruit trees for the communities of Ulithi Atoll, in the remote Outer Islands of Yap, FSM

Healthy agroforests are critical for maintaining local food production, food security, and sustainability across the Pacific. For example, breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis) is an important agroforestry crop and subsistence food for many Pacific Islands, and its wood is used for building material, carving, and in the construction of of traditional canoes.

IPIF, the Yap Division of Agriculture and Forestry, Palau Bureau of Agriculture, Palau Forestry, Palau Community College – Cooperative Research Extension, Pacific Resources for Education and Learning, and the Breadfruit Institute are conducting local outreach on breadfruit agroforestry, providing technical assitance, and have delivered breadfruit trees of 4 varieties to communities across Yap State, Federated States of Microneisa and all states across the Republic of Palau.

USDA feature story on Planting Gardens of Breadfruit

Decision Support Tools
The decision support tool workflow

In a partnership with Pacific Northwest Research Station, IPIF scientists have led participatory approaches and developed decision support systems (DSS) in Hawaiʻi and Palau, with ongoing work in Vietnam. Participatory development of these tools is intended to collaboratively build automated prioritization of watershed focused conservation activities and adaptive management responses, with a particular emphasis on ridge to reef linkages mediated by hydrological connections of upland watersheds and coastal and near shore ecosystems. This hydrological work has addressed climate change and invasive species management on Hawaiʻi Island, and fire management and protected area conservation in Palau.

Links to decision support tools:

Creating Carbon Neutral Landscapes (CNL+)
Steps to achieve Carbon neutrality in Hawai’i

CNL+ is using Hawaiʻi as a model system to demonstrate the integration of mitigation strategies, economic justice, ecosystem services and human well-being. This CNL+ program led by the USFS is examining:

  1. The technological aspects of carbon neutrality
  2. The need for novel financial mechanisms and programs to support large-scale implementation of carbon neutral strategies
  3. Lifestyle and perception changes needed to shape the policies and social choices regulating the metabolism of coupled natural and human systems

The CNL+ program will develop carbon neutrality pathways for each of the main Hawaiian Islands, using each island as a representative model for the complexity encountered at the geographic scale of a state or province.

Landscape Change in the Pacific
The dynamics of landscape change over time in Palau.

The USDA Forest Service and the Coral Reef Research Foundation have been analyzing historical aerial photos and satellite imagery studying landscape change over a 93-year time period.

Data can be used to gauge success of Palau's terrestrial component of their Micronesia Challenge, where Pacific Island nations have committed to conserving at least 50% of their nearshore marine and 30% of their terrestrial resources by 2030.

Webtool for Monitoring Fire Risk Conditions
User interface of the Webtool for monitoring fire risk conditions (Arizona State University)

A research webtool was developed with a fire fuel index algorithm that covers the entire Island of Hawaiʻi to allow land managers to track both current and historical (since 2005) high fire risk days for their operations. The webtool combines remote sensing imagery and NASA technology for monitoring of near-current and historical fire risk conditions on the Island of Hawaiʻi. The glider at the bottom of the screen allows the user to change the satellite date of the image and a click on the map provides the history of any point on the ground back to 2005. Each time-graph is downloadable.

Airborne Observation of Pacific Island Ecosystems
TAirborne imagery of modeled forest carbon of Laupāhoehoe, Hawai’i. Warm tones indicate areas of higher carbon across the landscape (Arizona State University).

IPIF scientists and the University of Arizona's Asner Lab have been combining airborne and satellite remote sensing, geospatial modeling, and field work to assess ecosystem properties and processes since the 1990s. This Global Airborne Observatory (GAO) component is the most scientifically advanced, aircraft-based mapping and data analytics system operating in the civil sector today and has transformed our understanding of natural and managed ecosystems at large geographic scales. We employ this system to investigate and document phenomena such as forest carbon, invasive species distributions and impacts, tree disease and mortality, and coral reef health.

Forest Inventory & Analysis in Hawaiʻi and the USAPI
Hawai’i FIA field crew

The Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program, USDA Forest Service, monitors forest health in permanent plots within the nation’s forests. Inventories are conducted every ~10 years in Hawaiʻi and the U.S.-Affiliated Pacific Islands. Data from FIA provide information about the composition, structure, growth, and health of our forests as well as specific forest issues such as invasive species distributions and the spread of rapid ʻōhiʻa death (ROD) throughout Hawaiʻi.