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Individual Highlight

Understanding Patterns and Impacts of Rapid ‘?hi?a Death on Native Forests of Hawai’i

Photo of The fungus Ceratocystis fimbiata. Flint Hughes, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.The fungus Ceratocystis fimbiata. Flint Hughes, U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : Rapid ‘?hi?a Death is a plant disease that has killed large numbers of mature ??hi?a lehua trees on Hawai’i Island during the last several years and is a high-priority issue for all natural resource and agricultural agencies throughout the Hawaiian islands. A multi-disciplinary science team is working intensely to better understand the nature and impacts of the disease in order to effectively manage the disease and protect Hawai’i’s native forests.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Hughes, Flint 
Research Location : Hawaii Island, Hawaii
Research Station : Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1089


During the last six years, large areas of healthy ??hi?a lehua trees (Metrosideros polymorpha) have died rapidly on Hawai'i Island. The fungus Ceratocystis fimbiata was routinely found associated with rapidly dying individuals of ??hi?a, Hawai'i's most widespread native tree. Pathogenicity of this fungus was proven, and M. polymorpha was recorded as a new host for C. fimbriata. Imagery of ??hi?a mortality obtained in 2012 revealed expanses of mortality greater than expected. ?hi?a mortality in field plots established within the study region averaged 39 percent. Mortality was comparable across size classes and forest compositions. Average annual ??hi?a mortality rates were 24 percent based on basal area and 28 percent based on stem density measures. The dearth of ??hi?a seedling recruitment and characteristic understory dominance of non-native species documented within the study’s research plots, coupled with the lethality of C. fimbriata to ??hi?a, suggest that these forests likely will be dominated by non-native species in the future in the absence of concerted active management.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Phil Cannon, Region 5
  • James B. Friday, University of Hawaii
  • Lisa Keith, U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service