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Hawaiian High Islands Ecoregion
This page last revised 08 September 2006 -- S.M.Gon III  

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'Io, endangered raptor, Hawaiian hawk
Lowland and montane mesic forest on Hawai'i Island are habitat for 'io, the Hawaiian hawk.

happyface spider
An untold number of native invertebrates, such as this Hawaiian happyface spider, are nested within Hawai'is native ecosystems.

ho'awa, Pittosporum hosmeri, endemic to Kona
The endemic ho'awa, Pittsporum hosmeri, is restricted to Kona, and a food plant of the endangered Hawaiian corw, 'alala.

feral pig
There is a wide variety of native ecosystems on the Island of Hawai'i.



Hawai‘i Island Conservation Area Profiles

Major Habitat Type: Tropical Moist Forest (Oceania Realm)

Stratification Unit: Island of Hawai‘i (comprised of multiple large shield volcanoes (Kohala, Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, Hualālai, and Kīlauea); of recent geological age (<450,000 years) and sharing biodiversity via geological history distinct from the older islands of the archipelago.

Island: Hawai‘i, largest island of the archipelago, greater in area than all other islands of the archipelago combined; bearing the tallest mountains of the ecoregion (e.g., Mauna Kea at 4,205 m (13,796 ft), and Mauna Loa at 4,169 m (13,677 ft)). The native-dominated landscapes of Hawai‘i Island have been subdivided into five Conservation Areas (see figure below) corresponding to broad regions of the volcanic peaks on the island. Approximately 140,000 human residents.

Significance: The Conservation Areas of Hawai‘i Island are comprised of ecological systems from lowland to alpine elevations. The summit areas and large undeveloped upper elevation interior sections maintain high viability systems, are important watersheds, and contain over 70 native natural communities.  The island of Hawai‘i supports 248 Hawaiian endemic species of flowering plants, 25 of which are endemic to the island, and 39 of which are endangered. 

Conservation Status: The Conservation Areas of Hawai‘i Island are protected and managed by a combination of private and public protected areas, including Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park, Manukā, Kīpāhoehoe, Pu‘u Maka‘ala, Waiākea, Laupāhoehoe, Pu‘u o ‘Umi, and Mauna Kea Ice Age State Natural Area Reserves, Hakalau and Kona National Wildlife Refuges, The Kona Hema and Ka‘ū Preserves of The Nature Conservancy, the State Forest Reserve System, and the state Conservation District. The ‘Ōla‘a-Kīlauea Management Partnership, formed in 1991, is comprised of a combination of some of the above lands with lands owned and/or managed by Kulani Correctional Facility (State) - 7,400 acres; Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve (State) - 12,400 acres; National Park Service (NPS) - Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park - 219,000 acres; Kamehameha Schools (KS) - 189,000 acres; U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); U.S.G.S. Biological Resources Division; U.S.D.A. Forest Service, and The Nature Conservancy of Hawai‘i. The partners drafted a management plan that implements fencing, ungulate control, and weed control, ignoring land jurisdiction boundaries and dealing with the major threats. Such actions are included in a discussion of conservation strategies for Hawai‘i.

montane mesic forest in Manuka NAR, Kona CA, Hawai'i Island
Montane Mesic Forest in Manukā Natural Area Reserve, Kona, Hawai'i

Conservation Targets:

Ecological Systems: Nine ecological systems of Hawai‘i Island are included among the conservation targets of the different conservation areas, each bearing nested natural communities and species. The overall viability ranks of the nine systems in the six conservation areas are summaried below. 

Conservation Area
System KOH MK WML K-K KON P-P
Alpine - VERY GOOD - VERY GOOD VERY GOOD VERY GOOD
Subalpine -  GOOD - VERY GOOD GOOD VERY GOOD
Montane Dry - FAIR FAIR GOOD GOOD GOOD
Montane Mesic - FAIR FAIR GOOD GOOD FAIR
Montane Wet GOOD VERY GOOD  GOOD VERY GOOD GOOD -
Wet Cliff FAIR - - FAIR - -
Lowland Wet FAIR FAIR FAIR FAIR FAIR
Lowland Mesic POOR POOR FAIR FAIR FAIR POOR
Lowland Dry  - - - FAIR FAIR POOR
 Occurrences selected for the ecoregional portfolio are indicated in boldface green. Dry Cliff System has POOR viability and is not  included. KOH=Kohala; MK=Mauna Kea; WML=Windward Mauna Loa; K-K=Ka'ū-Kapāpala; KON=Kona; P-P=Pohakuloa-Pu'u Wa'awa'a.

Natural Communities:

  • Continuous Perennial Stream Community
Selected stream occurrences: Hawai‘i, despite its very young geological age, bears some high quality streams in the Kohala and Mauna Kea conservation areas, and the four streams selected: 
Wailoa/Waipi‘o (Kohala), Honokānenui (Kohala), Hanawī (Papaikou Quad), and Honoli‘i (Hilo District) Streams are among the largest and highest quality streams on the island (Hawai‘i Stream As­ses­s­ment 1991). Each bears a rich complement of native macrofauna and high volume, high quality water in a channel with high structural heterogeneity.

Special Ecological Features:

  • Forest Bird Concentrations
Forest Bird Concentrations of Hawai‘i Island are among the most extensive in area, and are present in Mauna Kea, Windward Mauna Loa, Kaū - Kapāpala, and Kona conservation areas. 
  • Waterbird Concentrations
The Hawai‘i Waterbird Concentration is defined as three core wetlands and at least six of eight supporting wetland sites on the island, identified by the USFWS Waterbird Recovery Plan (2005). These include coastal and lowland sites largely outside of the ecological system targets.

Nested Targets (Selected examples):

  • Natural Communities:
‘Ōhi‘a/Uluhe Lowland Wet Forest
‘Ōhi‘a/Mixed Shrub Lowland Wet Forest
‘Ōhi‘a/Mixed Shrub Montane Wet Forest
‘Ōhi‘a/‘Ōlapa Montane Wet Forest
‘Ōhi‘a Mixed Lowland Mesic Shrubland
Lama/ ‘Ōhi‘a Lowland Mesic Forest
Lama Lowland Dry Forest
Hawaiian Montane Bog
Mixed Fern/Shrub Wet Cliff Community
Koai‘a Lowland Dry Forest
Koa/Māmane Montane Dry Forest
Māmane/Naio Subalpine Dry Forest
Pūkiawe Subalpine Dry Shrubland
Hawaiian Alpine Aeolian Desert

  • Native species:

There are many constituent native species that comprise the natural communities of the Conservation Area. Highlights include 39 rare/endangered plant species, 248 endemic flowering plant species, and an untold number of endemic invertebrate species likely numbering in the thousands.

Major Threats: Uncontrolled feral ungulates (primarily pigs, goats, mouflon); a variety of invasive alien plants, including Pennisetum, Miconia, Clidemia, and Psidium, military training impacts and wildfire at montane and subalpine dry and mesic settings; logging and ranching in Kona and Mauna Kea conservation areas.
The native-dominated ecological systems of the conservation areas of Hawai'i (left) occupy its higher elevation central region, extending downward into areas (pink) converted by historic change into anthropogenic and alien-dominated regions.

The portfolio of conservation areas for Hawa
i'i (far right) includes viable ecological systems (dark green), four forest bird concentrations (red stars), four stream community occurrences (light blue courses running from Kohala and Mauna Kea conservation areas), and waterbird concentrations (detailed localities not shown at this scale).
ecological systems Hawai'i Island portfolio for Hawai'i Island
A cross section of a high island such as Hawai'i indicates the variety of moisture and elevation conditions present: Alpine and subalpine summit areas are flanked by wet, mesic and dry montane, lowland, and coastal/marine systems. elevation and moisture settings of Hawai'i