Kauai as biodiversity garden: new study shows how

lida burney harvests seed pods on kauai

Wot if this 'garden island' were managed like a botanical garden so that threatened species could be reintroduced into our pre-existing wild environment and given a fair shot at recovery?

Good buddies David and Lida Burney are pioneering just such a bold new "inter-situ" approach to conservation here on Kauai by closely managing the recovery areas using the same techniques in zoos and botanical gardens (via star bulletin).

The common methods used by conservationists are failing, say the Burneys, and the risk of further extinction will only get worse as human contact and foreign diseases continue to devastate the natural environment

Using the Makauwahi Cave Reserve on Kauai's dry South Shore and 14 other restoration sites around the island, the Burneys are showing how these area can be ecologically restored by removing alien vegetation and replacing it with native plants.

As one who has been blessed to participate in this project over the years, I can testify that there is no greater feeling than helping to restore former native ecosystems...and don't doubt that many of our residents and visitors would jump at the chance to jump in and help. Especially now that the Burneys are showing signs of success in some areas.

As the Burneys point out, traditional in-situ approaches to save natual areas are expensive and difficult to maintain, while traditional ex-situ approaches are limited by space and natural recruitment and "close to being overwhelmed by the sheer number of endangered wildlife."

Their recommended inter-situ alternative is restoring neglected areas of our island with soil improvement, invasive species control, outplanting of indigenous and endemic plants and Polynesian cultivars, and protection of the environment.

Even better, these areas are conceived as 'extractive reserves' so that plants established here can "provide nursery stock for other restorations and gardens, plant products useful to native herbalists, craftsmen, and woodcrafters, taxonomic and genetic study material, and other biological resources to be managed sustainably."

Take the coveted maile vine (Alyxia stellata), for example, which is used in lei-making and is currently at risk of over-harvesting in the island’s native forests. New maile plants are being produced in the Kauai reserves for harvest by native practitioners.

The Burney's experience to-date suggests that, at least on the drier sites, certain native ground-cover species can effectively compete with many invasive weeds if given a head start under the right circumstances.

"Wetter sites, on the other hand," report the Burneys, "have so far been manageable only with labor-intensive hand removal or mowing – or a scale of long-term herbicide use larger than many professionals would prefer and potentially more disruptive than a large segment of the local public would condone for a 'natural' area.

Say the Burneys:

"Initial results are exciting and gratifying, even in the face of the continued grim crisis of biodiversity loss in Hawai`i."

So far, they have managed to "bring some species back from the brink by buying enough time for these species and communities to benefit from more elegant solutions that scientists may yet discover."

Are conservationists "bold enough to surf the current extinction wave"? That's wot the Burneys wanna know.

Published by Ken on November 19th, 2007 tagged Community Initiatives, Ecosystems Research, Island Ecosystems

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