The Plant Extinction Prevention Program preserves Hawaii’s rarest plants through teamwork.
What is the Plant Extinction Prevention Program?
The Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated land masses on Earth. Their isolation has created a biological hotspot where approximately 90% of native flora is endemic (found nowhere else in the world). Sadly, Hawai‘i’s unique flora is under constant threat of extinction due to a myriad of threats and now Hawai‘i has the regrettable distinction of being “the endangered species capital of the world,” with nearly 40% of all endangered plant taxa in the United States.
In 1990, the Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP; formerly, Genetic Safety Net Program) was established as the implementation arm of the Hawai‘i Rare Plant Restoration Group (HRPRG). The HRPRG is a consortium of over 60 public and private land management agencies and landowners with a common goal to protect Hawai‘i’s rarest and endangered plant species. Under the guidance of the HRPRG, PEPP operates as a project of the Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit of the University of Hawai`i at Mānoa. To date, Hawai‘i is home to 239 “PEP species” which have fewer than 50 plants remaining in the wild. This designation signifies their imminent risk of extinction and a heightened need to protect all remaining plants.
The PEPP Approach
5-pronged approach designed to prevent the extinction of Hawai‘i’s rarest plants:
1. Manage Threats to Protect Founders: Founders are the remaining wild plants from which PEPP strives to collect propagules. With the loss of each founder, genetic diversity is lost, and the species takes one step closer toward extinction. Threat Management Activities:
Fence construction to protect founders from ungulates (hoofed animals such as pigs, sheep, goats and cattle)
Control of small predators (e.g., rodents, slugs, insects)
Removal of non-native plants which compete with founders for resources
Cooperative work with partner agencies to address fire and other human-caused impacts
2. Monitor Founders and Outplantings: Island PEPP Coordinators routinely visit PEP species founders and outplants and assess the health of the plants. Monitoring PEP species’ vigor, threats, population size, and phenology (flowering and fruiting season) gives island coordinators means to judge the effectiveness of our conservation program and plan for future management.
3. Collect Propagules: Island PEPP Coordinators collect propagules (fruit, seed, cuttings, pollen, spores, leaf buds, etc.) from as many individuals of PEP species as possible and preserve them at off-site (ex-situ) facilities. Ex-situ preservation of plant material is an essential tool that allows land managers time to plan and execute habitat protection and restoration programs, and, ultimately, recover PEP species that could otherwise become extinct. Propagules are in the expert care of partner ex-situ facilities.
4. Population Reintroduction and Augmentation (Outplantings): PEPP and its partners outplant nursery-grown stock of PEP species to establish new populations (reintroductions) or less frequently, to bolster already existing populations (augmentation). The goal of outplanting is to create uneven aged populations that have balanced genetic representation from as many founders as possible and a balanced sex ratio (i.e. maximizing genetic diversity).
5. Survey for New Founders: The discovery of additional founders can greatly increase a PEP species’ chance of recovery and, therefore, surveys are high priority activities. Surveys are commonly near current or historical populations in areas with similar terrain, climate and community composition.
On May 16, 2014, the US Fish and Wildlife Service announced that the Plant Extinction Prevention Program was a 2013 Recovery Champion! Recovery Champions are U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and their partners whose work is advancing the recovery of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. We are truly humbled by this great honor. For more information on fellow 2013 Recovery Champions, please click here for the website, or here for the press release.
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Plant Extinction Prevention Program Pacific Cooperative Studies Unit University of Hawai`i C/O DLNR-DOFAW 19 East Kawili Street Hilo, Hawaii 96720