21.10.2016 – Original article in Science (subscribers only)
An ecological disaster is unfolding on Hawaii’s largest island. Rapid ‘Ōhi’a Death, caused by an imported fungus, is causing Hawaii’s iconic native ‘ōhi’a tree to perish in droves. Some 20,000 hectares are now affected, according to a recent survey. Abundant across the archipelago, ‘ōhi’a are the only native tree in Hawaii that colonizes lava flows, and they provide habitat for several rare species of native birds and insects. The outbreak exploded in 2014, in dense ‘ōhi’a groves in Hilo Forest Reserve on Big Island, and has worsened ever since. Characterizing the fungus, Ceratocystis fimbriata, might help researchers mount a defense for ‘ōhi’a, as well as determine whether other native plants or crops are vulnerable. Scientists are also trying to unravel precisely how the fungus spreads.