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Treasure Islands: Hawaiian Kipuka and the Future of Native Hawaiian Birds

This article is from Issue Hawaii Pacific Islands - Vol. 16 No. 1.

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The scientists in this study were interested in learning about birds living in different sized kīpuka on the island of Hawai‘i. Kīpuka are like islands of forest surrounded by hardened lava. The kīpuka studied by the scientists were located on the Mauna Loa volcano and were created during a volcanic eruption in 1855.


Welcome to the Hawai'i-Pacific Islands edition

Note to Educators

Cultural Essay Lesson Plan

Reflection Section Answer Guide


Additional Resources for this Article:
Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
Scientists try to control as many things as possible in a research project. Let’s say that a scientist wants to understand how much water a particular type of potted plant needs to grow its healthiest. The scientist might plant seeds of that plant type in six pots that are made up of the same material, are the same size, and contain the same kind of soil. The pots would be kept in Science What kind of scientists did this research? Avian biologist: This kind of scientist studies the characteristics of birds, including their physical bodies and their behavior. Avian ecologist: This kind of scientist studies how birds interact with their habitat. Ecologist: This kind of scientist studies the relationship of living things with their living and nonliving environment. the same temperature and the same amount of sunlight. The only difference is the amount of water given to the plants. All of these things are known as variables. By controlling all the variables except for water, the scientist can be relatively certain that any difference observed in how the plants grew was related to the different amounts of water given to the plants. In this study, the scientists found a natural environment that was similar in many ways to the six pots. This environment is called a kīpuka. A kīpuka is an area of forest surrounded on all sides by volcanic lava flows (figures 1a-c). This means that a kīpuka is like a forested island in a sea of hardened lava. The main difference between the kīpuka in this study was their size in hectares and the complexity of their plants and trees, especially their heights. The scientists were interested in discovering how many and what species of birds live in different kīpuka. If they found any differences, what do you think might be the reasons?
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
The native forests of Hawai‘i have been home to 113 species of birds found only in Hawai‘i. When a species is found in only one place and no other, it is said to be endemic (ən dəm ik) to that area (figure 2). Of the 113 endemic bird species, 71 are extinct, and 31 are listed as endangered species. Seven native bird species are found in kīpuka on the island of Hawai‘i. Two of these—the ‘io or Hawaiian hawk and the ‘Akiapola‘au—are endangered species. Native Hawaiian bird populations are under threat from many things. Nonnative birds compete for food and nesting sites. Removing forests for buildings or agriculture reduces the habitat of native birds. A disease called avian malaria has killed many of the native birds living at the low elevations on the island of Hawai‘i (figure 3). Avian malaria is spread by mosquitoes, which cannot live in the colder climate of the middle and higher elevations. The kīpuka, which are found at the middle elevations, provide protection from avian malaria for native Hawaiian birds. If nonnative birds are found living in the kīpuka, native bird species in Hawai‘i may suffer even more through competition for food and nest sites.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Endangered species
  • Value of natural environments

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (C)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Regulation and behavior (C)
  • Science and technology in society (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure and function in living systems (C)
  • Understandings about science and technology (E)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)