Prevention, early detection and containment of invasive, nonnative plants in the Hawaiian Islands: current efforts and needs

Technical Report



  • The Publications Warehouse does not have links to digital versions of this publication at this time
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


Introduction: Invasive, non-native plants (or environmental weeds) have long been recognized as a major threat to the native biodiversity of oceanic islands (Cronk & Fuller, 1995; Denslow, 2003). Globally, several hundred non-native plant species have been reported to have major impacts on natural areas on oceanic islands (Kueffer et al., 2009). In Hawaii, at least some 50 non-native plant species reach dominance in natural areas (Kueffer et al., 2009) and many of them are known to impact ecosystem processes or biodiversity. One example is the invasive Australian tree fern (Cyathea cooperi), which has been shown to be very efficient at utilizing soil nitrogen and can grow six times as rapidly in height, maintain four times more fronds, and produce significantly more fertile fronds per month than the native Hawaiian endemic tree ferns, Cibotium spp. (Durand & Goldstein, 2001a, b). Additionally, while native tree ferns provide an ideal substrate for epiphytic growth of many understory ferns and flowering plants, the Australian tree fern has the effect of impoverishing the understory and failing to support an abundance of native epiphytes (Medeiros & Loope, 1993). Other notorious examples of invasive plant species problematic for biodiversity and ecosystem processes in Hawaii include miconia (Miconia calvescens), strawberry guava (Psidium cattleianum), albizia (Falcataria moluccana), firetree (Morella faya), clidemia (Clidemia hirta), kahili ginger (Hedychium gardnerianum), and fountain grass (Pennisetum setaceum), to name just a few. Fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis) is a recent example of a seriously problematic invasive species for Hawaii’s agriculture and is damaging certain high-elevations native ecosystems as well.

The threat of invasive plants has long been recognized in Hawaii and is well documented (e.g. Cox, 1999; Loope & Kraus, 2009 in press; Loope et al., 2004; Mooney & Drake, 1986; Stone & Scott, 1985; Stone et al., 1992). In many respects, Hawaii may be near the forefront among national and international efforts to address the burgeoning threat of invasive plants, perhaps especially in the field of outreach and education (Holt, 1996; Van Driesche & Van Driesche, 2000). However, given the scale of the problem many challenges still need to be addressed and gaps in the existing management system need to be identified. In particular, it appears that new non-native plant species are still introduced to the Hawaiian Islands at a high rate with little or no regard for their potential invasiveness. In fact, a Pacific-wide and a global survey of non-native plants on oceanic islands have both shown that on Hawaii among all archipelagos by far the highest number of problematic invasive species known from other areas in the world is already present (Denslow et al. 2009, Kueffer et al. 2009). Hawaii lacks an effective mechanism for tracking what species are present or incoming. For instance, early detection nursery surveys conducted on Maui in 2008 found over 300 species of cultivated vascular plants that have not previously been recorded in Hawaii (Starr et al., in prep.). In spite of an innovative Hawaii Biological Survey (e.g. Eldredge & Evenhuis, 2003), there is no mechanism for recording presence of a species until it becomes naturalized.

Some of these new introductions may quickly become serious pests. Fireweed, first recorded in Hawaii on the Big Island in the early 1980s, is now considered one of the Kueffer & Loope 2009 5/48 worst weeds of pastures and is also invading natural areas from near sea level to above 10,000 feet. Although the cultivated and as yet non-invasive Cortaderia selloana has been present in Hawaii for 50 years or more, the morphologically similar Cortaderia jubata was simultaneously found to be present on Maui and invading on a large scale in 1989. It played an important role in inspiring the establishment of the Maui Invasive Species Committee (MISC) in 1997, and MISC now spends roughly $200,000 per year removing and containing C. jubata to keep it from becoming widespread in high elevation conservation lands of East and West Maui.

The existence of many similar examples shows that to date regulatory action to prevent new invasive plant species from establishing and spreading in Hawaii has not yet been as successful as it needs to be. In particular, because some problematic invasive species known from other areas in the world (Kueffer et al., 2009; Weber, 2003) have not yet been recorded from Hawaii, preventive measures against the introduction and spread of such likely invasive species is therefore an urgent need for Hawaii. Indeed, regulation of importation and early detection and eradication of introduced species before they become abundant and widespread are widely considered the most cost-efficient and often only effective measures against the threat of new invasive species (Kueffer & Hirsch Hadorn, 2008; Wittenberg & Cock, 2001).  

Timing seems favorable for Hawaii to achieve effective protection against the threat of new invasive species through prevention, early detection, and eradication/containment. Through the establishment and evolution of Invasive Species Committees (ISCs) on each major Hawaiian island, the institutional capacity has been built up for prevention, early detection, containment, and outreach at an island scale. Weed risk assessment (Daehler et al., 2004) and early detection methodologies (Starr et al., in review-a, b) have been developed and tested specifically for Hawaii. Containment strategies have been successful (e.g., Special Ecological Areas in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park), and so have eradications of particular species on an island scale (e.g. mullein (Verbascum thapsus) and other species on Maui, fireweed (Senecio madagascariensis) on Kauai). These successful management strategies may be further strengthened through recently developed novel approaches in research (e.g. remote sensing, species distribution modelling, and molecular genetics tools). Another major recent achievement is the gained support of the plant industry for preventive measures against invasive species (see p. 13ff). Last but not least, regulatory action is also moving forward. Passage of House Bill 2517 by the 2008 Hawaii House and Senate and prompt signing of the bill into law by the Governor provides hope that action to ban the sale of a meaningful suite of restricted weeds can quickly proceed through the rulemaking phase into the implementation phase.

This report documents these achievements and experiences and provides a range of perspectives on how to further develop prevention, early detection and containment of invasive species in Hawaii. The report is based on a symposium and workshop held at the 2008 Hawaii Conservation Conference in Honolulu on 31 July 2008.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
Other Report
Prevention, early detection and containment of invasive, nonnative plants in the Hawaiian Islands: current efforts and needs
Series title:
Technical Report
Year Published:
University of Hawai'i at Manos
Contributing office(s):
Pacific Island Ecosystems Research Center
50 p.
United States
Online Only (Y/N):
Additional Online Files (Y/N):