In this document we describe the methods and results of a project to produce a large-scale map of the dominant plant communities for an area of 5,118.5 hectares encompassing the Kawela and Kamalō watersheds on the island of Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi, using digital image analysis of multi-spectral satellite imagery. Besides providing a base map of the area for land managers to use, this vegetation map serves as spatial background for the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) Molokaʻi Ridge-to-Reef project, which is an interdisciplinary study of erosion and sediment transport within these watersheds. A total of 14 mapping units were identified for the Kawela-Kamalō project area. The most widespread units were the ʻŌhiʻa montane wet or mesic forest and No vegetation or very sparse grasses/shrubs communities, each present in more than 800 hectares, or 16 percent of the mapping area. Next largest were the Kiawe woodland with alien grass understory and ʻAʻaliʻi dry shrubland units, each of which covered more than 500 hectares, or more than 12 percent of the area; followed by the Mixed native mesic shrubland, ʻIlima and mixed grass dry shrubland, Mixed alien grass with ʻilima shrubs, and the Mixed alien forest with alien shrub/grass understory communities, which ranged in size from approximately 391 to 491 hectares, or 7.6 to 9.6 percent of the project site. The other six mapped units covered less than 170 hectares of the landscape. Six of the map units were dominated by native vegetation, covering a total of 2,535.2 hectares combined, or approximately 50 percent of the project area. The remaining map units were dominated by nonnative species and represent vegetation types that have resulted from invasion and establishment of plant species that had been either purposely or accidently introduced into Hawaiʻi since humans arrived in these islands more than 1,500 years ago. The preponderance of mapping units that are dominated by alien species of plants is a strong indication of how much anthropogenic disturbance has occurred in this area. The native-dominated ʻŌhiʻa forest and uluhe fern communities are probably most similar to the vegetation that was originally found in the upper part of the project area this area. Portions of the mixed mesic native shrub community still persist in the lowland mesic zone, but below that area, the vegetation is either dominated by alien species, or artificially opened by animal grazing and erosion, even in the few units that are still dominated by native species. The map produced for the Kawela to Kamalō watersheds can be used as a baseline for assessing the distribution and abundance of the various plant communities found across this landscape at the time of the imagery (2004). It can also be used to help understand the dynamics of the vegetation and other attributes of this watershed—such as erosion and surface transport of sediment, relative to current and future habitat conditions.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Vegetation map of the watersheds between Kawela and Kamalō Gulches, Island of Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi