Invasive rat control is an efficient, yet insufficient, method for recovery of the critically endangered Hawaiian plant hau kuahiwi (Hibiscadelphus giffardianus)

Nathan S. Gill, Stephanie Yelenik, Paul Banko, Christopher B. Dixon, Kelly Jaenecke, Robert Peck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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Abstract

Biological invasions of rodents and other species have been especially problematic on tropical islands. Invasive Rattus rattus consumption of Hibiscadelphus giffardianus (Malvaceae; common Hawaiian name hau kuahiwi) fruit and seeds has been hypothesized to be the most-limiting factor inhibiting the critically endangered tree, but this has not been experimentally tested, and little is known about other factors affecting seed dispersal, germination, and seedling establishment. Thus, we do not know if rat removal is sufficient to increase hau kuahiwi recruitment. This study aims to evaluate the effect of rat population control on the ability of hau kuahiwi to retain fruit and establish seedlings. We compared hau kuahiwi fruiting and seedling recruitment in a stand treated to reduce rat abundance and a neighbouring control stand. Fruit retention increased following treatment but seedling establishment did not. Although rat control improves the ability of hau kuahiwi to retain fruit, other, presently unknown inhibitors to seed dispersal, germination, and/or seedling development remain. Seed and seedling predation by other species, competition from numerous invasive plant species, unsuitable climate, and/or other factors may be primary inhibitors in the absence of rats, but we emphasize that progressive isolation of these factors at individual hau kuahiwi life stages may be necessary to identify the remaining threats to the conservation of this critically endangered plant.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0208106
JournalPloS one
Volume13
Issue number11
DOIs
StatePublished - Nov 2018

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