University of Hawaii Researcher Nationally Honored as Endangered Species Recovery Champion

Nellie Sugii, manager of the UH Harold L. Lyon Arboretum’s Hawaiian Rare Plant Program, has been recognized as a 2016 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Recovery Champion. This highly prestigious award is given to select U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service staff and partners whose leadership efforts are integral to the recovery of endangered and threatened species of plants and animals. Sugii’s 30 years of experience have led to the development of methods to propagate Hawaiʻi’s most endangered plants via tissue culture and other techniques, many of which may have gone extinct without her efforts.

Nellie Sugii in the Micropropagation Lab.

Although Hawaiʻi makes up only 0.2% of the land mass of the United States, more than quarter of the species on the endangered species list are found only in Hawaiʻi, and most of them are plants. Under Sugii’s leadership, the Hawaiian Rare Plant Program plays an important role in preventing the extinction of Hawaiʻi’s most critically endangered plants, using micropropagation techniques (growing tiny plants in test tubes) as well as seeds collected from these plants for banking.

Many of the plants in the lab are difficult to propagate due to the low viability of the seeds or do not produce seeds at all. The plants sheltered in the lab represent a broad range of Hawaiian species not limited to one region or area in the Hawaiian Islands. Her efforts have led to the propagation of more than 500 of the 1,300 taxa of native Hawaiian plants.

Uluhe

The Hawaiian Rare Plant Program is often the last chance for many of Hawaiʻi’s endangered endemic plants to survive.  The laboratory serves as a rescue, recovery and storage unit for the conservation of critically endangered Hawaiian plants and is the only one of its kind in Hawaiʻi. Since 1993, tens of thousands of native plants have been maintained in the lab collections. Currently, there are about 250 native species in the collection, some of which no longer occur in the wild. HRPP is recognized internationally for its research and leadership in this area.

Asplenium peruvianum var. insulare

Sugii was chosen because of her outstanding dedication to the program and numerous accomplishments. She has maintained and expanded the HRPP on highly competitive grants for nearly 20 years and is a recognized leader in the broader plant conservation community in the Hawaiʻi Rare Plant Restoration Group, Laukahi Plant Conservation Network, and in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List Specialist Group. Additionally, she mentors dozens of staff, UH students and volunteers and is known internationally for her expertise in micropropagation of rare species.

More information about this award can be found on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service website: https://www.fws.gov/endangered/what-we-do/recovery-champions/index.html.

More information about the Lyon Arboretum can be found: https://manoa.hawaii.edu/lyonarboretum/

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