Scientist Sequence Genome of the ‘Alalā (Hawaiian Crow)

In collaboration with PacBio, scientists at San Diego Zoo Global and the University of Hawaii, Hilo have fully sequenced the genome of the ‘Alalā, or Hawaiian crow and shared the results of this effort at the recent annual Plant and Animal Genomics XXIV Conference in San Diego. The ‘Alalā was once reduced to a population of about 20 birds, and the sequencing of the species’ genome will be important to track any genetic challenges that may occur due to the reduced genetic diversity now seen in the species.

The sequencing of its genome comes at the beginning of what is hoped to be an important year for the Hawaiian crow. Conservationists hope to reintroduce this species into prepared habitat on the island of Hawaii later this year. The ‘Alalā has been extinct in the wild since 2002, preserved only in the program run by San Diego Zoo Global at their bird centers in Hawaii.

“We have been working for many years to build up a large enough—and genetically diverse enough—population to allow us to begin putting the ‘Alalā back in the wild,” said Bryce Masuda, conservation program manager of the San Diego Zoo’s Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program. “We have achieved our goal, and are now preparing to release birds into the wild in 2016.”

The program’s goal has been to increase the ‘Alalā flock to 75 or more individuals before releasing them into their native forests on the island of Hawaii. The ‘Alalā is a member of the crow family that was brought to the brink of extinction by loss of habitat, and introduced predators and diseases. For species that have been at the brink of extinction, genetic fitness and the information stored in their genome may prove an important tool in the fight to save them.

“Learning more about the genome of the species can help us understand more about how that species will interact with and fit back into its native habitat,” said Jolene Sutton, assistant professor at the University of Hawaii, Hilo. “Through scientific collaboration with PacBio, we now have a map of ‘Alalā DNA that could prove critical to their long term recovery. We are absolutely thrilled with the quality of the sequencing, and we have already identified several gene locations that we think could have a big influence on reintroduction success.”

DLNR Proposes to Restore and Manage Watershed in Pu’u Maka’ala Natural Area Reserve

Yesterday the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved a management plan for Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve. The Land Board also approved Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) issuance of a finding of no significant impact for the final environmental assessment for the plan.

Puu Makaala Forest Trail

Puu Makaala Forest Trail

“This management plan is part of the DLNR’s goal to increase protection of Hawaii’s forested watersheds, and to protect and restore rare native Hawaiian animals and plants such as the ‘I‘iwi, the Mauna Loa Silversword and the ‘Alalâ,” said William J. Aila, Jr., BLNR Chairperson.

The 18,706 acre reserve, on the east side of the island of Hawai‘i, was established in 1981 to protect native wet koa and ‘ohi‘a forests and habitat for rare species of plants and animals. Pu‘u Maka‘ala Natural Area Reserve (NAR) is managed by the DLNR’s Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW), and the overall management goal is to protect, maintain, and enhance the reserve’s unique natural, cultural, and geological resources.

The plan outlines specific actions needed to protect and enhance native Hawaiian ecosystems in the reserve including management of invasive species and restoration of rare and endangered plants and animals. Public access is allowed in the reserve and the management plan includes the enhancement of public access through trail improvements. New interpretive hiking opportunities will provide opportunities for the public to learn more about the reserve, its unique native species and ecosystems and ongoing management activities.

The plan discusses collaborating closely with partners, including Kûlani Correctional Facility, to achieve management goals. The Department of Public Safety is planning on reopening Kûlani in 2014.

“Before Kulani closed in 2009, inmate conservation worklines helped DLNR work to remove many invasive plant species, restoring parts of the reserve to its natural beauty,” said Department of Public Safety Director Ted Sakai. “This collaboration resulted in substantial cost-savings for the state and, in turn, gave inmates valuable education and work training opportunities. We are pleased to once again partner with the DLNR and reestablish these successful community service programs.”

The reserve is part of the state’s Natural Area Reserves System, created in 1971 by the Hawai‘i State Legislature to preserve and protect areas which support communities of the natural flora and fauna, as well as geological sites, both for the enjoyment of future generations and to provide baselines against which changes to Hawaii’s environment can be measured. The Natural Area Reserve System protects the best remaining ecosystems in the state, and actively manages them to preserve the natural heritage of Hawai‘i.

The Natural Area Reserve System presently consists of 20 reserves on five islands, encompassing more than 123,000 acres of the state’s most unique ecosystems. These diverse areas range from marine and coastal environments to alpine desert, and from fresh lava flows to wet forests and serve as habitat for rare native plants and animals, many of which are on the verge of extinction. The Natural Area Reserve System includes important watersheds and also contributes to the natural scenic beauty of Hawai‘i.

Fifteen species of federally listed endangered plants occur in or near Pu‘u Maka‘ala NAR, and DOFAW is planning to use the reserve as a key recovery site for these species. Pu‘u Maka‘ala is also home to endangered forest birds, the Nene and ‘Io. This area may also be considered as a potential future release site for captive-raised Hawaiian crow, or ‘Alalâ.

Click here for The management plan and final environmental assessment

For more information about the project contact Lisa Hadway, Division of Forestry and Wildlife Hawai‘i Branch Manager at (808) 974-4221.

 

Hawaii Gets Federal Money to Protect Crows, Hawks and Snails

Imperiled species will benefit from a total of $5.1 million in grants to 11 states through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s competitive State Wildlife Grants (SWG) program. The grants, which focus on large-scale conservation projects yielding measurable results, will be matched by more than $3.1 million in non-federal funds from states and their partners for projects that work to conserve and recover Species of Greatest Conservation Need (SGCN) and their habitats.

Shown: Achatinella bulimoides. This snail was thought to be extinct for the past 20 years until the Army rediscovered it in Oahu's Ko'olau Mountains.

Shown: Achatinella bulimoides. This snail was thought to be extinct for the past 20 years until the Army rediscovered it in Oahu’s Ko’olau Mountains.

“The projects funded by these grants target some of the most imperiled species and habitats in the United States,” said Service Director Dan Ashe. “These projects are receiving funding because they are tied to well-thought-out conservation plans that identify the highest-priority areas where we can make the biggest difference for imperiled species.”

HAWAII FUNDING:

Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife
Title: Creating Capacity to Restore a Self-Sustaining Wild Population of ‘Alala (Corvus hawaiiensis) to Hawai’i Island

Goals and Objectives: A broad coalition of private and federal partners working under the leadership of Hawai’i State Department of Land and Natural Resources will collaborate to protect and restore the Hawaiian Crow, or ‘Alala, which has been federally listed as an endangered species since 1967. The partners will establish field aviaries at proposed ‘Alala release sites and keep the sites free of ungulates, predators, and habitat-altering weeds. The long-term goal of the effort is to establish a viable wild population of the species through the release of captive-bred birds. A key partner in this project is the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.

Federal Funds Requested: $248,524; Non-Fed Match: $150,000

Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife

Title:  Initiating Landscape-Scale Conservation Management of Ka’u Forest Reserve

Goals and Objectives: Hawai’i State Department of Land and Natural Resources will implement critical conservation actions within a 2,000-acre management unit of the Ka’u Forest Reserve. The work will address key threats to 18 SGCN, including 12 federally-listed endangered species such as the ‘Io or Hawaiian Hawk (Buteo solitarius). This broad partnership effort includes many private, state, and federal partners working together to protect imperiled species within a Priority Ecosystem Conservation Area—one of the most diverse and intact forests on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Conservation actions include fencing and ungulate control, invasive plant control, and habitat restoration.

Federal Funds requested: $250,000; Non-Federal match: $125,000

Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources, Division of Forestry and Wildlife

Title: Management Actions to Prevent the Extinction of Rare Hawaiian Land Snails

Goals and Objectives: The Hawai’i Division of Forestry and Wildlife will partner with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, a U.S. Army Garrison, and the University of Hawai’i at Manoa to implement conservation efforts targeting 41 snail species of the federally-listed genus Achatinella as well as five extremely rare species in the family Amastridae. The partners’ strategy includes release of captive-bred snails into natural habitat protected by predator exclusion fencing in the Ko’olau Mountains of O’ahu. Other actions include population surveys, monitoring, and predator control.

Federal Funds Requested: $249,952; Non-Fed Match: $87,483

The SWG funds will benefit a variety of species and habitats: In North Carolina and South Carolina, partners’ work will help inform decision-making and management for the robust redhorse and up to 52 additional fishes, mussels and crayfish.  In Minnesota, SWG funds will support conservation actions to benefit the imperiled wood turtle, the rare smooth softshell turtle, the Blandings turtle and other turtle species of greatest conservation need. SWG funding also will be used by Iowa, Missouri and Illinois to conserve and improve habitat for the greater prairie-chicken as well as a range of other bird and butterfly SGCN. For more information about each of the grant projects, visit http://wsfrprograms.fws.gov/Subpages/GrantPrograms/SWG/SWG2013FundedProjects.pdf

SWG-funded projects implement strategies and actions to conserve SGCN as identified in approved State Comprehensive Wildlife Conservation Plans (also known as State Wildlife Action Plans). Funding for the grants comes from Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations.

“We appreciate the strong ties formed by state agencies and their partners to protect these imperiled wildlife species and their habitats,” said Hannibal Bolton, the Service’s Assistant Director for Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration. “These partnerships are critical to the on-the-ground success of these projects.”

All 50 states and six territorial wildlife agencies have approved State Wildlife Action Plans that collectively provide a nationwide blueprint for actions to conserve SGCN. The plans were created through a collaborative effort among state and federal agencies, biologists, conservationists, landowners, sportsmen and -women and the general public.

The Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program (WSFR) is a 75-year partnership to benefit fish and wildlife and provide Americans with access to the outdoors through a self-imposed investment paid by manufacturers and users of gear bought by anglers, boaters, hunters and shooters and managed by federal and state fish and wildlife agencies. Fishing and hunting licenses and motorboat fuel taxes also support fish and wildlife. For 75 years, the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration Program has provided more than $14 billion for fish and wildlife, supplied jobs for many Americans and benefited local economies through boating, fishing, hunting and shooting activities.