Invasive species are so pervasive in Hawaii’s low-lying areas that the U.S. Forest Service says it’s not cost-effective or practical to eradicate them all. Instead, it’s launching new research into developing “hybrid ecosystems” that will incorporate some nonnative plants but allow native plants to thrive.
The service has received a $1.6 million grant from the Defense Department’s strategic environmental research program to study the possibility.
“Invasive species are so prevalent. You’re hand weeding, trying to eliminate them and aren’t able to keep up with them. It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle,” said Susan Cordell, research ecologist with the Forest Service. “Restoring these lowland tropical forests to a historic native state is not financially or physically feasible.”
Hawaii’s low-lying native trees and plants were wiped out by cattle, goats and other nonnative mammals that were set free to graze after the arrival of the first Europeans in the islands in the late 1700s. The animals trampled on ferns and undergrowth, drying the soil and tree roots. Later reforestation efforts resulted in the planting of fast-growing nonnative trees like eucalyptus instead of native trees.
To see intact native ecosystems, you have to climb high into the mountains.
Cordell said the grant will allow researchers to find ways for native species to “coexist” with some nonnative species.