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Hawaii - The Endangered Species Capital of the World

The Hawaiian Islands are home to amazing array of unique plants. Today it is estimated that there are approximately 1,400 vascular plant taxa (including species, subspecies, and varieties) native to the State of Hawaii. Approximately 90 percent of these are found nowhere else in the world. The majority of these species are endemic, meaning they are found only in Hawaii. Due to the Hawaiian isolation, it is believed that the ecosystems of Hawaii and all the organisms which comprise them have evolved in relative solitude, free from many of the competitive forces which characterize continental ecosystems. Many flora and fauna arrived to these islands naturally by wind, water, or wings long before humans set foot on these islands. When these plants and animals first arrived they exploited these newly emerged islands and seemingly barren landscapes and over time evolved into the species we find today.

Hawaii is not only the endangered species capital of the world, but is also home to a great many extinct species. Of the extinctions that have been documented, many of the reasons for species demise include human intervention and pervasive alien introductions. Ecosystem destruction, species displacement, competition for food resources, and hunting has decimated the native fauna and flora of the Hawaiian Islands since European contact in 1778. Consequently, many species have declined beginning with the arrival of humans, the clearing of land for agriculture, and the introduction of non-native plants and animals. These threats have intensified forcefully in historic times, leading to the widespread loss of many native organisms and their habitats. More than 100 plants have gone extinct, and over 200 are considered to have 50 or fewer individuals remaining in the wild. Officially, 366 of the Hawaiian plants are listed as endangered or threatened by Federal and State governments.  An additional 48 species are Proposed as Endangered.

While only comprising less than one percent of the Unites States land mass, Hawaii contains 44 percent of the nation’s endangered and threatened plant species! Roughly translated, this means that Hawaii makes up less than 0.2% of U.S. land, but over 25% of species found on the nation’s endangered species list are prevalent to Hawaii, earning it the rather unflattering title of “endangered species capital of the world.” Preserving native forests is critical for supporting these species on the most isolated chain of islands found on Earth.