Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Investigate Native Hawaiian Plant Species Response to El Nino Drought Events

NPS Unit: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park (HAVO)
Location: Hawaii National Park, HI
Project Title:   Investigate Native Hawaiian Plant Species Response to El Nino Drought Events
Pay: Interns will be paid $12/hour for a total of 480 hours.
Position Description: Because much of HAVO’s low and mid-elevations have been degraded by centuries of alien species, fire, and human use, restoration is a major natural resource management focus.  Where fundamental changes to natural systems have occurred, such as widespread invasion by alien species for which control is not possible, the park seeks realistic restoration goals focusing on native components of the system that are resilient to the novel stressors.  HAVO is applying this same approach to restoration as it considers stressors associated with climate change.This project facilitates the goal of the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park to restore and build native plant communities that are resilient to climate change, particularly to recurring droughts.  Down-scaled global climate change projections (IPCC 2007) indicate a 10-20% reduction in winter rains and a 5% increase in summer rainfall in Hawai‘i due to changes in the tradewind patterns (Timm and Diaz 2009). These changes are predicted to cause dramatic shifts in some habitats, making many currently suitable areas no longer hospitable for certain species.  In addition, some models predict changes in the frequency of El Nino events (Bettencourt 2006).  Past El Nino events have caused severe drought in HAVO and negatively impacted native vegetation, particularly in the montane mesic zone.  New restoration strategies must be developed that incorporate these predictions, thus permitting the park to continue to preserve native species diversity and structure.

To support this approach, an upper level undergraduate or graduate student from the University of Hawaii will develop an annotated list of native plant species that have some drought tolerant capabilities, using field observations and experimental greenhouse studies.  Our goal is to better understand individual species’ responses to drought events and identify species suitable for re-planting under a drier climate regime.  The intern will collect and evaluate field data on the effects of the 2012-2013 El Nino winter by establishing vegetation monitoring plots and following individual plant survival.  The project will take advantage of existing plantings and be able to incorporate data already collected from some post-planting monitoring, and then will build further on that.  The intern also will design and implement a greenhouse experiment to explore the tolerance of target native seedlings to water restriction. The intern will draft a short technical report and present results to the natural resource staff and possibly the whole park.  In addition, the intern will provide recommendations to managers for implementation and application of the findings. The project is a combination of office, field and greenhouse work, with about 30% time involved in data collection in the field, 30% greenhouse experiments, and 40% data processing, evaluation, and writing. 

Learning goals: The intern will learn about climate change projections and implications for natural resource management in the Hawaiian Islands.  At the park level, the intern also will learn about current natural resource management, including the restoration ecology program.  In the course of the project, the intern also will interact with other professional staff from vegetation and other natural resource programs within the park, thus gaining some exposure to different aspects of natural resource management.The intern will receive training and experience in designing and implementing a scientific experiment, in vegetation propagation and monitoring techniques, and in presenting results in both oral and written form. The intern also will be able to provide input to shape the restoration strategy as we start to experience local climatic changes 
Mentoring: Sierra McDaniel (HAVO Botanist) will provide overall guidance to the intern’s professional and educational development.  She will ensure that the intern has a productive and positive learning experience.  The intern will be provided all necessary field, greenhouse, and office equipment.  Regular informal progress meetings will be conducted.  Dr. Jon Price, UH Hilo Dept. of Geography, will guide the student in setting up the monitoring and greenhouse experiments, and in data analyses, as needed.
Qualifications: The intern should be enrolled in or have completed a four year degree program with a focus or degree in the geographic or biological sciences (e.g., geography, ecology, biology, geology).  The intern should have completed at least an introductory course in botany or ecology; further coursework and/or skills with GIS are highly desirable.
Position Dates: March 2013 – Dec. 2013 start and end dates are flexible
Housing Available: Housing is not available
Vehicle/License Required: A valid Driver’s license is required.  If intern does not have a vehicle, other transportation options will be examined to facilitate field work.
Work Environment: The intern will be working in rough field conditions that can be hot and dry or cold and wet.  Field work will involve hiking off trail for several miles.  Greenhouse work will be conducted at the park and included lifting, bending and standing for long periods of time.  Office work will be conducted at the park or off site.It is important that you know there will be times when volcanic fumes, primarily sulfur dioxide, will be at constant low levels and occasional high levels in working and living areas in the park. Such fumes can present an immediate and cumulative health hazard particularly to persons with breathing and heart difficulties. We take measures to avoid or reduce exposure when possible. However, if you have a medical condition or are highly sensitive to these emissions you should seriously consider your ability to work in these conditions.