Hawaii's botanical history is expanded

April 21, 2008

Smithsonian Institution scientists say one of Hawaii's most dominant plants, Metrosideros, has existed on the islands much longer than previously believed.

The researchers, who said their finding might rewrite Hawaii's botanical history, noted Metrosideros, commonly called "ohi'a" in the Hawaiian Islands, has puzzled researchers for years. Although previously thought to be a newcomer to the islands, the plants are well integrated into Hawaii's ecosystems.

However, scientists from the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the Smithsonian's National Zoo have now used molecular research to show Metrosideros might have colonized the islands soon after they formed.

If the finding is accurate, the plants would have played an important role in shaping Hawaii's ecology from the beginning, the scientists said. Knowing when Metrosideros dispersed and colonized the islands will give scientists a better understanding of how and when the fauna that rely on them evolved.

"What we are finding," said Scott Miller, a Smithsonian scientist working on the project, "is a distinct geographical pattern that supports a hypothesis that these plants colonized the Hawaiian Islands sequentially as they formed."

This could prove that Metrosideros played a far more important role in Hawaii's ecology than once thought, he said.

Copyright 2008 by United Press International

Explore further: Tracing the evolution of forest trees

Related Stories

Tracing the evolution of forest trees

November 10, 2014

There are at least 60,000 identified tree species in the world, "but we know next to nothing about how they got here," Elizabeth Stacy says. "Trees form the backbone of our forests, and are ecologically and economically important, ...

Recommended for you

Parasitized bees are self-medicating in the wild, study finds

September 1, 2015

Bumblebees infected with a common intestinal parasite are drawn to flowers whose nectar and pollen have a medicinal effect, a Dartmouth-led study shows. The findings suggest that plant chemistry could help combat the decline ...

Male seahorse and human pregnancies remarkably alike

September 1, 2015

Their pregnancies are carried by the males but, when it comes to breeding, seahorses have more in common with humans than previously thought, new research from the University of Sydney reveals.

How wind sculpted Earth's largest dust deposit

September 1, 2015

China's Loess Plateau was formed by wind alternately depositing dust or removing dust over the last 2.6 million years, according to a new report from University of Arizona geoscientists.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.