9 August 2021

Alpine Arthropods

PEPS grad student tracks insect communities atop Mauna Kea

Alpine Arthropods

High on the slopes of the world’s tallest* mountain, these alpine stone desert and subalpine mamane scrub habitats are home to the endemic Wekiu Bug, as well as some of Hawaiʻi’s most iconic native flora and fauna.

But for natural resource managers who want to improve the conservation efforts of these endemic species, and better understand the most problematic introduced species, more information is needed. Specifically: the arthropods’ habits and dietary requirements, effects of introduced species on their trophic network, and flow of energy and resources between the alpine and subalpine habitats.

Enter Brad Reil, a graduate student researcher in the Insect Systematics and Biodiversity Lab, part of the Dept. of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences. Brad and his graduate advisor, Dan Rubinoff, have traded in their T-shirts for warmer wear as they hike atop this massive mountain, collecting specimens necessary for food web construction and for analyzing the arthropod communities.

Mauna Kea is a special place for many reasons,” says Brad. “Ecologically, the endemic species that call the mountain home are found nowhere else on earth and have adapted to the harsh dry cold conditions on the volcano. At the summit, the aeolian stone desert ecosystem obtains much of its resources from wind-borne materials (bits of plants, dead insects, dust, etc.) instead of plant species, resulting in uniquely adapted inhabitant species such as the Wekiu Bug.”

The specimen collection phase that began in 2018 will soon finish up, and Brad will switch to processing the specimens, analyzing the results, and writing up his final reports. He thanks the Onizuka Center for International Astronomy (Hale Pohaku); Mauna kea Access Road; Mauna kea Science Reserve; Mauna kea Ice Age NAR; Mauna kea Forest Reserve; and associated rangers and managers. The project is being funded by the Office of Mauna kea Management.

“This research is exciting because it will provide information about the underlying interactions between the arthropod species that support these diverse habitats, and will help to ensure we have the knowledge necessary to properly manage and conserve them,” he says.

Catch Brad and Dan on Hawaiʻi Public Radio’s The Conversation.

*Measured from base to peak, Mauna Kea (33,500+ feet) is taller than Mt. Everest (29,029 feet).

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