Nests in Your Neighborhood 28 September 2021

Nests in Your Neighborhood

NREM improves the protection and stewardship of seabirds

ʻUaʻu kani, or Wedge-tailed Shearwater, is a seabird species common in Hawaiʻi. Though historically found nesting along coastlines, human development in these areas has likely reduced the availability of nesting habitats, pushing the seabird colonies to nest in undeveloped islets. However, many coastal residents continue to observe ʻuaʻu kani nesting nearby – or on their properties – where they are unprotected and threatened by nest trampling due to human activity or construction; predation by rats, cats, mongoose, and dogs; and potentially, stress caused by proximity to human activity. Surprisingly, a new study from the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management finds no significant difference in nesting success of the Wedge-tailed Shearwater at an unprotected, popular beach park versus a site with restricted public access.

“Though nesting success at Kailua Beach Park was slightly lower than nesting success at the restricted-access site, it seems so long as their underground nests aren’t trampled and collapsed, and no major predation events occur, colonies in busy beach parks can be successful,” says Jessica Idle, a graduate student in NREM’s Hawaiʻi Wildlife Ecology Lab.

Still, their conclusions have convinced stakeholders to construct “symbolic fencing” around the seabird colony at Kailua Beach Park to encourage park-goers to avoid walking through the nesting areas.

“We thank the City and County of Honolulu, Department of Parks and Recreation, for their support and permission allowing us to install signage and symbolic fencing at the Kailua Wedge-tailed Shearwater colony,” says Jon Gelman of Hawaiʻi Marine Animal Response, which constructed the fence. “We also thank the University of Hawaiʻi, Hawaiʻi Pacific University, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Pacific Islands Coastal Program for their collaboration and support of our seabird conservation projects.”

Stephanie Araki, Honolulu City and County’s Department of Recreation, adds, “Kudos to Ms. Idle and her colleagues for their commitment to protect our precious wildlife and to teach the rest of us about our seabird ‘ohana. We are honored to have played an insignificant role in this significant study and hope that the protective fences enable the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters to survive and return to their Kailua home for many years to come.”

NREM and its partners hope to encourage Hawaiʻi residents with seabirds nesting in their neighborhoods, local parks, and back yards to consider similar temporary fencing and signage.

“Further steps that everyone can take include keeping dogs leashed near nesting colonies, minimizing noise and activity near colonies at dawn and dusk when the adult birds are coming and going from the nests, and turning off indoor and outdoor lights in November and December to protect young seabirds leaving the nest for the first time,” Jessica adds.

Read the full study, “Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna pacifica) nesting success in human-dominated coastal environments,” which appears in the latest PeerJ.

Photos courtesy of Alex Awo and Hawai‘i Marine Animal Response.

Sweetening the Potato 28 September 2021

Sweetening the Potato

PEPS will use NIFA grant to improve yield, quality, profitability for organic farmers

Weevils, nematodes, and soil-borne pathogens are the bane of sweet potato growers. Spraying with pesticides has adverse environmental impacts, yet farmers have historically been wary about whether consumers would pay a premium for organic sweet potato. With a new $740K grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, several the Dept. of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences will pursue improved yields, quality – and profitability of organic sweet potato production.

The goal is to develop an economical organic “Integrated Pest Management” (IPM) approach against the sweet potato weevil, nematodes, and soil-borne pathogens, while restoring soil health. The overall target is to present a decision-support tool and guidelines for small- to mid-size organic sweet potato farmers.

“Our multidisciplinary research and Extension team will partner with the USDA’s Pacific Basin Agricultural Research Center in Hilo and Auburn University in Alabama,” says principal investigator Koon-Hui Wang. “We’ve also received strong support from new farmer training programs, like GoFarm Hawaiʻi, and local farmers in Hawaiʻi and Alabama.”

Specifically, the team will 1) develop organic IPM strategies against sweet potato weevils, using pheromone traps, entomopathogenic nematodes and fungi through proper spray nozzles; 2) prescribe soil health management strategies compatible with small- and mid-size farms through small-farm equipment, cover crops with allelopathic effects against plant-parasitic nematodes, and fertigation; and 3) estimate the economic return of soil health management and organic IPM approaches for sweet potato farmers.

“Growers in Alabama who follow good organic IPM recommendations report reducing their crop losses by 40-50%,” Koon-Hui says. “How to produce sweet potatoes organically and profitability is valuable information, and developing specific organic IPM and soil-health management strategies for sweet potato farmers is timely, especially as Hawaiʻi is trying to increase self-sustainability and meet its food security needs.” 

Read the full grant description.

A Maize of Genomes 28 September 2021

A Maize of Genomes

NSF sponsors a TPSS effort to help plant breeders speed up adaptations

A secure and sustainable food supply in a climate that is changing quickly and becoming more unpredictable? As both the growing need and increasing difficulty hit home, so is the pressure on plant breeders to speed up the generation of new, more-resilient crops. A whopping $3.99M grant from the National Science Foundation should help. Researchers in the Dept. of Tropical Plant and Soil Sciences will use the sizable award to begin developing an efficient, robust genome engineering toolkit for plant breeders to use. Their first target will be maize, the biggest commodity crop grown in Hawaiʻi – with plenty of genetic diversity.

“We are trying to replicate some of the molecular genetic events which allowed tropical maize to become adapted to temperate latitudes,” says Mike Muszynski. “But instead of taking several thousand years of random mutation and artificial selection, we will use modern genome engineering techniques to achieve the same outcome in 3-4 years.”

The project includes Tessie Amore, Rock Du, and Amy Hubbard in collaboration with researchers at Iowa State U.

Read the UH News article.

Becky Settlage 28 September 2021

Becky Settlage

Dean’s Award for Excellence in Extension

Becky Settlage is an Associate Extension Agent in the Dept. of Family and Consumer Sciences, currently working at the Komohana Research and Extension Center in Hilo. Drawing from her work in the 4-H Junior Master Gardener Program during Covid, Becky published an outstanding Impact Statement, “Growing Great Kids in Times of Adversity.” As Becky explains, this annual program has run since 2012, but Covid stay-at-home orders forced families and schools to come up with ways to engage their kids/students while at home. This project was meant to be educational, connected with school studies, and done from safety of the home.

In Becky’s words, “Because many youths were at home a greater portion of the day due to the pandemic, they were well-positioned to manage and take better care of their plants, which resulted in more contest entries at the conclusion of the program. In 2019, there were 22 entries for our contest. In 2020, we had 76 — an increase of 245%!”

Seven state records were broken by the outstanding plants. In addition, Becky found that 50% of participants were first-time gardeners, with “highly significant positive changes” in the participants’ knowledge and ability to grow “giant” vegetables and plants.

Moving forward, responses indicate that families and schools want to see the annual seminar, monthly ‘Talk Story’ sessions, and annual tour continue.

“100% of the 2020 participants stated they ALL had fun participating and would participate again in 2021,” she said.

Read Becky’s Impact Statement, “Growing Great Kids in Times of Adversity.”


The 2021 CTAHR Dean’s Award for Excellence in Extension is based on an evaluation of Extension Impact Statements submitted by individuals or teams during 2020. Read more.

Dr. Michael Melzer 28 September 2021

Dr. Michael Melzer

2021 CTAHR Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research

The 2021 CTAHR Dean’s Award for Excellence in Research recognizes the outstanding scientific contributions of Michael Melzer, Associate Researcher in the Department of Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences (PEPS) and Principal Investigator for the UHM/CTAHR Agrosecurity Laboratory.  After completing both his MS and PhD degrees at UHM, Mike joined the PEPS faculty and quickly established a notable research and education program specializing in agrosecurity, with a focus on pest detection, survey, management, and eradication.

A highly productive researcher who is also recognized for his excellent teaching, extension, and interpersonal skills, Mike was awarded tenure in PEPS in 2019.

In just three years (2018-2020), Mike authored or co-authored 27 refereed journal articles and, as Principal Investigator, garnered 27 contract and grant awards worth $7.3 million.

Mike’s dedication to safeguarding agriculture in Hawaiʻi is evident in his exceptional program on agrosecurity, which is providing the scientific understanding needed to more effectively detect and control emerging and invasive pathogens in our Islands. His research is also proving beneficial to scientists, farmers, regulators, and other stakeholders around the world.


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