The fungus behind Rapid Ohia Death is spreading on Kauai

The battle against the disease continues.

The fungus behind Rapid Ohia Death is spreading on Kauai
Fungus causing Rapid Ohia Death is apparently spreading on Kauai. (Source: Department of Land and Natural Resources)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The more aggressive form of Rapid Ohia Death has been discovered on Kauai.

The Department of Land and Natural Resources says the fungus was found in three trees in a Hawaiian Homelands parcel behind Kalalea Mountain on the island’s east side.

Officials made the discovery during recent botanical surveys across the Garden Isle.

“This is obviously news we didn’t want to hear,” Sheri S. Mann, Kauai District Manager for the DLNR Division of Forestry and Wildlife said. “But within a day of learning the news, we scheduled a helicopter to conduct more digital mobile sketch mapping to identify any additional symptomatic trees."

“We followed that with pinpoint drone surveys conducted by the UH Hilo Department of Geography SDAV Lab and more tree sampling to try and determine the severity and distribution of the outbreak. It’s been a busy week,” Mann added.

The impacted area was highly visible, marked by brown trees in a forest of green.

Until now, scientists only confirmed the less-virulent strain of the fungus that causes Rapid Ohia Death on Kauai.

The difference between the two pathogens is how they move through the tree and how quickly they kill the plant, the DLNR said.

“The pathogen enters the tree through a wound; be it a broken limb, twig or, perhaps, a scuffed up exposed root. Whereas C. huliohia may take months to years to kill an ohia tree, C. lukuohia can kill a tree within weeks,” said James B. Friday, the extension forester with the University of Hawaii.

Scientists don’t know how or when it got to Kauai, or whether it was a result of human activity or natural causes.

“Our priority is to save ohia. It has a critical role in the ecosystem’s function,” said Tiffani Keanini, project manager of Kauai Invasive Species Committee (KISC). “We are currently determining the best method to contain the spread and prevent ROD from entering pristine watershed areas. At this point, we are treating the recent outbreak with rapid response actions. As we learn more about the distribution and density of the affected area, we will likely adapt our management strategy efforts.”

The transportation of ohia materials between islands is prohibited.

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