Matthias gazes out of the window on the way up Ka'ala, Oahu's highest peak.

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Matthias gazes out of the window on the way up Ka'ala, Oahu's highest peak.

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Many Hawaiian plants have always depended on indigenous birds to disperse their seeds. However, just as many of these indigenous dispersers are themselves extinct or endangered, largely due to the introduction of invasive bird and mammal species.


Rapid culling of entrenched, invasive species, however, could lead to unforeseen ecological instability. Researchers like Noah Hunt and Matthias Sirch of the Hawaii VINE project are trying to figure out how well invasive species are filling the niches of indigenous seed dispersers in the first place. The field work involved is slow and painstaking and researchers don't anticipate that there will be enough data to act upon for years.


Oahu, Hawaii

May 2016

At the summit of Ka'ala.

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At the summit of Ka'ala.

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Noah looks for a suitable mist-netting location on Mount Tantalus, one of several extinct cinder cones in the southern Ko'olau range.

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Noah looks for a suitable mist-netting location on Mount Tantalus, one of several extinct cinder cones in the southern Ko'olau range.

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Noah sets up a mist net on Ka'ala. The nearly-invisible mesh, when strung between two poles, resembles a volleyball net, and allows researchers to capture birds live and unharmed.

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Noah sets up a mist net on Ka'ala. The nearly-invisible mesh, when strung between two poles, resembles a volleyball net, and allows researchers to capture birds live and unharmed.

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A male Red-billed leiothrix caught in a mist net.

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A male Red-billed leiothrix caught in a mist net.

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Noah collecting a seed rain trap on Ka'ala. The traps, which are nothing more than small buckets with cloth bottoms that "trap" falling seeds, are spread in pre-determined patterns around field sites. Over time, they allow Noah's team to calculate the rate at which the seeds of invasive and native plant species alike are dispersed around the island—by wind, by birds, by rodents, by humans, etc.

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Noah collecting a seed rain trap on Ka'ala. The traps, which are nothing more than small buckets with cloth bottoms that "trap" falling seeds, are spread in pre-determined patterns around field sites. Over time, they allow Noah's team to calculate the rate at which the seeds of invasive and native plant species alike are dispersed around the island—by wind, by birds, by rodents, by humans, etc.

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Matthias extricates a bird from the mist net.

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Matthias extricates a bird from the mist net.

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Noah takes measurements of a male Red-billed leiothrix. Later on, he will also attach a harmless band to the bird's leg as a means of identifying this particular specimen.

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Noah takes measurements of a male Red-billed leiothrix. Later on, he will also attach a harmless band to the bird's leg as a means of identifying this particular specimen.

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Noah checks the wing of a male Red-billed leiothrix for parasites.

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Noah checks the wing of a male Red-billed leiothrix for parasites.

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Matthias and Noah record birdsong in the field.

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Matthias and Noah record birdsong in the field.

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Noah switching out a seed-rain trap.

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Noah switching out a seed-rain trap.

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Noah attempts to untangle a mist net in rainy conditions.

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Noah attempts to untangle a mist net in rainy conditions.

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Researchers work quickly so as to avoid stressing birds unnecessarily. But after being caught, examined, and tagged, many are exhausted. This one needed to relieve itself and rest for a few moments before flying off.

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Researchers work quickly so as to avoid stressing birds unnecessarily. But after being caught, examined, and tagged, many are exhausted. This one needed to relieve itself and rest for a few moments before flying off.

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