FIELD COURSE: ISLAND BIOLOGY
IN THE HAWAIIAN ARCHIPELAGO

PBIO 369G, PBIO 693

Summer Session (1-23 August), 2001

Join us in Hawaii by following the daily Webcast, starting 13 August, sponsored by OU's Office of Research Communications!

The Hawaiian Island archipelago is the remotest island system in the world, lying over 3500 km or 1200 miles distant from the nearest continent. Its flora of nearly 1000 native angiosperm and ca. 180 pteridophyte species represents an unparalleled 86% endemism in angiosperms and ca. 70% in pteridophytes. Given the remote position of the islands, 291 initial successful colonizations for vascular plants and 115 for pteridophytes have been hypothesized by long-distance dispersal from other Pacific Islands and continental regions around the world. Well-established geologic dates pinpoint the time of origin of islands that formed "conveyor-belt" fashion and permit researchers to couple island age with dispersal events to the islands, and clarify speciation events and inter-island dispersal events. The recent application of molecular systematic methodologies (DNA data) to studies of Hawaiian plant and animal groups and potential continental relatives have demonstrated a common biogeographic pattern with the oldest and most diverse lineages on the oldest island of Kauai (5.2 million years old) and increasingly less diverse sublineages on the younger islands to the east. These molecular systematic investigations have also revolutionized our ability to interpret relationships among staggeringly divergent species in some diverse Hawaiian groups, and to identify the nearest continental relatives.

Oceanic island settings mold the evolution of initial plant colonists into a variety of recognizable island "syndromes" in plants and animals, such as treelike habit in former herbs, loss of previous seed dispersal mechanisms. Close relatives on the same islands that eventually inhabit different communities, microsites or life zones commonly evolve remarkably different morphologies, while more distant relatives in similar habitats on different islands take on nearly identical ones ("convergence"), making the interpretation of actual evolutionary relationships by gross morphology impossible in many instances. In addition, most oceanic island species are, by nature, typically limited in range and rare in distribution where they have evolved, and in the course of human history have been driven to the brink of extinction or beyond it through heavy fragmentation of their natural habitats, degradation of microhabitats by exotic plants and animals, and secondarily by reduction of plant populations and consequent genetic erosion. Oceanic islands such as the Hawaiian archipelago are lush laboratories of living evolutionary endproducts, often fantastically beautiful and at other times utterly bizarre, and usually irreconcilable considering a particular group's hypothesized continental ancestors. Oceanic islands thus provide one of the world's most exciting areas of scientific exploration into plant diversity, evolution and conservation. Since relatively little empirical scientific research has yet been published into the processes underlying plant speciation, studies on island plants can provide new insights into diversification of plant life on earth.

Dr. Morgan Vis has conducted studies on the species diversity and biogeography of the Hawaiian freshwater algae, and Dr. Harvey Ballard has pursued research with colleagues into the biogeographic origins and adaptive radiation of the Hawaiian violets. A broadly designed, ecological theme course of "Island Biology" will be taught for the first time in the Hawaiian Islands. In addition to exposing students to the ecology and evolution of oceanic island plant life, geologic history and human cultures now inhabiting the islands, field research will focus on species diversity and eventual genetic studies of freshwater stream algae as well as taxonomic distinctions and evolution of particular Hawaiian violet groups.

The Islands: The oldest island (5.1 million years old), Kauai, is lushly blanketed with vegetation and is more lower in elevation than nearby Oahu to the east and the newest "Big Island" of Hawaii at the east end of the archipelago, owing to longer periods of erosion following its volcanic birth. Nevertheless, erosion on Kauai has left spectacular knife-edged ridges radiating down from the central highlands, making Kauai perhaps the most visually striking of all the islands. Numerous valleys are interspersed between the ridges and provide many plants and animals with unusual microsites, resulting in increased rates of evolution and lots of endemic species in each particular valley, and each with their lovely and biotically diverse streams and waterfalls. Kauai has its famous Waimea Canyon ("the Grand Canyon of the Pacific"), the result of a fault along one of the ridges, and the road heading up to the central and extensive Alakai Swamp and Kokee State Park at the top of the island travels along the bottom of this amazing geologic wonder.  Near the summit of the island is a vast perched plateau with open bogs and fragments of swamp forest. The "Global Studies" course participants will spend the majority of a week sampling algae and water chemistry of streams around Kaui, as well as the bog and swamp vegetation and soil chemistry supporting several unique violets in the Alakai Swamp and mid-slope bogs just above the village of Waimea. We will stay in cabins in Kokee State Park, right in the rich forest bordering the Alakai.

Oahu, the second oldest island (3.5 million years old), is also strongly vegetated but harbors areas of sparsely clothed, windswept cliffs in the northwest portion. Oahu consists of two separate islands with their own mountain ranges which eventually merged into one larger island. We will land in Honolulu, on this island, and will make this our first week-long study site. We will be sampling streams and violet populations on both mountain ranges, and noting both species differences in the terrestrial vegetation and aquatic habitats, and ecological changes from Kauai, during the second week when we travel to the latter island to continue our studies.

A collection of smaller, lower-elevation islands in the center of the archipelago, called the "Maui-Nui" complex (1.9-1.2 million years old altogether), is made up of Molokai on the northwest end, Maui on the northeast end and Lanai to the south. These islands are mostly composed of lowland and mid-elevation forest, with the barren and fantastically beautiful Haleakala Volcano jutting abruptly out of the eastern end of Maui.

The "Big Island" of Hawaii at the easternmost end of the archipelago is a mere baby, grown up out of the ocean only about 800,000 years ago. The landscape is only weakly eroded, and much of the central highlands consist of recently formed and actively vegetating lava flows, and awesomely eery "barren" volcanic craters such as Mauna Loa with evolving endemic plants "in transition". We will visit this island after our week on Kauai, staying in cabins in two areas of the highland volcano region.

During the field course, we will spend approximately one week each on Oahu, Kauai and Hawaii, in that order.

Purpose of the Course: To teach students about the vegetational ecology, flora, evolutionary processes and adaptations of plants, and human-environment interactions on oceanic islands, exploring aspects covered in the Spring quarter introductory seminar. Field studies will cover both terrestrial and aquatic systems. Stress will be placed on identification of common genera and families of flowering plants and algae, observations of vegetation structure, characteristic life forms and recurrent adaptations, climatic and ecological influences maintaining aquatic systems and vegetation; passive notice will also be made regarding agricultural practices, economically useful plants, human impacts and regional conservation efforts.

Format: This intensive field course spans three weeks (1-23 August, 2001) of the Summer II session. We will fly into Oahu and spend a week on that island, then fly to Kauai, the oldest island, and spend another week there, and finally fly to the "Big Island" (Hawaii) and finish our course, before heading back to Honolulu and then Columbus. The class will use one or two state park or inexpensive hostel/hotel accommodations on each island as "base camps" for several days of extended hikes into nearby natural communities and surrounding lands. At each study area, day hikes will stress observations on community structure, life forms, evolutionary adaptations to the oceanic environment, identification of major plant genera and families, uses of economically important crops and agricultural practices, human impacts, and conservation efforts. Representative plants will be brought back to our lodgings for evening study. Suppertime discussions will review each day's observations and events. Communal evening study sessions will focus on reviews of plant identifications and distinctions, and illustration of characteristic plants. Time will also be included for students to record significant field observations and personal reflections in their daily journal.

During the course, students will also participate in faculty-directed terrestrial and aquatic plant research projects on which they will be briefed fully during the Spring quarter. Students will utilize field identification skills, will prepare representative plant specimens as vouchers, will apply standard ecological sampling techniques for vegetation, record soil and/or water chemistry data, preserve plant tissue of populations and species for laboratory molecular genetic analysis, read maps, and use a Global Positioning System to obtain latitude, longitude and elevation. Various Hawaiian botanists will accompany us during different portions of the field course, assisting with field studies and giving guest lectures on special topics.

While the learning component of the course and three field exams will be administered in the Hawaiian Islands during the Summer II session, students will complete the remaining activities during Fall quarter, including turning in their daily journal, filling out course evaluations, participating in debriefing sessions, and helping to expand the "Global Studies" web site with text and images.

Enrollment/Credits: 10 (possibly up to 12) undergraduate students and up to 3 graduate students; 6 credit hours, conducted in Summer II session.

Eligibility: Open to all undergrad natural sciences majors meeting the prerequisites, and PBIO/BIOS/MSES grad students; eligibility must be approved early in the Winter quarter by the instructors.

Prerequisites: PBIO 111, PBIO 405/693 (Island Biology Spring quarter seminar), additional mandatory briefing sessions concurrent with the seminar, at least sophomore standing in Spring, and instructor permission through an interview; Plant Systematics (PBIO 309/509) or Plant Ecology (PBIO 425/525) are strongly recommended

Evaluations of Student Progress:

Field Course Itinerary and Content:

For contact information, costs, sleeping accommodations and key events, go to the Excel spreadsheet "Lodging Info".

Day/Date

Location/Lodging

Activity/Focus

Summer Session II (1-23 August)  
1 (8/1) Fly to Honolulu on Oahu; lodging (8/1-4) at Polynesian Beach Club Hostel, Waikiki Walk around Waikiki; luau!
2 (8/2) Day trip in Koolau Mtn Range in SE Oahu Bishop Museum tour, meet biologists; field studies: mid- and high-elevation forests, streams
3 (8/3) Day trip in Koolau Mtn Range in SE Oahu Field studies: mid- and high-elevation forests, streams; evening lecture by Dr. Hampton Carson
4 (8/4) Day trip in Koolau Mtn Range in SE Oahu Field studies: mid- and high-elevation forests, streams
5-7

(8/5-7)

Drive to Kapolei; lodging (8/5-7) at Camp Timberline, Kapolei; day trips throughout Waianae Mtn Range in W Oahu; Field studies: mid- and high-elevation forests, streams; EXAM: Dry and mesic forest communities
8 (8/8) Fly to Lihue on Kauai; lodging (8/8) at Kauai Int'l Youth Hostel DAY OFF
9 (8/9) Day trip to Hanalei in N Kauai; lodging (8/9-11) at Kapaa Beach House, Kapaa National Tropical Botanical Garden tour, meet biologists; field studies: shoreline communities
10-11

(8/10-11)

Day trips in E & S Kauai Field studies: lowland wet forest, shoreline communities; Wahiawa Bog
12 (8/12) Drive to Koloa; lodging (8/12) at Kahili Mountain Park, Koloa; day trip in C Kauai Field studies: mid-elevation forest communities, streams
13-15 (8/13-15) Drive to Alakai Swamp; lodging (8/13-15) at Kokee Museum CCC Camp; day trips throughout Alakai Swamp in W-C Kauai Field studies: high-elevation forests, swamps and bogs, streams; Kokee Museum tour; EXAM: Swamp and bog communities
16 (8/16) Drive to Kapaa; lodging (8/16) at Kapaa Beach House, Kapaa DAY OFF
17 (8/17) Fly to Hilo on Hawaii; drive to Hawi; lodging (8/17-20) at Kohala Guest House, Hawi Lava Tree State Park visit; drive S of Mauna Kea
18-19

(8/18-20)

Day trips throughout Kohala Mtn Range of NW Hawaii Field studies: Mesic mid-elevation and lowland wet forest
20 (8/20) Mauna Kea Volcano of N Hawaii Field studies: lava and alpine communities
21 (8/21) Drive to Hilo; lodging (8/21-22) at Arnott's Lodge, Hilo EXAM: Algae and stream communities; Rainbow Falls hike
21-22 (8/21-22) Hilo/Mauna Loa region Lyman House Memorial Museum tour; afternoon/evening volcano hike
23

(8/23)

Flight to Columbus Student journals and evaluations turned in; grades filed before quarter ends
Fall 2001  
Weeks 1-5 Faculty homes/PBIO Dept. Review of course format, content and highlights; slide shows and discussion of trip highlights; construction of student web pages

Texts and Other Resources:

Expenses for the Field Course:

Tuition, 6 undergraduate credit hours, or part of comprehensive fee if full-time student in Summer. Students can take other courses in Summer I to obtain full-time status. Financial aid can be applied to field course expenses and tuition, with advance planning. A $300 deposit is due to the Summer Sessions Office during 10th week. The remainder for airfare and lodging will be billed by the Summer Sessions office near the end of Spring quarter.

Domestic expenses ($97)

"Worst case" travel expenses ($2090 plus spending)

Prepared by Harvey Ballard; last revised 26 July, 2001

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