New Research From UH Manoa and USGS Says Climate Change May Doom Haleakala Silversword

Just when you thought all we had to worry about concerning climate change was higher temperatures, sea level rise, sustained droughts, stronger storms, shrinking ice caps and disease pandemics, the United States Geological Survey and UH Manoa is now telling us that new research shows that changing planetary weather patterns brought on by industrialization may doom the rare and beautiful Haleakala silversword (as well as probably lots of other species, but still).

“The silversword is an amazing story of selective biological adaptation of this distant cousin of the daisy to the high winds and sometimes freezing temperatures on the high slopes and thin soils of Haleakala volcano,” said USGS Director Marcia McNutt in a Jan. 15 press release. “Despite the successful efforts of the National Park Service to protect this very special plant from local disturbance from humans and introduced species, we now fear that these actions alone may be insufficient to secure this plant’s future. No part of our planet is immune from the impacts of climate change.”

Found only on the slopes of Haleakala, the silversword can grow anywhere from 20 to 90 years, then reproduces at the end of its life with what scientists call an “inflorescence”–a nearly six-foot tower that may contain 600 flowers. Threatened a century ago from animals and humans, the plant made a recovery in the 20th century through careful management and care. But then in the 1990s, the scientists say, decline set in.

“A strong association of annual population growth rates with patterns of precipitation suggests the plants are undergoing increasingly frequent and lethal water stress,” says the press release. “Local climate data confirms trends towards warmer and drier conditions on the mountain, which the researchers warn will create a bleak outlook for the threatened silverswords if climate trends continue.”

If the climate trends continue. Think we can all bank on that, can’t we?

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