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Like most Pacific islands, the plant communities of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands have been affected greatly by the activities of human beings. Guano mining or military development World War II wiped out many plant species on a number of islands, in turn threatening birds and insects who had depended upon them.
Nihoa and Necker are relatively undisturbed, with a few interesting endemic species such as Amaranthus brownii (above). Some aliens are established on Pearl and Hermes Reef and French Frigate Shoals, but they are not spreading. The original plants found on Laysan and Lisianski were devastated by rabbits. Some alien species, like ironwood, were planted intentionally on a few islands but they have not spread. Kure Atoll has predominantly alien flora.
To help preserve some of the plant communities, workers have built a nursery on Midway and are propagating native plants (above). In order to prevent the spread of unwanted weeds and other pest species, researchers take extreme care when visiting the NWHI. Scientists on the NOWRAMP cruise for instance are required to have a brand new set of clothes, shoes and even equipment bags for each island that they visit.
Photos by Monte Costa and Robert Shallenberger, Drawing adapted from Wagner (1990)
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