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Autochthonous Hawai'i

Hawai'i mamo and 'ōhā wai original

Hawai'i mamo and 'ōhā wai original

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Original 9"x12" illustration.

This piece was displayed at the 2022 Hawai'i Nei Art Exhibition.

The “extinction capitol of the world” is such a heavy title.

Mamo are in the same genus as ‘i’iwi. Knowing how extensive the vocal repertoire of ‘i’iwi is, I wonder what songs the forest lost with the extinction of the mamo. The last confirmed sighting of these birds was in 1898. Mosquitoes were introduced to Hawai’i in 1826. Some speculate that it wasn’t until the 1920s that avian malaria spread to epizootic proportions on Hawai’i; it may be that the mamo was a bird of primarily low- to mid-elevation forest, and so could have suffered the brunt of avian malaria as it started its spread throughout the island. Additional factors, such as habitat loss from cattle ranching, introduced mammal predators, and declines in food plants likely had a cumulative role in this extinction.

Mamo were known to inhabit forests just above Hilo. I can’t imagine what it would be like to see honeycreepers just outside of town.

Clermontia peleana is a critically endangered ‘ōhā wai. There are two subspecies that occupy different ranges, with ssp. peleana depicted here. The other, ssp. singuliflora, was rediscovered in the Kohala mountains after it was thought to be extinct. ‘Ōhā wai were important food sources for honeycreepers like the mamo. Many species have declined or have gone extinct. The Hawaiian Lobelioids, the group that Clermontia belong to, are the largest botanical radiation of any island plants in the world. Mamo may be gone, but what’s left of their evolutionary counterparts, the lobelioids, still have hope for a future. Conservation of these plants protects not only their own unique evolutionary history, but also serve as a reminder of the now-gone birds that evolved alongside them.

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