Background and Context

This is the assembly of life that took a billion years to evolve. It has eaten the storms – folded them into its genes – and created the world that created us. It holds the world steady ” —EO Wilson, 1992

The Importance of Biodiversity in Hawaiʻi

Some general concepts from include:

1. Wildlife support healthy ecosystems that we rely on.

2. Biodiversity is an essential part of the solution to climate change.

3. Biodiversity is good for the economy.

4. Biodiversity is an integral part of culture and identity.

A more detailed summary of biodiversity importance includes:

  • Ecological life support—biodiversity provides functioning ecosystems that supply oxygen, clean air and water, pollination of plants, pest control, wastewater treatment and other ecosystem services.
  • Recreation—many recreational pursuits and tourism rely on unique biodiversity, such as birdwatching and hiking.
  • Cultural—culture is closely connected to biodiversity through identity, spirituality and aesthetic appreciation. Hawaiians have strong connections to biodiversity arising from spiritual beliefs about animals and plants.
  • Scientific—biodiversity contains a wealth of systematic ecological data that help us to understand the natural world and its origins.
  • Economic—biodiversity provides or has the potential to provide humans with raw materials and genetic resources.

The IUCN (2016) defined key criteria to consider for the importance of biodiversity and biodiversity areas:  A Global Standard for the Identification of Key Biodiversity Areas ( The factors they established are:

  • Threatened biodiversity (species and ecosystems)
  • Geographically restricted biodiversity (obviously very important in Hawaiʻi)
  • Ecological integrity (intactness)
  • Biological aggregations, refugia, or sources of recruitment
  • Irreplaceability

The Hawaiian island chain stretches for about 1,000 miles with islands formed and eroded as the tectonic plate they are on moves over the hotspot of upwelling magma.

NOAA image

Some Important Hawaiʻi Biodiversity and Conservation Organizations

The Bishop Museum. The museum holds a vast collection of Hawaiʻi’s biodiversity from historical times to the present. They are also a home of the Hawaiʻi Biological Survey: In 1992, the Hawai‘i State Legislature designated the Bishop Museum as the Hawaiʻi Biological Survey (HBS). It was created to locate, identify, and evaluate all native and non-native fauna and flora within the state (natural history inventory), and to maintain the reference collections of that biota for a wide range of uses and is ongoing. See below (General Biodiversity Resources) for links to different areas of research/reports at the Bishop museum.

The Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance:; The Hawaiʻi Conservation Alliance is a partnership of organizations and agencies working together to provide unified leadership, advocacy, and collaborative action to conserve and restore native ecosystems and the unique biodiversity of our islands. It includes:

  • Bishop Museum
  • Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR), Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) and Division of Aquatic Resources (DAR)
  • Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)
  • US Geological Service (USGS)
  • University of Hawaiʻi (UH)
  • National Park Service (NPS)
  • Plant Extinction Prevention Program (PEPP)
  • Nature Conservancy
  • US Army Environmental
  • International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
  • Coordinating Group on Alien Pest Species (CGAPS)

General Biodiversity Resources

Basic information on the natural history of Hawaiʻi can be found on the websites below.

The Hawaiʻi Biological Survey is an important record of publications for studies of the Hawaiian species and natural history. Links to information from the Bishop Museum Hawaiʻi Biological Survey (HBS):

The index of HBS records (through 2014) with link above states “At latest count we have a total of 26,608 species occurring in the State”. It includes both indigenous and non-indigenous species.

Although the Hawaiʻi Ecosystems at Risk (HEAR) program is no longer active the website does have good information on many species:

Atlas of Hawaiʻi (1998):

A now-defunct site in the web archive that has lots of information:

Here is a list of general category links:ʻi.

An open-access, digital institutional repository for the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa that stores the intellectual works and unique collections of the UH at Manoa academic community is here: