Rainforest on Kauai

Terrestrial Ecosystems

Changing conditions challenge native flora and fauna on Pacific Islands. Species' abilities to adapt can determine if they will thrive or struggle in the future.

Projected climate changes will significantly alter the distribution and abundance of many native marine, terrestrial, and freshwater species in the Pacific Islands. On low islands, native vegetation and the fauna it supports may change as periodic flooding increases the salinity of groundwater. On high islands, existing climate zones are generally projected to shift upslope in response to climate change.

Dense plant life covering mountains above a coastal city

Dense plant life covers the Ko‘olau Mountains on the windward (eastern) side of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i.  Ecosystems of Hawai‘i are some of the most biologically diverse areas in the United States.

The ability of native species to adapt to shifting habitats will depend on the status of populations of pollinators and seed dispersers, and may be hampered by ecosystem discontinuities. Invasive plant species may gain a competitive edge over native species, as they disproportionately benefit from increased carbon dioxide, disturbances from extreme weather and climate events, and an ability to invade higher elevation habitats as climate warms.

On high islands like Hawai‘i, decreases in precipitation and baseflow are already impacting some freshwater ecosystems and aquatic species. Many Pacific Island freshwater fishes and invertebrates have oceanic larval stages in which they seasonally return to high-island streams to aid reproduction. Changes in streamflow and oceanic conditions that affect larval growth and survival will alter the ability of these species to maintain viable stream populations.

Banner Image Credit
Kauai Rainforest Hike. William English, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/, via Flickr
Last modified
22 November 2016 - 12:52pm