Students present their research at UH Hilo’s 14th Annual Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Symposium

This year’s symposium theme was “Hoʻomau: Sustaining Communities and Ecosystems in our Changing Climate.” Five students won awards for their outstanding presentations.

Emma is at the podium, on the PowerPoint screen are images of native birds.
Emma Stierhoff won the award for best ten-minute presentation by a graduate student with her paper, “Assessing the long-term impacts of chronic infection with avian malaria in Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi.” (Courtesy photo: TCBES/UH Hilo)

By Susan Enright.

Group of six women stand for photo.
Members of the Kaiameaola Club (from left) Naiʻa Odachi, Anna Ezzy, Josephine Tupu, Brianna Ninomoto, Sibley Barnette, and Pelika Andrade. The group of graduate students organized the 14th Annual Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Symposium held April 11-12, 2014, Campus Center. (Courtesy photo: TCBES/UH Hilo)

University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo hosted the 14th Annual Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Symposium, April 11-12, 2024, at the Campus Center.

The event is organized each year by the Kaiameaola Club, which is made up of graduate students in the program.

This years theme was “Hoʻomau: Sustaining Communities and Ecosystems in our Changing Climate,” focusing on the changes occurring to ecosystems, endemic species, and Indigenous communities as anthropogenic climate change continues to exacerbate social and environmental concerns.

In light of the wild fire tragedy that recently occurred on Maui, student organizers emphasized the importance of building up community and ecological resilience.

Drew Kapp pictured in backwards cap.
Drew Kapp
Pelika Andrade pictured in head lei.
Pelika Andrade

Keynote speakers were Pelika Andrade, founder and executive director of Na Maka Onaona, a Hawaiʻi-based nonprofit, and an extension agent for the UH Sea Grant College Program, and Drew Kapp, assistant professor in geography at Hawaiʻi Community College who is active in supporting Native Hawaiian students in the sciences and is a member of the Unukupukupu hula hālau (dance group).

Award winners from this year’s symposium:

Graduate Student, 10-Minute Presentation

Emma Stierhoff, “Assessing the long-term impacts of chronic infection with avian malaria in Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi.”


A small yellow bird singing in a tree.
Two ʻamakihi, a common honeycreeper, singing in the forest on Hawaiʻi Island. (Mark Kimura)

The introduction of avian malaria (Plasmodium relictum) to Hawaiʻi has decimated native forest bird populations, driving many species to extinction, and threatening those that remain. However, the Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi, a native honeycreeper, has shown resilience against acute infection with avian malaria. Hawaiʻi ʻmakihi who survive the acute stage remain chronically infected with low parasitemia levels. Although immediate costs of acute malarial infection have been closely studied, the costs of chronic infection are poorly understood in this species. We assessed the impact of chronic infection on physiological condition of Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi near ʻᾹinahou Ranch in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park. During biweekly banding sessions from May 2022 to August 2023, Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi were banded, measured, and weighed, and a blood sample was collected for each bird. Blood samples were used to measure hematocrit, triglycerides, and reactive oxygen metabolites (ROMs) and to determine disease status using qPCR. There were no detectable differences in size, hematocrit, triglycerides, or ROMs based on disease status. These results further demonstrate the resilience Hawaiʻi ʻamakihi have against avian malaria and set the foundation for future research studying the factors facilitating this resilience and how that might be applied to protect more threatened honeycreeper populations.

Graduate Student, 5-Minute Presentation

Lauren Smith, “Using bioacoustics to assess the success of incompatible insect technique.”

Lauren at the podium with PowerPoint screen showing image of helicopter flying over remote island setting.
Lauren Smith delivers her presentation at UH Hilo’s 14th Annual Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Science Symposium held April 11-12, 2014. (Courtesy photo: TCBES/UH Hilo, click to enlarge)


In Hawaiʻi, more than two-thirds of native forest bird species have gone extinct since the arrival of humans, largely driven by introduced avian diseases vectored by non-native southern house mosquitoes (Culex quinquefasciatus). On the island of Maui, the critically endangered kiwikiu (Pseudonestor xanthrophrys) and ʻākohekohe (Palmeria dolei) are likely facing extinction in as few as five years. To prevent extinctions and persistent declines in numerous species, conservation partners are employing the Incompatible Insect Technique (IIT) on a landscape scale to suppress mosquito populations and, in turn, decrease disease transmission. To monitor the response of the bird populations to IIT, we are deploying 80 autonomous recording units (ARUs) along transects inside and outside IIT treatment areas in The Nature Conservancy’s Waikamoi Preserve and Haleakalā National Park’s Kīpahulu Valley. We are processing these acoustic data using the machine learning classifier Perch, a new analytical method co-developed by the UH Hilo Listening Observatory for Hawaiian Ecosystems (LOHE) lab and Google Research. Perch identifies bird calls and calculates call densities, from which we estimated relative abundance and occupancy for six native species. We are also using begging call densities to estimate breeding success of each species. By comparing these data across breeding seasons, we expect to detect any changes in relative abundance, occupancy, productivity, and elevational shifts in range that may result from the suppression of mosquitoes and disease.

Undergraduate Student, 10-Minute Presentation

Manuela Cortes, “Exploring the impact of micro-fragmentation size on coral growth rates.”


Aerial of the center with Hilo Bay and breakwater in background.
An aerial view of the UH Hilo Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resources Center at Hilo Bay. (File photo)

Coral microfragmentation is commonly used to propagate corals in nurseries. The process involves breaking small pieces off of a parent colony and encouraging them to grow into independent colonies. This method has been shown to increase the rate of coral growth, potentially due to the difference in fragment size which affects the surface area available for the generation of new daughter polyps. I will be analyzing the relationship between coral fragment size and growth rate at the MOP Coral Nursery at the Pacific Aquaculture and Coastal Resource Center. My goal is to determine if there is an optimal size of coral fragment associated with higher growth and survivorship rates.

Undergraduate Student, 5-Minute Presentation

Krista Golgotiu, “Uniting Indigenous knowledge and scientific inquiry: A
cultural approach to understanding the Hawaiian environment through the use of ʻŌlelo Noʻeau.”


Cover of book, ʻŌlelo Noʻeau is by Mary Kawena Pukui..
The seminal book on ʻŌlelo Noʻeau is by Mary Kawena Pukui (Bishop Museum Press).

This research proposal aims to bridge indigenous knowledge from the Hawaiian people focusing on ʻŌlelo Noʻeau (traditional Hawaiian proverbs and sayings), with scientific methods to prove the observations of ancient Hawaiians and enhance conservation efforts in modern-day Hawaiʻi. Using a collaborative approach involving members of the community, cultural practitioners, and scientists alike, this project aims to identify and validate specific ʻŌlelo Noʻeau that reference the ocean, animals, plants, and weather patterns. By first identifying these specific ʻŌlelo Noʻeau, through the use of Hawaiian community engagement the accuracy of the interpretation and understanding of these traditional sayings will be ensured. After choosing the specific ʻŌlelo Noʻeau, selecting key areas around Hawaiʻi to conduct field studies is essential. Field studies will be conducted in the areas associated with the specific sayings, through observation and data collection. The use of any past recorded data in regards to weather, ocean, or plant and animal growth patterns will also be utilized. With the inclusion of the Hawaiian community through participation in field studies, traditional knowledge and new information regarding these patterns will be combined with any observations and data collected in the field. Then by utilizing statistical methods and ecological modeling an assessment on the alignment between what is observed and the knowledge embedded in the ʻŌlelo Noʻeau can be made. This process will aim to confirm the ecological accuracy of traditional wisdom passed down. Proving ʻŌlelo Noʻeau can provide insights on sustainable resource management for local communities, and inform modern practices on how to use limited natural resources more sustainably by tracking natural indicators. Scientifically affirming ʻŌlelo Noʻeau through this project, from the research and data collected, will validate the scientific relevance of traditional knowledge and the important need to include indigenous communities in science.

Poster Presentation

Amy Durham, “He ‘Io Au: A community project about ʻIo (the Hawks on your block).


Hawk up in tree.
Hawaiian Hawk or ʻIo, Buteo solitarius. (Wikipedia)

Do you have a hawk on your block? ʻIo is our Hawaiʻi island’s endemic hawk. Their story is linked to many aspects of our cultural and natural legacies. Since they are present in many of our daily lives, they are an ideal conduit for connecting to our native species – which is especially important in altered landscapes devoid of such interactions. Community-led conservation projects are invaluable resources for learning about and managing data-deficient species. Despite ʻio’s importance, minimal research has been conducted on their utilization of our urban and agricultural neighborhoods. We want to change that by collaborating with you! Our group of ʻio enthusiasts aims to spotlight ʻio by introducing the upcoming “He ʻIo Au” community platform. Our objective is to keep all eyes on ʻio by (1) Utilizing the volunteer He ʻIo Au platform to gather data on ʻio’s behavior in our neighborhoods, including details on population size, diet preferences, and breeding behavior (2) Highlighting the significance of ‘io by sharing our ʻio stories through interviews and an online blog and (3) Engaging in community outreach to educate about ‘io, raise awareness regarding intentional harm, and actively seek to share knowledge and collaborate on solutions.

Story by Susan Enright, a public information specialist for the Office of the Chancellor and editor of UH Hilo Stories. She received her bachelor of arts in English and certificate in women’s studies from UH Hilo.

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