Wēkiu Bug Research Atop Maunakea

Jessica Kirkpatrick’s research examines wēkiu bug habitat restoration possibly needed after decommissioning of three observatories on Maunakea.

Jessica and Jesse

Jessica Kirkpatrick, a graduate student with the tropical conservation biology and environmental science program at the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo, is conducting research on the native wēkiu bug found only on the summit cinder cones of Maunakea.

Kirkpatrick’s research, under the tutelage of Jesse Eiben, an assistant professor of applied entomology at UH Hilo, involves understanding wēkiu bug habitat in order to provide information for possible habitat restoration following the scheduled decommissioning and removal of three observatories on Maunakea.

Kirkpatrick is studying the requirements needed for wēkiu bug habitat such as the mineral composition, temperature and slope of cinder cones, and is correlating those requirements with wēkiu bug dispersion patterns to find habitat that is most closely associated with stable, high density wēkiu bug populations.

This information can be used to recreate habitat that is most favorable for the bugs and can help estimate population densities.

“You can use that same kind of data to then measure the success of restored populations,” explains Kirkpatrick. “This study is kind of like a baseline of wēkiu bug habitat before restoration activities.”

The budding entomologist also is making recommendations to the Office of Maunakea Management regarding the best methods for monitoring wēkiu bugs.

Applied learning at UH Hilo

Kirkpatrick graduated three years ago from UH Hilo with a bachelor of science in environmental science and credits the applied learning experiences she had as an undergraduate with preparing her for the current research she’s doing.

“As an undergraduate I really enjoyed the classes and a lot of my friends were in the graduate program,” she says. “I always told myself that this (graduate program) is where I am going to end up.”

Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science

Jessica Kirkpatrick during her internship
Jessica Kirkpatrick

While in the UH Hilo undergraduate program, Kirkpatrick was able to intern with the Pacific Internship Programs for Exploring Science (PIPES) and worked with the Hawksbill Turtle Recovery Program at Volcanoes National Park.

“It was the best summer of my life,” she recalls. “We got to hike down to all the cool beaches and monitor for turtles. It would be all night long, but it was a good experience. I have really good friends and really good connections from that internship.”

After graduating with her bachelor of science degree, she again joined PIPES and worked with Prof. Eiben. It was here that she got her first introduction to entomology, examining arthropod biodiversity on Maunakea alongside an expert in the field.

Office of Maunakea Management

Kirkpatrick interned with Eiben and the Office of Maunakea Management at the same time. Upon completion of her internship, the office hired her to be a resource management assistant. Kirkpatrick stayed in that position for three years and helped write the Maunakea Invasive Species Management Plan.

These experiences helped peak her interest in the wēkiu bug and encouraged her decision to enter into the UH Hilo tropical conservation biology and environmental science graduate program.

Teaching and Research Arthropod Collection

Kirkpatrick attributes much of her interest in the wēkiu bug to the enthusiasm that Prof. Eiben shared with her during her undergraduate internship. Eiben is now her mentor and adviser for the master’s program, and in addition to the wēkiu bug habitat research, he has welcomed her assistance in the development of the recently established Teaching and Research Arthropod Collection lab at the UH Hilo College of Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resource Management.

Goals for the lab include creating a functional space for students and researchers to be involved with arthropod research and education, and to make the numerous arthropod specimens in the university’s custodianship available as an informational resource for the community.

Future plans for Kirkpatrick include continued work with arthropods on Maunakea and the possible pursuit of a doctorate in forest entomology.

Originally published at UH Hilo Stories

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Postcard from Maunakea: Deltasigs

Members of the UH Hilo Lambda Psi Chapter spent a day with others from the community pulling invasive weeds on Maunakea.

Group
Pulling weeds on Maunakea.

Members of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo Lambda Psi Chapter of Delta Sigma Pi gathered at the Office of Maunakea Management (OMKM) on campus one morning last month to start their field trip to help with invasive species removal on Maunakea. Delta Sigma Pi is a professional fraternity organized to foster the study of business in universities. A requirement of the fraternity is that members give back to the community through group service.

The group of 33 UH Hilo students and community members were present and poised to get their hands dirty at the 9,500 ft. elevation level. The trip marked the first volunteer effort of 2016 by the Lambda Psi Chapter Deltasigs. It was also the first invasive species eradication effort of the year offered by OMKM; the event was organized by Fritz Klasner, natural resource program manager, Amber Stillman, resource information specialist, and Darby Yogi, natural resource program assistant.

Volunteers stand for group photo. The author of the story Lara Hughes is at far left. Click to enlarge.
Deltasigs and others from the local community took part. Lara Hughes at far left.

“Our overarching goal at the Office of Maunakea Management is to malama Maunakea,” says Stephanie Nagata, director of the office. “Taking care of 12,000 acres is a daunting task, but with collaborative community partnerships we can accomplish much.”

[RELATED: The Maunakea Invasive Species Management Plan.]

Van rides, water, tools and lunch were provided to the Deltasigs by OMKM, and the mountain scenery was free. The group arrived at Halepōhaku and Deltasigs Lara Hughes, Midori Matsuo and Nixon Jack were given gloves, tools and garbage bags before hitting the slopes near the Maunakea Visitor’s Center.

Invasive fire weed was the main target, and the Deltasigs were able to contribute four bags of weeds to the overall total of approximately 29 bags of invasive species of plants removed that day.

A tour was conducted for the volunteers by OMKM staff, and the group was able to view a series of native plant species including the māmane, ā‘wēowe‘o and majestic āhinahina or endangered Maunakea silversword.

A lunch buffet at Halepōhaku was accompanied by socializing and followed up with a presentation by Jessica Kirkpatrick, a UH Hilo graduate student from the tropical conservation and environmental science program, who now serves as resource management assistant at OMKM and spoke on the native arthropod population existing on Maunakea.

The group headed back down the mountain arriving in Hilo around 3:30 p.m.

For information about service events through the OMKM Natural Resources Program on Maunakea, visit the website and sign-up to receive emails.

Visit Lambda Psi on Facebook.

Via UH Hilo Stories