Natural History of the Hawaiian Islands
Instructor: Steven Goldsmith, Moody Science 314, 903-813-2204, firstname.lastname@example.org
Steven Goldsmith's home
All text and images on and associated with this page are copyright 1999,
Steven K. Goldsmith
Coordinator of activities: Becky Goldsmith, 903-870-0238, email@example.com
Becky Goldsmith's home page
Course content: Archipelagoes have
been called "crucibles of evolution". This is especially true of the Hawaiian
Islands, which combine incredible biological diversity with spectacular
natural beauty. This course is an exploration of the biota, geology, and
geography of these remote oceanic islands, which are home to numerous endemic
species of birds, plants, and invertebrates, many of which are unknown
to science. We will visit the full range of habitats provided by the islands,
from coral reefs to volcano peaks, from lush tropical forests to hot deserts.
Our goal is to observe first-hand the biological diversity and complex
ecology of this Pacific paradise. Each student will keep a field notebook
(described below) where observations and interpretations will be recorded.
Sources of information: The primary source of information will
be your own observations of the natural history of the islands. We will
be primarily concerned with observations and interpretations of the ways
the plants and animals make their living, and how they came to be what
and where they are. We have two required "textbooks". One is the Smithsonian
Guide to Natural America -- The Pacific; this book contains a wealth of
information about the islands, and includes much natural history and cultural
history, as well as lots of practical information. The other is Hawaii's
Birds, published by the Hawaii Audubon Society. This is a thin but beautifully
illustrated guide to the extant (and in some cases extinct) avifauna of
the islands, much of which is threatened or endangered. There are two other
field guides that might be useful but are not required. They are An Underwater
Guide to Hawai'i by Fielding and Robinson (marine invertebrates, fish,
and other vertebrates) and Trees of Hawai'i by Kepler. These can be ordered
through the campus bookstore or purchased once we reach the islands. There
is also a requirement of reading one book from a selection of environmental
or biological books (not textbooks) such as Darwin's Voyage of the Beagle
or On the Origin of Species, Leopold's Sand County Almanac, Wilson's Diversity
of Life or Naturalist, Weiner's The Beak of the Finch, Tinbergen's Curious
Naturalists, Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria by R.S. Desowitz, or Cod:
A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World by M. Kurlansky. Any other
book of this sort that interests you would be acceptable.
What does the term "natural history" mean? Most biologists who study
whole organisms would agree on a few common themes, but each would probably
emphasize some things over others. I am most interested in how organisms
are adapted through the action of natural selection (including sexual selection
and indirect selection) to fit their abiotic, biotic, and social environments.
There are a variety of manifestations of adaptation. Morphology (how a
body is structured on the outside), anatomy (how a body is structured on
the inside), physiology (the chemical workings of a body), life history
strategy (allocation of resources to and timing of somatic growth and reproduction
during ontogeny), and behavior (how an organism responds in the short term
to stimuli in its environment) are all characteristics of organisms that
can be interpreted from the perspective of evolution and adaptation. The
"environment" can be any physical, chemical, or biological factor (including
conspecifics) that influences or impinges on an organism. This takes in
a lot of territory. In general, physical and chemical factors constitute
the abiotic environment, heterospecific organisms (viruses, bacteria, plants,
insects, vertebrates, etc.) form the biotic environment, and conspecific
organisms form the social environment. Ecologists think of the environment
in terms of the "ecological niche" of a species; the niche comprises an
indeterminate number of niche "axes" or "dimensions", which are essentially
environmental variables (including other organisms) that affect the survival
and reproduction of individual organisms. I say "indeterminate" because
one can always think up new variables that might affect organisms. Organisms
are conglomerates of characteristics that function together as a unit,
and the unit is designed (by the action of natural selection) to function
efficiently within the environment. The conglomeration of design features
or adaptations is termed the "adaptive syndrome". So, in a few words, natural
history is the study of the adaptive syndrome of organisms, and how organisms
fit their ecological niches.
You will record activities, observations, and impressions in a field notebook.
The format of the field notebook varies greatly among field biologists,
and takes on different forms in different specializations within field
biology. Traditionally, the field notebook consists of three sections:
the log, the species accounts, and the journal. Most field biologists keep
notes in a loose-leaf notebook (5.5" x 7.5" or 6" x 9") with the three
sections separated. The traditional writing materials were a stylus pen
with india ink on cotton bond paper. I recommend ball-point pen for written
records of observations, and a #2 pencil with blank or bond paper for drawings.
In this course, loose-leaf binders are mandatory -- they allow you to
rearrange your species accounts to keep them in proper taxonomic order,
and to add new ones as you make more observations. It is useful to have
pockets in your notebook to keep things like maps or directions to field
sites, pens and pencils, rulers, conversion tables, receipts, etc. Notebook
binders, dividers, and paper are available in the campus bookstore and
in other places around town.
The log is where you record all of the practical information about your
field trip: where you went and how you got there (which will be particularly
cool in our case), when you were there, and what the weather was like (temperature,
humidity, wind speed and direction, cloud cover, etc.). Each page of the
log should be dated (and numbered if you wish). The log should also contain
information about the characteristics of the particular locality you visited,
which will vary depending on what kind of a place it was. For terrestrial
habitats, important information about locality includes topography (mountain,
canyon, caldera, stream, talus slope, lava flow, etc.), elevation, vegetation
[general description of the plant assemblage (e.g. "cloud forest", "silversword
desert") as well as information about dominant species (e.g. "ohia lehua
and tree ferns")], and substrate type (nature of the soil and rocks --
we will learn about this as we go). For shallow marine habitats, the important
information includes "topography" (fringing coral reef, patch reef, spur
and groove reef, atoll, dissected slope, etc.), depth, distance from shore,
and substrate (stony coral, rock, sand, marine plant life).
The species accounts include all observations and information on particular
types of organisms. The tradition in field biology, especially in vertebrate
field biology, is to make an entry in the field notebook each time you
observe an individual of a particular species. Over time, with successive
observations, a picture of the "autecology" and the "synecology" of each
species develops in your notebook. Our species accounts of vertebrates
will be of the traditional type, and we will include any new information
obtained from successive observations. Others will not be traditional "species"
accounts because we will not identify some organisms to species. At the
level of sophistication of this course, it will be adequate to use, for
instance, "soft coral type #1" to identify a certain type of organism,
as long as we all know what we are talking about, and can distinguish "soft
coral type #1" from "soft coral type #2". To achieve this, your accounts
should have descriptions and drawings of the animals and plants you encounter
(and of their distinguishing characteristics), so that you can recognize
them again and make more complete accounts. In some cases this will require
careful observation and memory, followed by reference to field guides,
followed by additional observation.
In addition to morphological descriptions, your accounts should
include information about microhabitat (where specifically within the larger
habitat was this organism found?), population or social group size, interspecific
and intraspecific interactions (both competitive and cooperative), and
behaviors such as foraging and predator avoidance. The species accounts
should make reference to the log so that you know where and when you found
a certain creature. Some of our accounts will be "community accounts" rather
than species accounts, because we will be interested in the composition
and structure of plant and animal communities of particular habitats. These
accounts will contain descriptions of the general type of plant or animal
community, and will include information about species diversity and the
dominant species of the community.
The journal is a place to record your interpretations of the events of
the day, or your thoughts and feelings on life in general. It is a place
for the development of scientific knowledge and ideas (i.e., "Today I saw...
This might be important because..."). It is common to have some intuition
about what is happening in a particular situation, but for the intuition
to be vague or incomplete. My personal preference for journal entries is
to consider the organisms and communities that I encounter from an evolutionary
perspective (as Dobzhansky put it, "in biology nothing makes sense except
in the light of evolution"). Your journal should include a developing discussion
of a) the adaptive syndrome of particular species that we encounter, b)
the ecological relationships between species that we observe, and c) the
composition and structure of ecological communities that we observe. The
journal develops over time with the species accounts and the log, as the
latter two sections include more and more information about localities
and organisms. The field notebooks of some field biologists develop into
important scientific works, such as Henry Fitch's Reproductive Cycles in
Lizards and Snakes.
Grades: Grading in this course
is S/U. My grading of your notebooks will be based on my observation of
how thoroughly you record observations. I expect everyone to record observations
thoroughly, legibly, and accurately. We will record many observations as
a group, so that you learn to be observant. We will discuss and share our
interpretations and impressions, but your journal should reflect your own
ideas and biases. Your field notebook is your own record of the trip. It
will be a permanent record of what you saw and what you did -- it will
only be as good as you make it. Unfortunately, this may be the only time
you see the islands in this condition; rapid habitat transformation places
many species in great peril of extinction, and entire ecosystems are endangered
as well. I will collect field notebooks before we land at DFW on our return
trip, and will return them at the beginning of the Spring semester. I will
not make any marks in your notebook, and anything that you write will be
held in strict confidence.
A few necessary (but hopefully unnecessary) words about personal conduct:
We are all in this together. Each member of our crew must conduct himself
or herself in a manner that will make this a positive experience for all
involved. When we are in the field, everyone needs to be attentive and
observant, and to stay on task. This can be difficult when we are tired,
sore, and crabby. I expect mature, cordial, and professional interaction,
for everyone to pull his or her weight, and for you to work diligently
on your readings and notebooks. Everyone must be ready to leave at our
scheduled departure times. I have leisure time built into the itinerary,
and from past experience, you will need it.
Because of legal liabilities, there can be no underage drinking (and any
drinking by those 21 and over must be in moderation). There must be no
solo swimming. Any possession or use of controlled substances will be grounds
for immediate dismissal from the course. I will put you on a plane home
at your own expense.
Because the Hawaiian Islands are volcanic and climatically diverse, the
terrain is rugged. Many places that are biologically interesting are not
accessible by motorized vehicle. Therefore, we must walk, and some of our
walks will be both long and steep. We should all be physically prepared
for this type of activity. My own preference for preparation is walking,
but not just around the campus or the mall. When I have time, I walk on
"Hospital Hill", the area around WNJ hospital. I also carry a backpack
containing some heavy objects, because I will be carrying the same thing
on our walks. It is a good idea to wear your hiking boots during your preparations,
especially if they are relatively new. I also recommend carrying the backpack
you will carry in the field, so that you are used to the feel and the weight.
Because of the extremely fragile nature of many of the habitats we will
visit, it imperative that you practice good environmental etiquette. Always
stay on hiking trails; venturing off established and maintained trails
damages plants and the soil surface, which accelerates erosion. Never cut
across switchbacks. Avoid trampling or damaging plants as much as possible;
do not pick any flowers, because they may be the last ones for that plant
species. We will observe rather than collect insects. When birding, it
is necessary to be as quiet and unobtrusive as possible. When snorkeling,
be careful not to step on or bump into corals -- this is for your protection
as much as theirs. Do not disturb green sea turtles; they are a protected
species. Finally, do not attempt to feed native wildlife, especially the
Hawaiian state bird, the Nene -- this is illegal and carries a substantial
Sometime before the end of the fall term (probably late October or early
November), there will be a warm-up snorkel, so it is necessary to get your
gear by that time (unless it is going to be a Christmas present). This
will be held in the Hannah Natatorium, probably on a Saturday or Sunday
afternoon. I will let you know once I schedule this with Coach Lawson.
The goal for this activity is to get used to the feel of the gear, to make
sure it works properly, and for those who have not snorkeled before, to
learn how to float, breathe, dive, equalize your pressure, and come up
without inhaling a bunch of water. It is not as hard as it sounds.
There will also be a warm-up hike of five miles or so, sometime in November
or early December, probably at the Cross Timbers trail along the south
side of Lake Texoma. We will plan this for a mutually agreeable Saturday
or Sunday. This will be an opportunity for us to test our gear and our
conditioning, and to get an idea of what we need to carry on this type
of short day-hike. The College will provide transportation, ARA will provide
lunch (if necessary), and I will provide goodies.
We will be flying on American Airlines to and from Honolulu, and on Hawaii
Airlines between islands. All airport security is controlled by the FAA.
These people are very serious about security. Be sure to carefully control
your luggage at all times. Never leave your luggage unattended, because
it may be confiscated by security personnel. DO NOT make any jokes about
weapons, bombs, hazardous substances, or hijackng, either when passing
through security checks, with airline personnel, or on the airplane. I
will not be responsible for your fate, nor will the group wait for you
to be released from detention. This is serious business!
Although we will be in the islands for 25 days, it will be necessary for
us to pack light. For practical reasons (especially limitations of space
in our rented vehicles), you must limit your luggage to one carry-on piece
and one checked piece. Your checked piece should be a medium-sized wheeled
upright suitcase of the type that is so common these days, and your carry-on
should be your field backpack. It will probably also be necessary for the
group to have additional checked bags or parcels for snorkel gear. My partner
and I will share one, and I urge you to make similar arrangements with
other participants. I will try to coordinate this as our departure approaches.
You should bring essential items, which I attempt to list below. I strongly
recommend including your toiletries, a change of clothing, and a bathing
suit in your carry-on, as well as your camera, snorkel mask, and anything
else that you would be lost without. Be sure that your carry-on fits into
the carry-on sizer that is standard in most US airports these days. When
packing, be aware that there will be opportunities for doing laundry in
most of our lodgings. There are things that we might use daily in civilization
that will not be needed on the trip; the last trip I took with my brother,
he brought a hair dryer, and the man is bald as a cue ball. When packing,
remember that there are times when you will have to carry your gear.
It is to be hoped that weather conditions will be fairly benign. I expect
the days to be warm (70s - 80s F) and the nights to be mild (50s -60s F).
It will rain, and there is the potential for heavy rain. It will be significantly
colder at higher elevations, and there is the potential for snow -- Haleakala
summit is over 10,000 ft, and the upper slopes of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea
are above treeline. I recommend a variety of types of clothing, including
shorts and light shirts for hiking, and warm clothing that can be worn
in layers. A windbreaker or shell of some type is essential. See below
for additional recommendations about clothing.
Photography is a good way to record both organisms you observe and places
you visit. I prefer 35mm cameras that are mostly manual but that have an
internal light meter and automatic shutter speed control. Disposable cameras
and standard "point and shoot" 35mm cameras are not versatile enough for
any serious photography. Some of the new autofocus cameras are very good,
but are also very expensive. A good compromise for me is the Minolta XG-1
(or some equivalent model), which is a partially automatic body that can
accept a variety of lenses. This type of camera is relatively inexpensive
(they can be obtained used at camera shops or pawn shops), and is both
reliable and rugged. I can give you more advice on this if you need it.
One of the most important parts of a successful field trip is being well-fed.
My plan for meals on this trip is for us to buy things at grocery stores
for breakfast and lunch, and to have dinner either at our lodging or at
restaurants. Most mornings we will be getting up early and leaving for
our field excursion for the day. Breakfast will consist of fruit, bagels
or rolls or muffins, or maybe some cold cereal if we have a refrigerator.
Lunch will consist of various types of "trail food". Most of us will want
to make sandwiches, and we will have a variety of ingredients for these.
We will also have chips, fruit, crackers, etc. that travel well. If we
have time and the facilities, I will cook some evening meals. I will prepare
interesting, tasty, and healthy fare. Eating out all the time gets old,
and the food is usually less that healthy. Some evenings we will eat out
at whatever restaurant we can find that is mutually agreeable, or we might
choose up sides and go to several places. My hope is that the course budget
will cover all meals, but we might have to be conservative, especially
in our choice of restaurants. My plan at this point is to give each participant
a daily allotment for evening meals in restaurants, which may get larger
or smaller as the trip progresses, depending on our budget.
The fees for this course cover air and ground transportation (excluding
transportation to and from DFW), lodging, most meals, snorkel boats, whale-watching,
and park access fees. Additional out-of-pocket expenses will include any
books, clothing, souvenirs, etc. that you want to purchase, and scuba diving
It is important to have an inkling
of the language of a place that you visit, and although Hawaii is officially
one of the United States, there are many words of the native tongue that
are commonly used. Below is a smattering of some useful ones:
Aloha: this is a universal greeting which is also used when parting.
It also connotes a feeling of gleeful friendliness (as in "the aloha spirit").
It is easy to have this feeling in Hawaii. There is nothing in English
with a similar meaning; the closest we can come is "howdy".
Mahalo: translates essentially as "thank you".
Haole: (pronounced howlee) -- an American (usually white).
Makai: a direction, meaning "toward the sea". On an island, north and
south are less important than where the ocean is.
Mauka: the opposite direction, meaning "toward the mountain".
Kona: the leeward side of an island. Winds in Hawaii generally blow
from northeast to southwest, which causes dramatic differences in climatic
conditions on different sides of the islands. In general, the northeast,
windward side is very wet, and the southwest, leeward side (in the rain
shadow of the mountains) is dry.
The Big Island: refers to Hawaii (the island) to distinguish it from
Hawaii (the entire state).
Haleakala: the volcano on Maui. The name means "house of the sun" and
is pronounced ha lay ah ka LAH, with the emphasis on the last syllable.
Pele: the goddess of the volcanoes. Halema'uma'u in Kilauea on the Big
Island is the traditional home of Pele. Do not remove any lava rocks from
any islands -- this irritates Pele, which has unfortunate consequences.
Pahoehoe: a form of solidified lava. Pahoehoe (pronounced pa hoy hoy)
is the smooth, ropy-looking, massive lava that results from lava flows.
A'a: another form of solidified lava. A'a (pronounced like it looks
-- ah ah) is rough, jagged lava that results from frothy or bubbly lava.
Be very careful walking on a'a, or you will find out why it is called that.
Nene: the Hawaiian state bird, descended from the Canada goose. Obnoxious
like a goose also.
Humuhumunukunukuapua'a: the Hawaiian state fish (Rhinecanthusrectangulus),
whose English name is the "reef triggerfish".
See the NPS site on the Hawaiian
language for more information.
Things you must bring:
a photo ID or passport (for airport security).
good hiking boots with adequate ankle support, and that fit well. Plan
on a break-in period before the trip.
good hiking socks -- I recommend at least 2 pairs of Thorlos or something
equivalent, designed for hiking, and made with acrylic and wool.
snorkel gear -- a mask that fits well is essential; the snorkel can
be something simple, and the fins should fit your feet well.
bathing suits -- I recommend two that are comfortable and durable --
this is not a fashion show.
appropriate clothing -- be prepared for both warm and cool conditions.
Hiking can usually be done in shorts and a light shirt, but long pants
and warm clothes are necessary for night time and at higher elevations.
I recommend a pair of convertible pants (the legs zip off to make shorts).
I plan to wear jeans and my boots on the plane, so that I do not have to
pack those items. I recommend a sweatshirt, sweater, or polarfleece garment
for warmth, and a windbreaker as a shell. Other clothing should pack small
and be light to carry.
rain gear -- I recommend something lightweight and durable, not an umbrella
nor a plastic Sears poncho. A rain jacket can double as a wind shell.
backpack of some kind; preferably a day-pack that is both comfortable
field notebook (described above), lined paper and pens for writing,
blank paper and pencils for drawing.
tennis shoes or other comfortable shoes for when we are not hiking.
hat -- you may exercise your own preference here, but you will need
something that protects your head from sun and rain, and one that is warm.
I usually bring two.
flashlight with extra batteries.
personal toiletry items including any prescription medicines. I recommend
bringing copies of essential prescriptions, including those for eyeglasses
Things you should bring:
a copy of your "proof of medical insurance" card
extra cash (I recommend about $200 - $250, mostly in travelers checks)
and a credit card (if available) for emergencies
a phone card if you think you will need it
an insulated mug with your name on it
a camera with plenty of film and extra batteries
sport sandals or other shoes you can get wet (for aquatic work).
a small spare bag for items purchased that will not fit into your luggage
binoculars (preferably small, lightweight ones). The college has a limited
number of binoculars which can be checked out.
spare glasses or contact lenses
sunscreen and aloe vera sunburn lotion
plastic bags/mesh bag for dirty clothes
reading material for time in the airplane (in addition to required reading
material described above). It is a good idea to form "trading groups" for
All times are local; Hawaii is five hours earlier than Texas.
Sat Jan 2: Travel -- fly from DFW to Oahu, then on to Hawaii
Airlines (AA) flight 5K, departs DFW 9:30 am, arrives Honolulu 2:16 pm
Hawaii Airlines (HA) flight 288Y, departs Honolulu 4:20 pm, arrives Kailua
You must arrive at DFW at our departure gate at least 2 hrs before departure
means 7:30 am); plan for time to park, to check luggage and get boarding
and to get through security
Accomodations on the Big Island:
Royal Kona Resort Phone: 808-329-3111
75-5852 Alii Drive Fax: 808-329-7230
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740 1-800-221-5641
Sun Jan 3: Hawaii -- Driving tour of the Big Island
Mon Jan 4: Hawaii -- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Hiking and driving tour
Akaka Falls State Park
Crater Rim drive, Chain of Craters road (stay
after dark at the volcano)
Tues Jan 5: Hawaii -- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Hiking
Halema'uma'u and Byron Ledge trails
Wed Jan 6: Hawaii -- Hawaii Volcanoes NP: Hiking and birding
Thurston Lava Tube
other short trails on Kilauea
Thurs Jan 7: Hawaii -- Hapuna Beach
lower slopes of Mauna Loa
Fri Jan 8: Hawaii -- Snorkeling -- Kahalu'u Beach Park, Kona Coast
Sat Jan 9: Travel -- Hawaii to Maui -- be ready to leave the lodging
at 7:30 am
HA flight 317Y, departs Kailua 9:40am, arrives
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working
on notebooks, watching NFL playoffs, etc.
accomodations on Maui:
Sun Jan 10: Maui -- Haleakala NP: Hiking and Birding
Maui Islander Hotel Phone: 808-667-9766
660 Wainee Street 1-800-367-5226
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 96761
Mon Jan 11: Maui -- Haleakala NP: Sunrise at Haleakala summit
depart from lodging at about 3:30 am
Tues Jan 12: Maui -- Tour of Island, Whale Watching
Later in the day will be hiking and birding on the upper
slopes of Haleakala
Pacific Whale Foundation -- depart lodging at
Wed Jan 13: Maui -- Snorkeling at Olawalu Beach, Beach time at Ka'aNapali
Thurs Jan 14: Molokini -- Snorkeling
Maui Dive Shop in Kihei -- depart lodging at
Fri Jan 15: Travel -- Maui to Kauai; be ready to leave lodging at 10:00
HA flight 525Y, departs Maui 12:00n, arrives
Kauai 1:45 pm
Sat Jan 16: Kauai -- Snorkeling, northwest Kauai, Na Pali Coast
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working
on notebooks, etc.
Accommodations on Kauai:
Kaha Lani Resort
4460 Nehe Road
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766
Na Pali excursions -- depart lodging at 7:00
Sun Jan 17: Kauai -- NFL Playoffs
Mon Jan 18: Kauai -- Hiking tour -- NaPali Coast
Tues Jan 19: Kauai -- Koke'e State Park: Hiking
Wed Jan 20: Kauai -- Waimea Canyon: Hiking and Birding
Thurs Jan 21: Travel -- Kauai to Oahu; be ready to leave lodging at
HA flight 532Y, departs Kauai 12:15 pm, arrives
Honolulu 12:46 pm
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working
on notebooks, etc.
Accommodations on Oahu:
Coral Reef Hotel -- Waikiki
2299 Kuhio Avenue
Honolulu, Oahu HI 96815
Fri Jan 22: Oahu -- Bishop Museum and Lyon Arboretum
Sat Jan 23: Oahu -- Tour of Island
Waimea Bay/Banzai Pipeline (NO SURFING ALLOWED!)
Sun Jan 24: Oahu -- Pearl Harbor
Mon Jan 25: Oahu -- Free day for shopping and sightseeing
Tues Jan 26: Travel -- Oahu to DFW; be ready to leave the lodging at
notebooks due upon departure
AA flight 8K, departs Honolulu 6:17 pm, arrives
DFW 5:35 am Jan 27
Wed Jan 27: Arrival at DFW, 5:35 am; we will aggregate in an out of the
way area near the gate;
Thurs Jan 28: JanTerm ends