Austin College January Term

Natural History of the Hawaiian Islands

JanTerm 2002

Instructor: Steven Goldsmith, Moody Science 314, 903-813-2204,
Steven Goldsmith's home page

All text and images on and associated with this page are copyright 2001, Steven K. Goldsmith

Coordinator of activities: Becky Goldsmith, 903-870-0238,
Becky Goldsmith's home page

Course Syllabus 2002 First Exam Images Links

    Field Notebooks
    Important Considerations
    Hawaiian language
    Things  to bring
    Itinerary 2002

Course content: Archipelagoes have been called "crucibles of creation". 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, geography, and cultural history of these remote oceanic islands, which are home to numerous endemic species of birds, fish, 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 our 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 interact with one another and with the physical environment. 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 Fishes of Hawai'i by Harper (primarily coral reef fishes) 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, Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, Leopold's A Sand County Almanac, Wilson's Diversity of Life or Naturalist, Tinbergen's Curious Naturalists, Who Gave Pinta to the Santa Maria or The Malaria Capers 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 large 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 and interactions between various parts of the 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.

Field notebooks: 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 8.5" 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 (date and time), 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. "Koa forest", "silversword desert") as well as information about dominant species (e.g. "ohia lehua and hapu'u pulu")], 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 include any new information obtained from successive observations. Other accounts 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 observations.

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 locomotion patterns, communication behaviors, foraging and preferred foods, 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, and reflections on past events re-interpreted with new knowledge. 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 processes at work in a particular situation, but for the intuition to be vague or incomplete (or incorrect!). 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. The journal is also a place to record your impressions of cultural and historical observations, your observations of and feelings about your classmates, and your thoughts and feelings about life in general.

Grades: Grading in this course is S/U. My grading of your notebooks will be based on my assessment of how thoroughly and accurately you record observations. I expect everyone to record observations thoroughly, accurately, and legibly. 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 assess your progress at several points during the course, to give you feedback on your observations and recording of them. I will begin to collect field notebooks for grading at the airport in Honolulu before we board the aircraft for the return trip, and will grade and return them during our flight. I will not make any marks in your notebook, and anything that you write will be held in strict confidence.

Important considerations:

Aloha:  this is a universal greeting which is also used when parting. It also connotes a feeling of joyful 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) - formerly any foreigner, now often applied to Americans.

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. The trade winds in Hawaii generally blow from northeast to southwest (sometimes from northwest to southeast) 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. Kona also refers specifically to the kona side of the Big Island.

The Big Island:  refers to Hawaii (the island) to distinguish it from Hawaii (the entire state).

Haleakala:  the volcano on east 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, and the most important figure of Hawaiian mythology. Do not remove any lava rocks from any islands - this irritates Pele, which has unfortunate consequences.

Halema’uma’u:  (pronounced Ha lay ma u ma u) - The "fire pit" on Kilauea, which in Hawaiian tradition is the home of Pele.

Pahoehoe:  a form of solidified lava. Pahoehoe (pronounced pa hoy hoy) is the smooth, ropy-looking, massive lava that results from lava flows which are not moving when they solidify.

A'a:  another form of solidified lava. A'a (pronounced like it looks - ah ah) is rough, jagged, "clinkery" lava that results from lava that solidifies while under stresses. Be very careful walking on a'a, or you will find out why it is called that (I did).

Pu'u: Hill. You will find various pu'u with names like Pu'u O'o, Pu'u Nene, Pu'u o Maui.

Wai: means "water" and is combined in various ways, such as Waikiki, Waimea, and Waianuenue

Ali'i: Royalty.

Kahuna: Priest, teacher, or other important person.

Nene:  the Hawaiian state bird (Branta sandwicensis), descended from the Canada goose.

Humuhumunukunukuapua'a:  the Hawaiian state fish (Rhinecanthus rectangulus), whose English name is the "reef triggerfish".

Things you must bring:

a photo ID or passport (for airport security).

backpack of some kind; preferably a day-pack that is both comfortable and sturdy.

field notebook (described above), lined paper and pens for writing, blank paper and pencils for drawing.

good hiking boots with adequate ankle support, and that fit well. Plan for 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 can be relatively short but should fit your feet well.

bathing suit: I recommend a suit that is comfortable and durable.

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 evenings and at higher elevations. I recommend one or two pairs of convertible pants (the legs zip off to make shorts) plus 3-4 pairs of shorts. I plan to wear pants and my boots on the flight from DFW, so that I do not have to pack those items. I recommend a sweatshirt, sweater, or polarfleece garment for warmth, polypropylene long underwear, and a windbreaker. Other clothing should pack small and be light to carry. Blue jeans are bulky and heavy, and are really not suitable.

rain gear: I recommend something lightweight and durable. I prefer to have both jacket and pants. A rain jacket can double as a wind shell.

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.

flashlight with extra batteries.


personal toiletry items including any prescription medicines. I recommend bringing copies of essential prescriptions, including those for eyeglasses or contacts (if necessary).

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 camera with plenty of film and extra batteries

sport sandals or other shoes you can get wet (for beach time and aquatic work).

binoculars (preferably small, lightweight ones)

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 novels

Things you might bring:

a phone card if you think you will need it

an insulated mug with your name on it (if you are a coffee drinker)

a wet suit or short diving suit: the water is cool but not extremely cold; however if you are in it a while you might get chilled.


All times are local; Hawaii is five hours earlier than Texas.

Wed 2 Jan

Travel: DFW to Oahu, then on to Hawaii
American Airlines (AA) flight 5Q, departs DFW 9:30 am, arrives Honolulu 2:05 pm
Hawaiian Airlines (HA) flight 222, departs Honolulu 3:40 pm, arrives Hilo 4:28 pm
You must arrive at DFW at our departure gate at least 2 hrs before departure (this means 7:30 am);
plan for time to park, to check luggage and get boarding passes, and to get through security
Accommodations in Hilo:
Hilo Hawaiian Hotel Phone: 808-935-9361
71 Banyan Drive Fax: 808-969-6472
Hilo, HI 96720
Thu 3 Jan
Hawaii: Tour of windward side of the Big Island; we will leave the lodging at 8:00 am
Hike into Waipio Valley (about 10 km round trip), visit Akaka Falls State Park
Fri 4 Jan
Hawaii: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - hiking and driving tour;
we will leave lodging at 7:30 am; stops include Volcano House, Crater Rim drive, Halema'uma'u, Chain of Craters road (these are all short hikes)
Sat 5 Jan
Hawaii: Hawaii Volcanoes NP - birding and botanizing; we will leave lodging at 7:30 am
Thurston Lava Tube, Kilauea Iki (about 6 km round trip), part of Crater Rim trail
Sun 6 Jan
Hawaii: Birding at Kipuka Puaulu, then beach time at Puna Lu'u black sand beach;
depart lodging at 8:00 am; evening at Mauna Kea summit?
Mon 7 Jan
Hawaii: Hakalau Forest NWR - birding and botanizing;
check out of Hilo hotel, switch to Kona side
The drive from Hilo to the refuge is 2 hrs over rough road, so we need to leave the lodging at about 7:00 am.
Accommodations in Kailua-Kona:
Royal Kona Resort Phone: 808-329-3111
75-5852 Ali'i Drive Fax: 808-329-7230
Kailua-Kona, Hawaii 96740 1-800-221-5641
Tue 8 Jan
Hawaii: Snorkeling at Kahulu'u Beach park, then beach time at Hapuna Beach park
Wed 9 Jan
Hawaii: South Point and hike to Green Sands Beach (10 km round trip),
then Pu'u Honua o Honaunau for snorkeling; depart lodging at 8:00 am
Thu 10 Jan
Travel:  Hawaii to Maui - be ready to leave the lodging at 8:00 am
HA flight 137, departs Kailua-Kona 10:05 am, arrives Kahului Maui 10:32 am
The rest of the day is for laundry, grocery shopping, resting, working on notebooks, etc.
Accommodations in Kahului:
Maui Seaside Hotel  Phone: 808-877-3311
100 West Ka'ahumanu Avenue Fax: 808-877-4618
Kahului, Hawaii 96732  1-800-560-5552
Fri 11 Jan
Maui: Haleakala NP - Sliding Sands trail to Halemau'u trailhead
Be ready to depart lodging at 7:00 am; this is an 18 km hike that begins at about 10,000 ft, descends to about 6900 ft, and ends at about 7900 ft
Sat 12 Jan
Maui: Snorkeling at Ahihi Bay, then beach time at Kamaole Beach park;
later birding at Kealia Pond NWR; depart lodging at 8:00
Sun 13 Jan
NFL Playoffs, then switch to west Maui; check-out time is 12:00 noon.
Accommodations in Lahaina:
Maui Islander Hotel Phone: 808-667-9766
660 Wainee Street  1-800-367-5226
Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii 96761
Mon 14 Jan
Maui: Whale Watching, then driving tour of west Maui
Whale watching with Pacific Whale Foundation - depart lodging at 8:30 am
Tue 15 Jan
Maui: Snorkeling, beach time - Olawalu Beach, Kahekili Beach
Wed 16 Jan
Maui: Snorkeling and dolphin watching tour to Lana'i;
Pacific Whale Foundation - depart lodging at 6:00 am
Thu 17 Jan
Travel: Maui to Kauai; be ready to leave lodging at 8:30 am
HA flight 187, departs Kahului Maui 10:23 am, arrives Lihue Kauai 11:05 am
The rest of the day is for laundry, grocery shopping, resting, working on notebooks, etc.
Accommodations on Kauai:
Kaha Lani Resort Phone: 808-822-9331
4460 Nehe Road Fax: 808-822-2828
Lihue, Kauai, Hawaii 96766
Fri 18 Jan
Kauai: Waimea Canyon, Koke'e State Park, Kalala'u Valley overlook
Sat 19 Jan
Kauai: Alakai Swamp - hiking, birding, and botanizing
This is an approximately 10 km hike; terrain is difficult in some places
Sun 20 Jan
Kauai: NFL Playoffs, then Poipu Beach - snorkeling and beach time
Mon 21 Jan
Kauai: NaPali Coast boat tour
Captain Andy' Sailing, Ele'ele - depart lodging at 6:00 am for 6:30 am check-in
Tue 22 Jan
Kauai: Hiking - NaPali Coast to Hanakapiai Falls
This is an approximately 12 km hike over very rough terrain, plus we have about 1.5 hrs drive to get to the trailhead, so we need to leave the lodging at 7:30 am.
Wed 23 Jan
Travel: Kauai to Oahu; be ready to leave lodging at 9:30 am
HA flight 186, departs Kauai 11:30 am, arrives Honolulu 11:58 am
The rest of the day is for laundry, resting, working on notebooks, etc.
Accommodations on Oahu:
Coral Reef Hotel - Waikiki  Phone: 808-922-1262
2299 Kuhio Avenue Fax: 808-922-5048
Honolulu, Oahu HI 96815
Thu 24 Jan
Oahu: Pearl Harbor, USS Missouri
Fri 25 Jan
Oahu: Tour of island - Waimea Bay, Banzai Pipeline, Kailua Beach, Diamondhead
Sat 26 Jan
Oahu: Punchbowl flea market, Bishop Museum
Sun 27 Jan
Oahu: Free day for shopping, sightseeing, surfing (lessons are available on Waikiki Beach)
Mon 28 Jan
Travel: Oahu to DFW; check-out is at 12:00; we will leave for the airport at 3:30 pm
AA flight 102Q, departs Honolulu 7:31 pm, arrives DFW 7:09 am Jan 29
Tue 29 Jan
Arrival at DFW, 7:09 am; we will aggregate in an out of the way area near the gate