The Hawaiian lobeliads make up one-ninth of the Hawaiian flora with 6 genera and 124 species. Since its discovery by western science, nearly 25 percent have gone extinct. Lobeliads are one of the most striking examples of adaptive radiation in flowering plants. Unpublished cpDNA phylogeny by T. Givnish and colleagues indicate that the Hawaiian lobeliads arose from a single colonization 13 million years ago. Lobeliads currently have more species on the U.S. lists of endangered and threatened taxa than any other lineage of plants or animals. This could be due to loss of habitat, impact of non-native animals and plants, small population sizes, and loss of pollinators.
The endemic L. villosa, occurs in wet forests, shrublands, montane bogs between 1,200-1,580 meters elevation in the Alakai Swamp and Mt. Waialeale of the Hawaiian Island of Kauai. Plants have multiple woody stems, leaves are lanceolate to oblong and are pubescent, and flowers are yellowish to greenish white with purple veins. According to the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 2006, L. villosa is listed as a species of concern and the number of occurrences and number of plants are unknown.
The threat to this species has led to an interest in genetic studies; we are hoping to elucidate the genetic variability and the level of gene flow within and between populations of this specie by using microsatellite markers. For this project, Dr. Ania Wieczorek and Carol Tran are collaborating with Dr. Clifford Morden, from the Department of Botany at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
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