Drones help botanists battle fungus in Hawaii

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Innovating botanists in Hawaii are using drones to preserve native plants from extinction in areas too remote or dangerous for humans to access. The scientists use the drones to battle Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death (ROD) fungus killing indigenous ʻōhiʻa lehua trees.

ROD is a fungal disease that was only identified in Hawaii in 2014, and has since become a fast-spreading menace that has killed hundreds of thousands of ʻōhiʻa lehuas. Carried between areas on the clothes of hikers, animal fur, or even the wind, ROD clogs the tree’s system for circulating water to its canopy, causing dehydration and death. Preservation of the species is vital to ecosystem and watershed balances, and safeguarding certain cultural traditions centered on the species.

The new drone hack is the work of Ryan Perroy, a professor at the University of Hawaii, Hilo’s department of Geography & Environmental Science, and director of its Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization program. He equipped the drones with a cutting and collecting function that enables botanists to collect samples and better understand the fungus.

If effective in identifying and treating infected trees, the method could prove vital in saving the threatened and beloved native species.


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