Plant Extinction Prevention Program

Circa 1990, the Hawaii Rare Plant Restoration Group identified a group of plant species that were in danger of extinction within 5 to 10 years – species with less than 50 individual plants remaining in their natural habitat. This became the Genetic Safety Net list which evolved into the Plant Extinction Prevention (PEP) program. The list includes 173 species of 1400 in the Hawaiian flora – approximately 13% of the Hawaiian flora. Until 2006, the program was funded on a shoestring with only one staff member and many volunteers. With multiple grants obtained in 2006, the program had staff on all the main islands by the end of 2008. The purpose of PEP include: 1) collection of propagules (or plant materials) from all target species for live plant storage, tissue culture, or seed storage; 2) Management of naturally occurring and reintroduced plants by controlling threats to their survival; 3) Surverying new areas for discovery of additional populations of target species; 4) Monitor wild and restored populations of PEP species; 5) Reintroduction of individual plants into protected natural areas through outplanting.

The Plant Extinction Prevention Program relies on the concept that preserved genetic material (i.e. tissue culture; seed storage) is not an endpoint of conservation, only an essential tool that helps to prevent extinction. With the wild habitat of so many rare plants in precipitous decline, ex situ (off-site) protection allows land managers in Hawaii the time to plan and execute habitat protection and restoration programs and ultimately, to recover species that might otherwise become extinct.