Natural Features & Ecosystems
Extraordinary Features Harbor Facinating Island Ecosystems
Located more than 2,000 miles from the nearest continental landmass, the Hawaiian Archipelago is the most geographically isolated group of islands in the world. Hawai`i Volcanoes National Park sits on the southeastern edge of the youngest and largest island at a latitude of 19°N. Many organism groups common on continents never succeeded in making the journey to Hawai`i. The descendents of those who arrived, survived and reproduced have evolved into an impressive array of endemic Hawaiian native species. This level of endemism surpasses most places on Earth—even the Galapagos Islands. Consequently, the park is an ideal living laboratory for the study of evolutionary processes.
Volcanic topography has created a striking elevational gradient within the park sweeping from Mauna Loa’s vast alpine crater at 13,677 feet in elevation down to wind-swept coastal shores. Moisture from tradewinds creates extremes in rainfall within the Park supporting a wide diversity of lifezones and habitats. Seven ecological life zones include seacoast, lowland, mid-elevation woodland, rain forest, upland forest and woodland, sub-alpine and alpine/aeolian are included within park boundaries. The park is one of the few remaining natural areas in Hawai`i protecting contiguous habitat from sea to summit.
Did You Know?
`A`ali`i (Dodonaea viscosa) is an important shrub with many traditional Hawaiian uses. Its hard and durable wood makes a fine spear. Seed pods are fashioned into beautiful lei, while its red capsules can be boiled to make dye.