Aloha: Is this Hello or Goodbye? The plight of Brighamia insignis

It’s currently week six of the internship and I’m a bit blown away by how fast it went by. I can already tell from where I’m at now in my project that there’s so much more I want to do with it. The interest that I had when I chose and first started this project has turned into ardent fervor.

I understood what the goal was; we must find the individuals within the ex situ populations of Brighamia insignis, or Alula, that are genetically diverse in order to have genetically differentiated progeny when crossing individuals. Both species, Brighamia insignis and rockii are critically endangered, however insignis may already be extinct in the wild. This would aid in hopeful eventual reintroduction to B. insignis’ native habitat of Hawaii. However, once I learned more about Brighamia, I became emotionally invested.

It has interesting morphology and flora, with cabbage-like leaves and a caudex. I found that the sad tale of Brighamia –“Cabbage-on-a-stick”– insignis had me truly engaged. Due to the assorted impact of invasive species, human intervention, and loss of pollinator B. insignis went through an inbreeding depression. This lack of genetic fitness helped lead insignis and rockii to extinction and critical endangerment. Also, there is the mystery of the pollinator. Alula exhibits specific floral traits that attract moths for pollination. This leaves the choice of which moth to choose, which contender will gain the title of Brighamia pollinator? Some believe it is the Fabulous Green Sphinx moth, which is just as interesting as Alula.

the Fabulous Green Sphinx moth of Kauai (Tinostoma smaragditis) has a status of "data deficient" after rediscovery of the moth in eastern Kauai
(© Mandy Heddle http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/21913/0)

In the lab I have already extracted DNA from the various leaf samples sent from institutions with B. insignis, with the most recent being leaf samples from the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan Currently, I’ve been running PCR (polymerase chain reaction) on samples of extracted B. insignis DNA in order to test the new labeled primers.

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