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Hawaiian Lobeliad Seed Biology

Science & Conservation
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Dustin Wolkis

Seed Bank Curator and Laboratory Manager

Seed Bank Curator and Laboratory Manager Dustin Wolkis is responsible for curating NTBGs seed bank and conducting seed conservation research. Dustin holds an MSc in Plant Biology and Conservation from Arizona State University and is currently pursuing a PhD degree at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, focused on changing the seed banking paradigm using Hawaiian lobeliads as a model system. Dustin is also Deputy Chair of the IUCN SSC Seed Conservation Specialist Group.

Volunteers, interns, and students are providing critical help with all aspects of the Seed Bank. Kupu Member Kelli Jones came to work with the Seed Bank after completing her BSc in Forensic Anthropology from Fort Worth, Texas. Kelli has helped with completing a full inventory of our holdings of over 16 million seeds most of which are rare and endangered Hawaiian plants. In addition Kelli is doing research to understand the potential of herbarium collections as a last seed resource to resurrect species at the brink of extinction.

NTBG studies unusual seed biology of Hawaiian lobeliads to help conservation and restoration.

The endemic Hawaiian lobeliads (115 species in six genera: Brighamia, Clermontia, Cyanea, Delissea, Lobelia and Trematolobelia) are known for their colorful flowers that are likely bird or moth pollinated.


Lobelia gloria-montis 

The Hawaiian lobeliads exemplify adaptive radiation in plants and comprise the largest plant family in the flora of the most isolated archipelago on Earth, the bell flower or lobelia family (Campanulaceae). Arising from a single immigration event 13 million years ago, endemic Hawaiian Campanulaceae species are distributed on seven of the eight main Hawaiian Islands ranging in elevation from less than 100 to over 4000 meter above sea level and demonstrates remarkable diversity of habit (e.g., shrubs, trees, rosettes, succulents, vines, epiphytes) and habitat (e.g., high elevation bogs, cliff faces, forests).

Many of the Hawaiian lobeliads are rare and NTBG is involved in conservation work to help save these unique species. However, Hawaiian lobeliads exhibit anomalous response to conventional seed storage methods.


Brighamia insignis seeds

While the majority of species in the family have been identified as producing orthodox seeds (i.e., desiccation and freeze tolerant), this is not the case with Hawaiian-endemic Campanulaceae which appear to have intermediate – freeze sensitive storage behavior; seeds in equilibrium with 15-25% relative humidity store poorly at -18°C (conventional seed bank conditions). This is in contrast to both orthodox seeds and recalcitrant seeds (i.e., desiccation sensitive). A number of correlants of seed storage behavior have been proposed: for example, seed mass, seed coat:whole seed mass ratio, and lipid phase state changes at storage temperature. Also, some attempt has been made to assess how storage response may relate to potential ecological and phylogenetic drivers.

Seed Bank curator and laboratory manager Dustin Wolkis is conducting research for a PhD degree from the University of Copenhagen to determine how seed traits, phylogeny, and ecology can be used to predict seed storage behavior enabling successful seed banking and conservation of endangered plant species in the future.

Our Collections

To learn more about our collections browse these pages. Some of our underlying databases are public. Access to the herbarium and library collections in the Juliet Rice Wichman Botanical Research Center for scientific or education purposes can be arranged. See contact information under each collection.

Public tours of NTBGs five gardens can be booked online. The Behind the Scenes tour, South Shore Kauai includes the nursery and botanical research center.

Our Areas of Focus

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