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21-15. Enhancing the climate resilience of 450 threatened and endangered Hawaiian plants through modeling and conservation decision support for outplanting and translocation planning


Closing Date: November 1, 2022

This Research Opportunity will be filled depending on the availability of funds. All application materials must be submitted through USAJobs by 11:59 pm, US Eastern Standard Time, on the closing date.

Please communicate with individual Research Advisor(s) on the right to discuss project ideas and answer specific questions about the Research Opportunity.

How to Apply


Of the nearly 1000 federally listed threatened and endangered (T&E) plant species in the US, >40% are located exclusively in Hawaii. Many of these species require intensive ongoing conservation efforts due to threats including invasive predators, competitors, disease, and loss of habitat, pollinators and dispersers. Outplanting is one main type of intervention used to prevent extinction, stabilize and reintroduce populations of extremely rare plants. In Hawaii, outplanting beyond species’ historical ranges (i.e., translocation) is increasingly considered as an intervention to ensure rare plant species keep up with suitable habitat as the islands experience long-term drying and warming trends. In fact, successful experimental translocation trials, such as higher elevation outplantings of Cyanea superba ssp. superba that have outperformed historical populations, indicate some species’ most suitable climatic space may have already shifted out of the currently occupied range. Although these trials are promising, they lack a solid scientific foundation and decision framework necessary to consistently help address the challenge of conserving hundreds of species in the face of climate change. Instead, managers have had to assume the burden of risk and unquantified uncertainties when experimenting with a few species.

This fellowship opportunity addresses the challenges outlined above and takes advantage of Hawaii’s unique position to lead national-level USGS science in plant translocations. Hawaii has multiple mountains and islands of partially repeated environmental gradients and hundreds of species that could benefit from this research. We are seeking a Mendenhall Fellow who can help develop the scientific foundation and related decision support tools necessary for managers to identify climate-resilient outplanting and translocation opportunities with potential to safeguard hundreds of T&E plant species. The candidate could explore a range of topics, including but not limited to:

  • Spatial analysis of rare species outplanting success across the state: Several federal, state and private conservation agencies have collected decades of largely unexamined outplanting monitoring data. The integration and analyses of these datasets could help identify patterns and trends in outplanting success in response to climate, geography, and species traits to inform future conservation, reintroduction and translocation decisions.
  • Improving modeling methods to identify climate resilient/ translocation locations for extremely rare species:  Major historical range contractions due to low elevation habitat loss and invasive displacement pose a challenge to commonly used spatial distribution approaches to identify range shifts and possible range overlap with congeners. Several recent developments offer possible solutions to these challenges such as generalized joint attribute modeling and the integration of large volumes of recently digitized historical records from natural history museums.
  • Beyond spatial analyses: Research examining existing native dispersal capacity related to dispersal vectors, the analysis of genetic hybridization risks from potential assisted colonization introductions, and translocation experiments to test model-based hypotheses are also possible topics. However, these efforts must be able to address a substantial portion of the listed T&E plant species in order to reach broader generalizations beyond individual species findings.

Beyond the science needs identified above, the Fellow is expected to synthesize management relevant findings to facilitate and support ongoing and future landscape-level outplanting decisions. The format of the resulting decision support tools will be guided by management partners and an associated FWS-led effort aimed at defining a general framework for conservation introductions. This may include development of webtools and webmaps that illustrate taxon-specific outplanting zone maps that identify opportunities for inter-mountain and inter-island translocations. It may also include the development of plant-specific decision trees for climate resilient outplanting and translocation decision making based on existing climate adaptation frameworks such as the Resist-Accept-Direct framework and FWS’ decision framework for conservation introductions.

The efforts to be pursued by the selected Fellow have clear benefits beyond outplanting and translocation, as they can help identify necessary cross-boundary partnerships across different land holders, and priority areas for invasive species control and restoration. More broadly, as research clearly indicates a globally rising mismatch between the current distribution of plant species and their optimal environmental conditions, we expect that the Fellow will make meaningful contributions widely beyond Hawaii in an increasingly important field.

Applicants must have strong ecological modeling skills relevant to the scope of work identified above; experience working with plant conservation managers and developing applied conservation tools; and knowledge of botany and rare plant conservation efforts, including outplanting.

Interested applicants are strongly encouraged to contact the Research Advisor(s) early in the application process to discuss project ideas.

Proposed Duty Station: Remote duty station in the United States

Areas of PhD: Ecology, botany, spatial modeling, and related fields (candidates holding a Ph.D. in other disciplines, but with extensive knowledge and skills relevant to the Research Opportunity may be considered).

Qualifications: Applicants must meet the qualifications for the following: Research Ecologist

(This type of research is performed by those who have backgrounds for the occupations stated above.  However, other titles may be applicable depending on the applicant's background, education, and research proposal. The final classification of the position will be made by the Human Resources specialist.)

Human Resources Office Contact:  Victor Mendoza, 650-439-2454,

Apply Here