HONOLULU — A county funded community collaboration in Hawaii aims to find new solutions to a fungal disease that is attacking and killing ohia, the most abundant native tree in the state.

The Malama Ohia initiative is in its preliminary stages, starting with a research project investigating effects of applying a spray of indigenous microorganisms to ohia trees to see whether the spray boosts a tree’s resistance to the Ceratocystis fungus that causes rapid ohia death.

Rapid ohia death has affected more than 117 sq. miles (303 sq. kilometers) of trees on the main island of Hawaii, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (http://bit.ly/2sJn1hU ).

Researchers continue working on several initiatives to understand how Ceratocystis moves through individual trees and spreads throughout forests.

Indigenous microorganisms are the linchpin of the Korean Natural Farming method, which has been growing in popularity in Hawaii during the past several years. The method uses the microbes to break down waste.

Anecdotal evidence indicates the spray could help ohia trees recover.

The spark for the project came roughly a year ago, after Kalapana resident Dana Keawe tested a spray on dead ohia trees and saw liko sprout shortly after.

Keawe became interested in trying the procedure under more rigorously studied conditions.

“She told me what the Korean Natural Farmers had observed, with the success stories in the agriculture fields, so I thought ‘We need to try this, we need to do this research study,'” said Jen Johanson, one of the project leaders along with Leila Kealoha and Drake Weinert. “This is a devastating disease.”

University of Hawaii at Hilo biologist Patrick Hart is designing the experiment itself. The group is still seeking grants to fund the project.

“Right now we’re trying to find a test site to do the study,” Kealoha said. “Once we get that going, then we can start doing the IMO batches of solution.”

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