New Strategy to Fight ROD Wins ‘Ōhi‘a Challenge Prize

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Dr. Ryan Perroy (middle) of UH Hilo. Courtesy photo.

An innovative strategy to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) and remote sensing devices to detect Rapid ‘Ōhi‘a Death (ROD) has earned Dr. Ryan Perroy of the University of Hawai‘i at Hilo (UHH) the $70,000 ‘Ōhi‘a Challenge prize.

Since it was first discovered in 2014, ROD has killed hundreds of thousands of ‘ōhi‘a trees on Hawai‘i Island. The deadly fungus was recently discovered on Kaua‘i and Maui.

Dr. Perroy, an associate professor at UHH and principle investigator with the Spatial Data Analysis & Visualization (SDAV) lab, proposed the use of high-resolution cameras and other sensors to improve early detection of ROD across forests, including areas where signs of ROD may not yet be visible. His solution will help quicken the response time to ROD outbreaks, and give scientists better data on how the disease spreads.


In addition, Dr. Perroy’s solution includes the use of a drone to collect samples from the canopy of suspect trees for lab analysis, increasing the chances of early detection while saving ground crews time and effort.

“The best answers to problems are not always the ones we think up on our own,” said Susan Combs, U.S. Department of the Interior assistant secretary. “We need innovative solutions like Dr. Perroy’s submission to help us nurture the land for the next generations. Collaborative conservation is an important tool for successfully fulfilling our responsibilities to protect our nation’s forests, watersheds and other natural resources,” she said.

Courtesy photo. NPS.

Conservation X Labs, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, the National Invasive Species Council Secretariat, and the National Park Service partnered on the ʻŌhiʻa Challenge to identify innovative technological solutions to help fight ROD. Fifty-six applications were submitted in the $70,000 challenge from states across the U.S. as well as countries in Europe and Africa.


“The ecological and cultural importance of ʻōhi‘a cannot be overstated,” said Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park Ecologist David Benitez, who announced Perroy’s prize at the Hawai‘i Conservation Conference last week. “We were encouraged by the many high-quality submissions we received for this challenge, and by the support and interest it generated in Hawai‘i and around the world. Innovative solutions such as Dr. Perroy’s are a key to stopping the spread of ROD and saving our cherished ‘ōhi’a for future generation.”

“Dr. Perroy’s solution deploying multi-spectral imaging to detect asymptomatic trees at a landscape level has the potential to help save ‘ōhi‘a from extinction,” said Alex Dehgan, CEO and co-founder of Conservation X Labs. “Not only could his work tackle a critical problem in Hawai‘i but it could also yield incredible new developments in tracking fungal pathogens that threaten vital plant and agricultural species globally.”

In addition to Dr. Perroy’s winning solution, two non-monetary honorable mentions were awarded: Lauralea Oliver, with K9inSCENTive, LLC, for her proposal to use trained dogs and handlers to detect ROD, and Miguel Castrence, with Resource Mapping Hawaiʻi, for his proposal to use fixed wing airplanes and high-resolution sensors to map ROD across large areas.

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