Hawai'i Volcano Blog

Projects about Hawaiian bud moth, Mauna Loa eruption conducted at Pōhakuloa Training Area

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Dr. Kirk Hillier, professor at Acadia University in Canada, changes the battery pack of a trap he set up at U.S. Army Garrison Pōhakuloa Training Area to study the Hawaiian bud moth, which is now only found at the training area. (Amy Phillips/Pōhakuloa Training Area)

At the U.S. Army Garrison Pōhakuloa Training Area on the Big island, scientists recently conducted two diverse projects: one about the Hawaiian bud moth and one about the 2022 Mauna Loa eruption.

Professor Dr. Kirk Hillier of Canada’s Acadia University was continuing his studies of the Helicoverpa hawaiiensis moth (Hawaiian bud moth), which he began in 2014.

“The reason this species is of interest to me is that it has developed in isolation on the islands and evolved for hundreds of thousands of years, most likely,” Hillier said.

The Hawaiian bud moth used to be distributed and documented through all the major islands in the 1960s and 1970s. Through his years of study in the state, he has concluded that the Hawaiian bud moth is now only found at Pōhakuloa Training Area.


Hiller said the study is important because “the Hawaiian bud moth is not a pest species but has the potential of becoming one.”

Pests have a huge negative economic impact on the nation’s agricultural industry, and put a dent in homeowners’ pockets when damage from pests like termites occur. A 2021 study estimated that invasive species have cost North America $2 billion per year in the early 1960s to over $26 billion per year since 2010.

“[Pōhakuloa Training Area] is attractive to researchers throughout the country because it offers study opportunities in rare and important tropical dryland forest ecosystems,” said Tiana Lackey, a biologist in the training area’s natural resources section. “It’s great when a project helps enhance our knowledge in understanding how best to restore native species and habitats.”

Matt Patrick with the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory stands in front of lava flow from the 2022 Mauna Loa eruption to measure its thickness while standing on pahoehoe lava from and eruption 87 years prior in 1935. (Tom Shea, UH Mānoa)

The other project about the recent Mauna Loa eruption by the University of Hawai’i was led by assistant professor Tom Shea, with UH graduate students, Matt Patrick with the U.S. Geological Survey Hawaiian Volcano Observatory and Andrew Harris with the Universite Clermont Auvergne in France.


Shea is with the Department of Earth Sciences and specializes in Volcanology-Geochemistry-Petrology. The team conducted a survey of the Mauna Loa eruption area to assess why the lava slowed and stalled at the northern most flow front. They also surveyed Department of Land and Natural Resources land.

Shea said the university and the observatory have “long been collaborating institutions, striving to investigate and understand volcanic hazard around the Big Island.”

The two agencies also are developing a new collaboration with the French university because they oversee the “sister” volcanic islands in the Indian Ocean (La Reunion) and this helps to broaden the understanding of active volcanoes.

“The November-December 2022 eruption at Mauna Loa and the lava flows it produced were an opportunity to work together on understanding what caused small but important shifts in lava flow direction during the crisis,” Shea said.


The 2022 eruption highlighted the difficulties in predicting the paths of lava flows.

“We hope that these field observations and samples will help shed light on how small scale underlying topography and the internal characteristics of the lava (crystallinity, pastiness/viscosity) ultimately controlled the exact path of the 2022 lava,” Shea said. “This will help improve on flow path predictions the observatory can make during future eruptions.”

The training area said in a news release it supports the scientific community by facilitating access to its installation.

“Maintaining good relations with researchers helps the scientific community and enhances our environmental program,” Commander Lt. Col. Kevin Cronin said. “We’re happy to support when we can.”

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