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A kīpuka surrounded by lava flows at Kīlauea volcano, Hawai`i
Green kīpukas surrounded by brown lava flows erupted from Iwate volcano, Japan

A kīpuka is an area of land surrounded by one or more younger lava flows. A kīpuka forms when lava flows on either side of a hill, ridge, or older lava dome as it moves downslope or spreads from its source. Older and more weathered than their surroundings, kīpukas often appear to be like islands within a sea of lava flows. They are often covered with soil and late ecological successional vegetation that provide visual contrast as well as habitat for animals in an otherwise inhospitable environment.[citation needed]


Kīpuka, along with ʻaʻā and pāhoehoe, are Hawaiian words related to volcanology that have entered the lexicon of geology. Some[who?] have used the word informally as applying to any place where biological life endures the encroachment of civilization, an "island of life."[dubious ]

Significance to research[edit]

Kīpuka provides useful study sites for ecological research because they facilitate replication; multiple kīpuka in a system (isolated by the same lava flow) will tend to have uniform substrate age and successional characteristics, but are often isolated-enough from their neighbors to provide meaningful, comparable differences in size, invasion, etc. They are also receptive to experimental treatments. Kīpuka along Saddle Road on Hawaiʻi have served as the natural laboratory for a variety of studies, examining ecological principles like island biogeography,[1] food web control,[2] and biotic resistance to invasiveness.[3]

See also[edit]

Sources and References[edit]

  1. ^ Flaspohler, David J.; Giardina, Asner; Hart, Price; Lyons, Castaneda (2010). "Long-term effects of fragmentation and fragment properties on bird species richness in Hawaiian forests". Biological Conservation. 143 (2): 280–288. doi:10.1016/j.biocon.2009.10.009.
  2. ^ Gruner, Daniel S. (2004). "Attenuation of top-down and bottom-up forces in a complex terrestrial community" (PDF). Ecology. 85 (11): 3010–3022. doi:10.1890/04-0020. hdl:1903/7108. Retrieved 22 August 2013.
  3. ^ Gruner, Daniel S. (2004). "Biotic resistance to an invasive spider conferred by generalist insectivorous birds on Hawaiʻi Island". Biological Invasions. 0 (3): 1–6. doi:10.1007/s10530-004-2509-2. Retrieved 22 August 2013.