The Akiapolaau (Hemignathus munroi), an endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper, drills 3–5 mm deep holes in particular ohia trees (Metrosideros polymorpha) and drinks the sap that emerges, a remarkable example of convergent evolution in sap-feeding behavior with mainland woodpeckers and Australian sugar-gliders. There has been little research on how this species selects sap trees (“Aki trees”) and what advantages they confer. We marked the locations of and collected sap samples and microhabitat data from 101 Aki trees and 73 randomly selected control trees in Hakalau Forest National Wildlife Refuge, Hawaii. Aki trees were rare (2 ha−1), spatially clustered, and defended by Akiapolaau. Sap flow volume and speed were substantially greater in Aki trees than in controls. Aki trees also were larger, had thinner bark, and were more likely to be located on convex east-facing slopes where more light is available. Those results support the hypothesis that Aki trees are selected on the basis of high sap flow and a suite of unique microhabitat and tree characteristics. Sap may be an important energy source in times of low insect availability and a potent alternative to nectar for the Akiapolaau. Aki trees are both a fascinating example of niche specialization and a factor that should be considered when conserving or restoring habitat for this endangered species.
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Vol. 121 • No. 2