Note that we are no longer accepting applications for the Challenge.

Devastating fungi are killing Hawaii’s iconic ʻŌhiʻa trees. Are you ready to invent a way to help us detect and address Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death? Think you’ve got a good idea or potential solution? You could win up to $70,000 for your solution!

The first step to containment and eventual eradication of the disease is to be able to detect it – before it kills and before it spreads. This challenge seeks innovative tools and creative solutions to rapidly and cheaply detect the fungal species Ceratocystis lukuohia and Ceratocystis huliohia (formerly Ceratocystis fimbriata) in asymptomatic trees (i.e., trees that do not show signs of infection) as well as at the landscape scale in larger stands. We also seek tools that can detect the potential invasion transmission pathways (e.g., wind, streams, transported soil, forest products, tools, equipment, etc.) and potential reservoirs of the fungus that lead to its spread.

The Challenge is to create low-cost solutions to detect (and predict) the invasion pathways and the spread of the fungus in the environment, as well as solutions that would help contain or reduce the spread without harming other beneficial species.

Three categories for solutions in the challenge:

1. Field-based Detection Of Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death In Asymptomatic Trees

The Rapid ʻŌhiʻa Death fungus is an invisible killer. Its spores are microscopic, and without boring into the tree, it is currently impossible to detect the presence of the fungus. The fungus infects the tree’s interior sapwood and chokes the tree’s water transport system. Trees may be infectious but asymptomatic for over a year, yet the only visual cue of infection occurs when a tree’s canopy suddenly turns brown, and the tree begins to die. At this stage, teams are deployed to collect wood samples from the tree and submitted to a laboratory for analysis. When the leaves turn brown, it’s too late in the infection process to save the tree and/or prevent spread of the infection.

2. Detection Of The Fungus At The Landscape Level

Many ʻŌhiʻa trees are found in remote sites or challenging terrain (hilly and mountainous, with steep slopes, and/or thick foliage, etc.). Being able to reach such sites is difficult, and there is a need to understand the spread of the pathogen at the landscape level to allow us to focus our efforts around control and eradication. We invite low-cost solutions for rapid field-based detection of the infection in trees across challenging terrain and in stands of trees of more than five acres, and preferably up to 100 acres.

3. Environmental Pathway Identification, Including Predictive Assessment

We do not fully understand how trees become infected, what are potential reservoirs for the pathogen, and how the disease spreads through the environment. Understanding the spread of the fungus is critical, yet because the fungus is not visible to the naked eye, it is impossible to visually track it along suspected invasion pathways, including wind currents, soil samples, and possibly rain.

Most scientists who study fungal pathogens recognize that curing infected trees is difficult or near impossible, especially if the pathogen has spread across vast areas. Early detection is a critical component of all invasive species management programs, and improvements in our capacity to detect the fungus will help us contain it, and likely offer the best chance to eventually eliminate this disease.