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With lush green rainforests, tropical temperatures, and sandy beaches, Hawaii may seem like an exotic paradise far removed from the familiar biomes of North America. But in ecological terms, the Hawaiian Islands belong to a tropical biome shared with other island chains scattered across the equatorial oceans.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Hawaii has a tropical rainforest climate, which means warm temperatures year-round, high humidity, and lots of rainfall. This fits into the tropical/megathermal biome.

In this article, we’ll explore in detail what biome Hawaii falls into, explaining the key climatic and ecological characteristics that categorize it. We’ll also look at the different ecosystems and vegetation zones found across the Hawaiian archipelago.

Hawaii’s Tropical Rainforest Climate

Warm, Stable Temperatures

Hawaii enjoys a tropical rainforest climate, with warm temperatures year-round. The average highs are in the 80s Fahrenheit and the average lows in the 60s and 70s. This limited temperature variation is due to Hawaii’s geographic location in the tropics and the moderating influence of the surrounding Pacific Ocean (1).

The warm ocean regulates air temperatures across the islands. Each island has its own microclimates based on terrain, but overall Hawaii sees little seasonal fluctuation in temperatures.

High Rainfall

The tropical location also means Hawaii receives high rainfall amounts. The windward (east-facing) sides of the islands see the most rain, while the leeward (west-facing) sides are drier. But even leeward locations average around 20 inches of rain per year.

Lush green vegetation blankets much of Hawaii thanks to reliable moisture. The rainy season lasts from November to March, when Pacific storms contribute added rainfall (2). But summer showers are common too, sometimes even taking the form of flash floods or tropical cyclones.

Lush Vegetation

Abundant rain supports rich tropical plant growth across the islands. Diverse native species mingle with introduced ornamentals and crops. Palm trees, flowering plumerias, orchids, ginger, banana trees – the vegetation looks like something out of a postcard.

Much of Hawaii was originally covered in dense rainforests. Some pristine vestiges remain, like the forests on Kauai featured in films like Jurassic Park. But other areas now house agricultural operations like pineapple and coffee plantations.

Still others have been developed for residential or tourism purposes as Hawaii’s population has boomed. But step outside even the big cities like Honolulu or Kailua-Kona and it doesn’t take long to find yourself immersed in that distinctive lush, green tropical landscape.

Hawaii Average Temperatures Hawaii Average Rainfall
High: mid 80s F/ 29-31 C Windward side: 100-380 inches per year
Low: mid 60s to mid 70s F/ 16-24 C Leeward side: 10-40 inches per year

Hawaii’s Tropical Biome Classification

The Hawaiian Islands are located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, over 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. Despite their isolated location, the islands host a vibrant and diverse range of plant and animal life. This is due to Hawaii’s tropical climate and varied landscapes across the islands.

According to the Köppen climate classification system, Hawaii has a tropical rainforest climate. This means warm temperatures year-round, with an average annual temperature around 75-80°F. Rainfall is also abundant, with some areas receiving over 400 inches per year.

The high heat and copious rainfall create ideal conditions for lush tropical vegetation.

Hawaii’s Diverse Ecosystems

Across Hawaii’s islands, several unique ecosystems have developed due to differences in rainfall, elevation, soil types, and other factors.

  • Lowland rainforests – Found at lower elevations near the coasts, these forests receive heavy rainfall and host trees like ohia and koa, along with many colorful flowering plants.
  • Montane rainforests – At higher mountain elevations with frequent cloud cover and rain, ohia and koa trees mix with other plants like hapuu ferns in the damp conditions.
  • Dry forests – On leeward, drier sides of the islands, forests dominated by lama and wiliwili trees have adapted to less rainfall.
  • Alpine shrublands – At the highest mountain elevations, cold tropical alpine zones host hardy small shrubs and plants like pukiawe and silverswords.

This diversity of habitats leads to a wide variety of animal species calling Hawaii home too. Birds like honeycreepers and nene geese, insects like happy-face spiders, and Hawaiian monk seals in the surrounding ocean waters all thrive in this isolated tropical environment.

Threats to Hawaii’s Ecosystems

Sadly, many of Hawaii’s unique ecosystems are considered endangered. Habitat loss, invasive species, climate change, and other factors have put pressure on native plant and animal communities.

For example, over 90% of Hawaii’s dry forests have been cleared for agriculture and development. And in the high mountain shrublands, introduced feral goats have damaged vegetation and accelerated erosion.

Protecting remaining areas of native habitat and controlling invasive threats are crucial for preserving Hawaii’s natural heritage into the future.

Rich Biodiversity to Treasure

Despite the many threats they face, Hawaii’s varied ecosystems continue to host a wealth of endemic plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth. From the colorful honeycreeper birds darting through ohia trees, to the sprawling hapuu fern forests blanketed in mist, to the unique silversword plants clinging to barren mountain peaks, Hawaii’s landscapes showcase evolution’s creativity.

As the most isolated island chain on our planet, the Hawaiian archipelago is a truly one-of-a-kind tropical biome. Its biodiversity and breathtaking beauty make it a environmental wonder worth protecting for generations to come.

Ecosystem Diversity Across the Islands

Lowland Tropical Rainforests

Hawaii’s lowland tropical rainforests, found at elevations below 3,000 feet, are characterized by warm temperatures, high rainfall, and lush vegetation. Dominant tree species include ‘ōhi’a lehua (Metrosideros polymorpha), koa (Acacia koa), and loulu palm (Pritchardia spp.).

Understory plants like hapu’u tree ferns (Cibotium spp.) and native birds like the ‘apapane (Himatione sanguinea) and ‘amakihi (Chlorodrepanis virens) flourish in these forests.

However, over 90% of Hawaii’s lowland rainforests have been lost due to land conversion for agriculture and development. Remaining stands are threatened by invasive species, climate change, and other human impacts.

Conservation efforts on public and private lands seek to protect these rare ecosystems.

Montane Bogs and Cloud Forests

At middle elevations of 3,000-6,500 feet, cool temperatures and persistent cloud cover create unique cloud forests and bogs. Māmane (Sophora chrysophylla) and native shrubs dominate cloud forests, while sedges, mosses, and carnivorous plants characterize montane bogs.

The palila (Loxioides bailleui), a critically endangered Hawaiian honeycreeper, relies exclusively on māmane forests for food and shelter. Introduced sheep, goats, and pigs have severely degraded these sensitive ecosystems.

Fencing, animal removal, and outplanting māmane are key restoration efforts to recover montane habitat.

Alpine Deserts

Above treeline, freezing temperatures and intense solar radiation create an extreme environment more similar to a desert than a tropical island. Hardy plants like pūkiawe (Leptecophylla tameiameiae), āweoweo (Chenopodium spp. ), and sandwort (Honckenya peploides) manage to eke out an existence.

The nēnē goose (Branta sandvicensis), Hawaii’s state bird, grazes on alpine shrubs and grasslands.

Alpine stone deserts on volcanoes like Mauna Kea and Haleakalā resemble lunar landscapes. With very little vegetation, these areas are extremely fragile to disturbance. Careful management of recreation and astronomy development is necessary to prevent erosion and habitat loss.

Coastal Ecosystems

Hawaii’s coastlines support vibrant coral reefs, sandy beaches, seabird colonies, and estuarine wetlands. Iconic marine species include green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas), spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), and the endemic Hawaiian monk seal (Neomonachus schauinslandi), one of the most endangered marine mammals on the planet.

Runoff of sediment and pollutants from the land threaten nearshore waters and reefs. Setbacks from development, improved stormwater management, and eliminating sources of pollution are critical to ensure the health of Hawaii’s precious coastal ecosystems.

Hawaii’s Endemic Flora and Fauna

Unique Native Species

The Hawaiian Islands are one of the most isolated archipelagos in the world, located over 2,000 miles from the nearest continent. This extreme isolation led to the evolution of many unique plant and animal species found nowhere else on Earth.

In fact, over 10,000 species are endemic to Hawaii, meaning they only occur naturally in the Hawaiian Islands.

Some examples of Hawaii’s endemic flora include the striking red and yellow Lehua blossoms, the fragrant Maile vine used in traditional lei, and the Silversword plant found only on volcanic cinder cone peaks.

Endemic fauna are equally impressive, like the Hawaiian honeycreeper birds with their brightly colored plumages adapted to various ecological niches on different islands.

Influences from Polynesian Settlement

The first Polynesians arrived in Hawaii around 600-800 AD, bringing with them crop plants and domestic animals that profoundly shaped the islands’ ecology. Significant impacts included clearing native forests for agriculture, hunting endemic flightless birds to extinction, and introducing rats that prey on bird eggs and native snails.

However, the early Hawaiians also developed a cultural system of conservation called Kapu that helped regulate harvesting pressures on natural resources. Ancient Hawaiian chiefs understood the islands’ limited resources and need for sustainability.

The legacy of traditional Hawaiian stewardship remains an important influence today.

Threats to Endemism

Unfortunately, many of Hawaii’s unique species now face serious threats. Over 90 endemic plant species are listed as endangered, primarily due to habitat loss from agriculture, ranching, logging and development.

Over 75% of native forest birds have gone extinct since human settlement, decimated by habitat destruction and invasive species.

Ongoing conservation efforts focus on ecosystem restoration, managing key protected areas, control of invasive species and public education. Returning native plants to ancient wetlands and reintroducing captive-bred birds show signs of progress.

However, safeguarding Hawaii’s unparalleled biodiversity remains an immense challenge requiring long-term commitment and innovative solutions.

To learn more, check out these authoritative sites:


The tropical rainforest climate and ecosystems of Hawaii may seem similar to island chains in the Caribbean or South Pacific, but millions of years of remote isolation have given rise to an endemic flora and fauna found nowhere else on Earth.

As one of the most isolated archipelagos, the Hawaiian Islands showcase evolution’s creative powers to diversify life.

While the eight main islands exhibit ecological differences, they all belong to the broader tropical/megathermal biome classification shared by equatorial regions. Understanding Hawaii’s tropical biome provides deeper insight into the natural forces that have made it both an ecologically fragile Eden and a unique showcase of earth’s biodiversity.

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