With c. 28,000 species, orchids are one of the largest families of flowering plants, and they are also one of the most threatened, in part due to their complex life history strategies. Threats include habitat destruction and climate change, but many orchids are also threatened by unsustainable (often illegal and/or undocumented) harvest for horticulture, food or medicine. The level of these threats now outstrips our abilities to combat them at a species-by-species basis for all species in such a large group as Orchidaceae; if we are to be successful in conserving orchids for the future, we will need to develop approaches that allow us to address the threats on a broader scale to complement focused approaches for the species that are identified as being at the highest risk. Keywords: Conservation priorities, Systematics, Phylogenetics, Population genetics, In situ conservation, Ex situ conservation, Integrated conservation, Mycorrhizas, Pollination, Illegal trade, CITES, Red List Background and host trees, orchids present particular challenges for We live in exciting but challenging times for the study conservation, and this is compounded by non-sustainable of biodiversity and its conservation. Novel technologies and often illegal collection for horticulture, medicine and provide us with the opportunity to study species and food and by climate change (Fay 2015a; Gale et al. 2018). their interactions in greater detail than ever before, but The need for orchid conservation is paramount if we challenges associated with global change, habitat destruc- are to leave to future generations the rich and wildly tion, changing land use and unsustainable utilization of fascinating orchid legacy we all enjoy today. Without biodiversity make its conservation ever-more urgent, and effective conservation actions…, threatening process the capacity to develop solutions at the species-level for will continue to militate against the survival of rare more than a small proportion of species (e.g. those iden- orchids, resulting in their continued degradation tified as being at the greatest risk) is likely be outstripped and inevitable extinction. by the sheer scale and pace of change (Gale et al. 2018). In response to these challenges, scientists and conservation In this quote from their recent book, Swarts and Dixon practitioners must make difficult choices in prioritizing (2017, p. 4) encapsulated the need for urgent and effective their work. With c. 28,000 species, orchids are probably conservation action for orchids, a group that biologists the second largest family of flowering plants after Aster - including Linnaeus and Darwin have found fascinat- aceae (Chase et al. 2003, 2015; Willis 2017). By the end of ing due to their extreme specializations (Fay and Chase 2017, the IUCN Global Red List included assessments for 2009). In this short review, I discuss the conservation 948 orchid species, of which 56.5% are threatened (IUCN status of orchids, the threats to their continued survival 2017), but this leaves c. 27,000 species to be assessed for and approaches to addressing the challenges relating to the Global Red List. Due to their complex biology, nota- orchid conservation in the twenty-first century. bly their interactions with mycorrhizal fungi, pollinators Conservation status of orchids—what do we know? With c. 28,000 species divided into five subfamilies, *Correspondence: firstname.lastname@example.org Orchidaceae are one of the largest and most widespread Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, Richmond, Surrey TW9 3AB, UK families of flowering plants, and they account for c. 8% Full list of author information is available at the end of the article © The Author(s) 2018. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creat iveco mmons .org/licen ses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. Fay Bot Stud (2018) 59:16 Page 2 of 6 of angiosperm species diversity (Chase et al. 2003, 2015; only slowly being understood. Indiscriminate collection Willis 2017). However, only c. 1000 species have been for horticultural collections has been documented as assessed for the IUCN Global Red List to date (IUCN having a major impact on some orchids, notably species 2017), and an alarming 56.5% of those that have been of Cattleya, Laelia, Renanthera and some slipper orchids assessed fall into one of the categories of threat (critically (Cypripedium, Paphiopedilum, Phragmipedium), and in endangered, endangered and vulnerable). Major threats some cases these have been systematically stripped from include habitat destruction and unsustainable (often the wild to the point of (near) extinction. However, many illegal) harvesting, and because of their complex life his- orchids are not collected for horticulture or are collected tories orchids are thought to be particularly vulnerable in such small numbers that there is unlikely to be much to the effects of global environmental change (Fay and impact (e.g. Cribb et al. 2003; Fay 2015a). Chase 2009; Swarts and Dixon 2009a; Gale et al. 2018). Largely as an attempt to control illegal smuggling of All species of subfamily Cypripedioideae (the slipper these desirable orchids and because of perceived prob- orchids) were assessed for the Global Red List in a recent lems with identification, all orchids were placed on the project, and due to a combination of habitat degradation appendices of the Convention on International Trade in and, in some cases, ruthless harvesting, c. 90% of spe- Endangered Species (CITES) (e.g. Cribb et al. 2003), and cies were assessed as threatened (Fay and Rankou 2016). orchids account for > 70% of the species listed on CITES. Slipper orchids were chosen for that project because of However, it is becoming increasingly clear that many their high profile and the expected high level of threat, orchid species are still being collected and transported but even the family-wide figure of 56.5% shows that many across international borders, for use as medicine or food orchid species are threatened with extinction. Their con - in addition to the horticultural trade, without the per- servation should be regarded as urgent if these iconic mits required under CITES (e.g. Fay 2015a; Hinsley et al. plants are not to decline further. 2018). The extent of the illegal trade is difficult to assess, but attempts are being made to estimate the extent of What are the threats? non-compliance with CITES regulations (e.g. Ghorbani Globally, habitats and the species that occur in them are et al. 2014; Hinsley et al. 2017). Notable examples of under increasing pressure. Brooks et al. (2002), for exam- poorly documented trade relate to orchids collected for ple, reported that nearly 50% of vascular plant species traditional medicine in East Asia and for production of are endemic to 25 “hotspots” of biodiversity, each with at the foodstuffs salep in the eastern Mediterranean and the least 1500 endemic plant species, but all of these hotspots Middle East (e.g. Kreziou et al. 2016; de Boer et al. 2017) had lost more than two-thirds of their pristine habitat. and chikanda in south-eastern Africa (e.g. Veldman et al. These authors predicted that, as a result of this habitat 2014); the development of novel DNA-based techniques loss, many of the endemics in these hotspots are likely to is now providing the opportunity to identify the orchid become extinct or to be threatened with extinction in the species in these processed foodstuffs, and this will mean near future. In a study of a Mediterranean island, Vogt- that documentation and policing of the trade will become Schilb et al. (2016) presented evidence of high turnover increasingly feasible (e.g. de Boer et al. 2017). In addition in species composition of orchids in communities as to not halting illegal trade, an unintended consequence of result of change in land use. There is also increasing evi - the listing of all species of orchid on CITES has been a dence that global change may also be influencing species reduction in the collection of orchids for scientific pur - distributions (e.g. Fay 2015b), and benefits of and prob - poses, including conservation research; (Roberts and lems associated with assisted migration and transloca- Solow 2008). tions to climatically suitable localities are increasingly being discussed in relation to orchids (e.g. Ramsay and Conserving orchids Dixon 2003; Swarts and Dixon 2009a) and more gener- Orchid conservation has been the subject of many ally (Pearman and Walker 2004; Ricciardi and Simberloff reviews; to access the older literature, the reader is 2009). Like all plants, orchid species are affected by these pointed to reviews written by Koopowitz (2001), Cribb pressures, but due to their often complex interactions et al. (2003), Koopowitz et al. (2003), Dixon and Phil- with pollinators, mycorrhizal fungi and host trees, they lips (2007) and Swarts and Dixon (2009b) and many are likely to be at greater risk as they are dependent on of the chapters in the volume resulting from the First other organisms that are also being affected by habitat or International Orchid Conservation Congress held in climatic change. Thus, orchids present greater challenges Western Australia in 2001 (Dixon et al. 2003). Most than many other plant groups. recently, Swarts and Dixon (2017) published a book An additional area of threat relating to orchids is focusing on conservation techniques for terrestrial unsustainable harvesting, and the full impact of this is orchids. Together, these publications represent a rich Fay Bot Stud (2018) 59:16 Page 3 of 6 resource for conservation and should be consulted Systematics and genetics: helping to set by anyone with an interest in orchid conservation. In conservation priorities their review, Swarts and Dixon (2009b) focused on the If we are to conserve biodiversity effectively, we first role of botanic gardens in supporting orchid conser- need to know what exists, and there is a clear role for vation scientifically and horticulturally, and Pedersen systematic and taxonomic studies in circumscribing et al. (2018) stressed the close link between collection- species and in identifying high priorities for conserva- based research and conservation. tion. This is particularly the case in taxonomically com - Documentation of orchid species (how many species plex groups. In Dactylorhiza, Pillon et al. (2006) found should be recognized, where they occur and how they greater phylogenetic and genetic diversity in the Cau- are related to each other) is improving, and this infor- casus and the Mediterranean Basin than in Western mation provides the necessary background for estab- Europe (generally regarded as the centre of diversity for lish conservation priorities, but effective conservation this genus), and they stated that conservation of line- will also depend on the maintenance of the essential ages of Dactylorhiza in the Caucasus and Mediterranean links with animals, fungi and other plants that allow should be given greater priority; because species num- them to survive. In recognition of the importance of ber is correlated with taxonomic effort, it is not always these interactions, “Making the links” was chosen an appropriate measure of biodiversity as it can be sensi- as the theme for the 5th International Orchid Con- tive to “taxonomic inflation” in well studied areas. They servation Congress, held on La Réunion in 2013 (Fay also stressed the importance of conserving areas where et al. 2015; Fay 2016; and references therein). Six of allotetraploids are formed rather than conserving spe- the papers from the 6th International Orchid Con- cific allotetraploids, thus conserving process rather than servation Congress, held in Hong Kong in 2016, also named taxa (see also Ennos et al. 2012). In Ophrys, there focus on these links; see Gale et al. (2018) and refer- is little consensus regarding the number of species that ences therein). With orchids, perhaps more than most should be recognised, with authors accepting < 20 species other plant groups, integrated conservation involving (Pedersen and Faurholdt 2007) or > 300 species (Delforge in situ and ex situ approaches and studies of pollina- 2006); setting conservation priorities with so little con- tion, mycorrhizal associations and genetics (as sum- sensus is impossible, and further studies aimed at sorting marized by Swarts and Dixon (2009a) for terrestrial out the relationships and delimiting the units for conser- orchids in Western Australia) will be necessary if we vation are badly needed. are to succeed. Many groups of orchids are still poorly known, espe- Species-by-species approaches to conservation will cially in tropical regions, and phylogenetic studies will continue to be the ideal for species identified as being be necessary to identify the number of species to be rec- the highest priorities or at the greatest risk, but for ognized and those that are phylogenetically isolated and a group as large as Orchidaceae, in which so little is consequently of high conservation value. Borba et al. known about population genetics, etc. for many spe- (2014), for example, showed that the rare and poorly cies, we will need to complement these with other known monospecific genus Cotylolabium from Brazil approaches that allow us to conserve groups of species falls in an isolated position as sister to the remainder of that have similar threats, that are closely related or that subtribe Spiranthinae, and it should thus be treated as a occur sympatrically. Approaches addressing conserva- high priority for conservation as it represents the same tion of process (rather than individual species) may be amount of phylogenetic history as the other c. 40 genera appropriate in groups which are undergoing relatively in the subtribe. On a wider scale, Li et al. (2018) inves- evolution due to hybridization and/or polyploidization tigated the use of phylogenetic measures as a means of (e.g. Ennos et al. 2012). Formal conservation planning prioritizing members of Orchidaceae for conserva- has generally focused more on animals than plants, tion in the Indo-Burma Biodiversity Hotspot, revealing but, for example, the Conservation Breeding Special- Thailand, South China and Vietnam as the areas har - ist Group of IUCN has recently broadened the focus of bouring the highest phylogenetic diversity and Tropidia its activities and changed its name to the Conservation curculigoides, Thaia saprophytica and Risleya atropurpu - Planning Specialist Group (http://www.cpsg.org/), and rea as accounting for disproportionately great evolution- some publications now contain sections specifically ary distinctiveness. focused on plants (e.g. IUCN 2017). The Orchid Spe- At the population level, genetic studies can be used to cialist Group of IUCN looks forward to working with identify regions or populations that should be treated as CPSG and similar organizations in developing effec- high priority for conservation. This is a rapidly develop - tive conservation planning for orchids. ing area and reviews become outdated quickly and will not be dealt with in detail here. Previously, development Fay Bot Stud (2018) 59:16 Page 4 of 6 of markers was time-consuming and expensive, but new in some cases the “pollinator food source, nesting site, technologies are speeding up marker development and larval host species, and in the case of parasitic pollina- allowing more loci to be studied than previously possible, tors, the larval host plant of its host species”. If pollina- and the quality of the information to be used in conserva- tors are not present in sufficient numbers (or at all), fruit tion planning will improve as a result (e.g. Gargiulo et al. production can be limited or absent, and this can have 2018). a major impact on the choice of sites for reintroduction programmes (Reiter et al. 2017). Hutchings et al. (2018) showed that climate change can decouple the phenology Conserving habitats of pollinator and orchid species, potentially leading to So long as climate change does not make conditions reproductive failure of the orchid. unsuitable for species, conserving the habitats where Despite the identified need for knowledge of the com - orchids and, for epiphytes, their host trees grow should ponents necessary to ensure that pollinators are present be treated as the highest priority, and some countries and available for pollination, we are still far from under- have established reserves specifically for orchids (see, standing the pollination biology of many orchid spe- e.g., Cribb et al. 2003). Rasmussen and Rasmussen (2018) cies, and, despite the long history of the study of orchid reviewed the relationship between epiphytic orchids pollination, new discoveries are still being made on a and their host trees, calling for further research into the regular basis. Recent papers have investigated birds (e.g. mechanisms controlling distribution of orchids on differ - Micheneau et al. 2006; van der Niet et al. 2015), crick- ent species of trees. ets (Micheneau et al. 2010), fungus gnats (Phillips et al. Some orchid conservation organisations have the prin- 2014) and biting midges (Bogarín et al. 2018) as special- ciple aim of establishing reserves, one being the Orchid ized pollinators. Many orchid species attract pollinators Conservation Alliance (OCA), who state that “preserva- by deceipt, with the forms of deception including food tion of natural orchid habitat preserves the orchids, their deception, brood-site imitation, shelter imitation, ren- pollinators, their genetic diversity, and other fauna, as dezvous attraction and sexual deception (Jersáková et al. well as the birds, frogs, insects, reptiles, and mammals in 2006), and recent discoveries of dual deceipt (pseudopol- the forests where they live” (OCA 2017). However, this len lacking food value; Davies et al. 2013), carrion mim- will not in itself be sufficient, given the pressures that icry (van der Niet et al. 2011) and production of fruitfly orchids face from habitat destruction, unsustainable har- aggregation pheromones (Karremans et al. 2015) demon- vesting and climate change. Meeting these challenges strate that we are far from understanding the full com- will in many cases also involve a combination of creating plexities of orchid pollination. new habitats, transplantation and ex situ conservation in seedbanks and living collections. Papers in this issue by Kendon et al. (2017), Zettler et al. (2017) and Higaki et al. Understanding mycorrhizal associations (2017) focus on some aspects of ex situ conservation. Seed and protocorm development is reviewed in this Conserving orchids in isolation from their pollinators, issue by Yeung (2017), including discussion of myc- fungal associates and host plants means that the com- orrhizal associations and the survival of orchid seeds plexity of their biology is lost, even though the species and plantlets in their natural habitats. Clearly, the role still exists. For this reason, orchid conservationists are of mycorrhizal fungi is crucial to the survival of self- some of the keenest advocates of “integrated conserva- sustaining populations of orchids, but there is much tion”, using ex situ techniques to support in situ conserva- research still to be conducted before we fully understand tion as appropriate. the mycorrhizal associations, especially with epiphytic orchid species. Even with temperate terrestrial species, Understanding pollinators and pollination the processes involved are not fully understood, but Orchids are renowned for the wide range of pollina- techniques including measurement of isotope enrich- tion mechanisms and syndromes (e.g. Darwin 1862; ment of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen now allow us Micheneau et al. 2009) and the species diversity in the to demonstrate the contribution that the fungi make to family has been attributed, in part, to the diversity of the nutrition of orchids, even when the plants are appar- pollen mechanisms (e.g. Cozzolino and Widmer 2005). ently capable of photosynthesis (e.g. Gebauer et al. 2016). Because of the diversity of pollination mechanisms, Rob- These techniques were recently used, for example, by Fay erts (2003) stressed the importance of understanding et al. (2018) to demonstrate that reintroduced seedlings pollination biology for effective orchid conservation, stat - of Cypripedium calceolus had established mycorrhizal ing that “orchid conservation will require a case by case, associations after planting out, despite being produced functional ecosystem approach”, and noted the need to axenically. conserve not only the orchid and the pollinator, but also Fay Bot Stud (2018) 59:16 Page 5 of 6 Competing interests Controlling trade: can harvesting of orchids The author declares that he has no competing interests. from nature be sustainable? With habitat destruction and global change, collection Availability of data and materials Not applicable. of orchids for horticulture, food or medicine represents one of the major threats to the survival of some groups Ethics approval and consent to participate of orchids, and Hinsley et al. (2018) highlighted four key Not applicable. priorities to address this problem. Much of the harvest of Funding orchids and subsequent trade is unregulated and undoc- Not applicable. umented, and research into trade dynamics and the impacts of harvest will be of critical importance if we are Publisher’s Note to prevent orchids being driven into extinction. Strength- Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in pub- lished maps and institutional affiliations. ening the legal trade and tackling illegal trade were both identified as priorities—unless we provide the necessary Received: 10 April 2018 Accepted: 1 June 2018 support for the legal trade, the illegal trade will continue. Finally, raising the profile of orchid trade among policy makers, conservationists and the public was stressed by Hinsley et al. as being fundamental in underpinning the References Bogarín D, Fernández M, Borkent A, Heemskerk A, Pupulin F, Ramírez S, Smets other priorities. 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Botanical Studies – Springer Journals
Published: Jun 5, 2018
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