Tasmania has a rich and diverse native orchid flora with over 200 species. Almost all of these are ground dwelling (terrestrial) with one species growing in trees (epiphyte) and another growing in crevices of rocky outcrops (lithophyte). Tasmania’s Midlands and Northwest are ‘hotspots’ for orchid diversity and distribution
Over one third of Tasmania’s orchids are threatened with extinction and many others are naturally rare, only known from a small number of populations in Tasmania. Threats to Tasmanian orchids include climate change, competition from invasive weeds, land clearing for agriculture and urbanisation as well as many others. There is an urgent need to undertake conservation research to learn more about why these species are rare and how best to preserve them.
Research conducted by Dr Nigel Swarts at the RTBG, is aiming to improve the conservation status of Tasmania’s most threatened orchids through a range of projects involving collaborations with community groups, NRM regions and other funding bodies.
These projects include:
- Revising the Threatened Tasmanian Orchids Flora Recovery Plan 2006-2010. In collaboration with DPIPWE’s Threatened Species Section and orchid specialist Mark Wapstra, this project is reviewing the conservation status and threats faced by orchids listed on Tasmania’s Threatened Species Act. Included in this revision is the recommendation of a range of new strategies for both on site (in situ) threat mitigation and of site (ex situ) conservation research.
- Threatened Orchids Propagation Program. Funded by NRM South Naturally Inspired grant, The Mazda Foundation and the Norman Wettenhall Foundation, this project aims to train volunteers in propagation methods for Tasmania’s orchids. 10 volunteers from the Friends of the RTBG and Threatened Plants Tasmania community groups are participating in this project which will see a wide range of species propagated from rare leek orchids to common spider orchids.
- Continental-scale Specialisation in Mycorrhiza of Orchids. This Australian Orchid Foundation funded project, in collaboration with CSIRO Plant Industries and the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (WA) will investigate the requirement orchids have for a soil fungus for survival. Known as ‘mycorrhiza’, orchids require these fungi for the provision of nutrients and water from germination right through to maturity. This three year continental scale project will explore mycorrhizal diversity across each terrestrial orchid genus and attempt to better understand how this diversity is influenced by habitat type and colonisation patterns within the orchid’s underground organs.
Dr Nigel Swarts at work in the TSCC laboratory.
Dr Nigel Swarts completed his PhD with the University of Western Australia and has worked as a research scientist at the Botanic Gardens and Parks Authority (WA). Nigel is currently hosted by the RTBG. If you would like more information on these projects or other orchid related research please contact Nigel.
(maroonhoods) growing at the RTBG. (All orchid images provided by Nuytisa@Tas/Flickr)