Orchid Pollination Strategy for Corunastylis littoralis (Part Two of Two Parts)

Part Two – Different Ways of Orchid Reproduction

Part One – Attracting Pollinators looked at pollination strategy, but the fourth aim of the paper was to establish that Corunastylis littoralis reproduced by xenogamy or geitonogamy and that the species was not autogamous or apomictic, that is, pollinated, self pollinating or non pollinating plants.

Xenogamy or geitonogamy that is vector mediated pollination or out-crossing is when fertilization occurs by the transfer of pollen from one flower to another flower usually by the means of insect.

Autogamy or self-pollinating is when the flower is pollinated by its own pollen.

Apoximis is when reproduction occurs without pollination, that is, vegetative reproduction.

As explained in the paper, there are visual clues for determining which process is used by the plant.

Xenogmay Autogamy Apoximis
Pollinia removal and pollen deposition Pollinia not removed Lacks pollen or it is tightly bound
Pollinia weakly attached to the viscidium If pollinia present, then unable to be removed
Not all the ovaries are fertilized All the ovaries are fertilized and have viable seeds
Swelling of the ovaries can occur whilst in bud
Perfumed Likely to have no perfume
Attracts insects
Flowers short lived

Corunastylis littoralis with swollen seedpods

More detailed information was gained by dissecting the flower.

To read the full paper, click here.

To read the report, click here.

Thank you to Colin Bower for checking this post and for allowing the use of his photographs.

Orchid Pollination Strategy for Corunastylis littoralis (Part One of Two Parts)

Part One – Attracting Pollinators

Corunastylis littoralis (Photo: Colin Bower)In 2015 a paper was published in the Journal of Plant Systematics Telopea (Vol 18:43-55) titled “Reproductive success and pollination of the Tuncurry MidgeOrchid (Genoplesium littorale)(Orchidaceae) by Chloropid Flies “. Much of the same material had been published earlier in a consultancy report for UrbanGrowth NSW, under the title “Pollination of The Tuncurry Midge Orchid (Corunastylis littoralis) Amended June 2014″ Prepared by Colin C Bower PhD.

Because of their details, research papers can contain some very interesting facts of interest to a wide range of readers. This paper was no different. The aim of the paper was to identify the pollinator(s), how the attractant worked, confirm that C. littoralis was not autogamous (self-fertilizing) or apomictic (reproduction without pollination) and to assess the requirements & long-term viability of the pollinator.

The following summary notes have been drawn from both the research paper and the consultancy report.  Note that Corunastylis littoralis is a synonym of Genoplesium littorale.

One of the interesting issues discussed was the different types of pollination strategies employed by orchids. It is commonly accepted that about one third of orchids use deceptive practices to attract a pollinator whereby they promise but don’t deliver. Some of these strategies are quite unusual. It would appear that there are at least four strategies now known. In order of frequency they are

  1. Food mimicry
  2. Sexual mimicry
  3. Brood-site mimicry
  4. Prey/carrion mimicry

The first two are well known to many orchid lovers. The orchid promises food such as nectar but does not produce any nectar or it has the appearance and even odour of the female insect pollinator so that it fools the male. The lesser known deception is brood-site mimicry where the female insect pollinator is tricked into laying the eggs on the flower but there is no chance for survival of the off-spring. Finally the most uncommon and unusual deception of prey or carrion mimicry, known as kleptomyiophily.

This method was discussed in detail in the report and made for fascinating reading although it was helpful to have a dictionary on hand.

Some insects are kleptoparasitic that is they feed on the haemolymph (roughly similar to blood) but from freshly killed insects. The researchers established that the pollinator for C. littoralis was not Drosophilidae (vinegar fly) but were instead from the families Chloropidae and Milichiidae known kleptoparasitic flies.

It has been observed that the pollinators swarm around the Corunastylis. This is a known behavioural pattern of kleptoparasitic flies that are attracted to the prey of other predators such as spiders, robber flies and other predatory insects.

It was noted that the pollinators were dominated by females. This precludes sexual deception and suggests that the females may require the haemolymph, which is protein rich, for egg maturation. It was also noted that C littoralis is a nectar producing orchid. It was considered that the nectar contained properties that mimic haemolymph.

Based upon these observations it was hypothesized that prey mimicry pollination syndrome was the best fit for the Corunastylis. Though this syndrome has been observed in orchids in the northern hemisphere, this would be the first time that this has been demonstrated as a possibility for Australian orchids.

Photo: Colin Bower
Photo: Colin Bower

Part two will consider the fourth aim of the paper which was to determine the method of reproduction.

Thank you to Colin Bower for checking this post and for allowing the use of his photographs.

 

An Examination of Two Rufoushoods

This week’s post is taking a brief look at a paper by Noushka Reiter, Mark Clements and Kate Vlcek which appeared in Muelleria, Volume 31: 69 – 76, 2013.

Titled “An examination of Pterostylis xerophila (Orchidaceae) and the confirmation of P. lingua as a new species in Victoria” this paper seeks to ascertain whether the records collected are correctly identified, that there are differences between them both in morphology and associated vegetation.

Both P. xerophila and P. lingua are found in South Australia where they are known, respectively, by the synonyms Oligochaetochilus xerophilus and O. linguus. In fact the type specimen for O. xerophilus is from South Australia.

In the introduction, the authors give a detailed description of Oligochaetochilus otherwise known as the ‘rufa group’ which differs from Pterostylis, in the strict sense, in several features. Some of the main features of this group are:

  • Basal rosette of overlapping stemless leaves
  • Leaves senesced, withered and died, by flowering
  • Erect multi-flowered
  • Flowers
    • Lateral sepals
      • hang down
      • basal half joined
      • tips become long and threadlike
    • Labellum
      • is very mobile
      • has obvious long white hairs and often short hairs as well
Typical of the rufus hood this Oligochaetochilus arenicola shows the sencesing leaves, pendent petals and hairs on the labellum. Photographer: H Lawrence
Typical of the rufus hood, this Oligochaetochilus arenicola shows the sencesing leaves, pendent petals and hairs on the labellum.
Photographer: H Lawrence

Later in the articles, the differences between the two species are discussed. There is much of interest concerning the two species but one outcome of the research was to establish that P. lingua (O. linguus) had been incorrectly identified in the records and by correcting the names of the specimens the authors were able to confirm that it did occur in Victoria.

To find the answer to the authors other questions, read the paper

And for those that need a glossary of the terminology used, click here

For images of P. xerophila (O. xerophilus) click here

For images of P. lingua (O. linguus) click here

Australian Orchids & the Doctors they Commemorate Part 20 of 20

 This series ends with Dr John Pearn’s summary below.

Enduring memorials

Scientific names of living things will be used as long as scientists find it useful to do so. Names change as taxonomists revise plant groupings and there is a proposal to dispense with scientific names, in favour of an alternative system called the PhyloCode.

In the past, the doctrine of signatures linked the forms of plants with their supposed therapeutic uses. But the world of binomial nomenclature (which Linnaeus introduced in 1753), allows for the most fitting memorials in medicine and botany. In the scientific names of Australian orchids, the lives of many doctors and botanists endure.

Though this series has been divided into 20 parts, it does not cover the whole of his original article which can be viewed here and downloaded as a pdf.

Greenhood Pollination Strategy

Since orchids, and Australian orchids in particular, first came to the attention of the western world in the 1800s researchers have been fascinated by the so many different aspects of the orchid’s morphology and life cycle. One area of interest has been that of how orchids are pollinated. The mechanism of pollination has not always been clear as the orchids seem to use different and complex methods.  From time to time various papers have been published of observations by researchers.

One such paper was published in the Annals of Botany 113: 629 – 641, 2014 titled ‘Caught in the act: pollination of sexually deceptive trap-flowers by fungus gnats in Pterostylis (Orchidaceae)’ by R D Phillips, D Scaccabarozzi, B A Retter, C Hayes, G Brown, K W Dixon and R Peakall.

The ‘question and answer’ style of the paper helps with ease of reading and is worthwhile perusing, even for the lay person. The accompanying VIDEO is also of interest.

The essence of the paper was to establish whether sexual deception was used to facilitate pollination.  The species researched was Pterostylis sanguinea (syn. Urochilus sanguineus) and the researchers confirmed that this did happen.  Their research showed that the attraction for the insect came only from the labellum which exuded an alluring chemical.  P. sanguinea has a mobile hinged labellum which is a feature of other sexually deceptive orchids such Paracaleana, Caleana, Arachnorchis.

Urochilus sanguineus RWL
Pterostylis sanguinea syn. Urochilus sanguineus with the untriggered labellum
Urochilus sanguineus RWL(1)
Pterostylis sanginea syn. Urochilus sangineus with a side view of the labellum

 

Those Blue Orchids Again …

Volume 31, 2013 of the Muelleria contains an orchid article by Jeffery A Jeanes. The title may be long – An overview of the Thelymitra nuda (Orchidaceae) complex in Australia including the description of six new species – but the subject is of interest to all of us who want to know our sun orchids, many of which are not always easy to identify.

 

By way of introduction, Muelleria is the Royal Botanic Gardens of Melbourne official research journal and has been published since 1955.

 

Though a technical article there is much to be gleaned for the ordinary reader, for instance the article contains a good description of the commonly used terms for describing the column for example stigma, trichomes, anther, post anther lobe, etc. This is helpful to know as the column structure is often the main feature of the plant used to identify the individual species. Naturally the key features of the T. nuda complex are covered comprehensively, as well as a brief discussion of the taxonomic history.

 

Another helpful section is the dichotomous key for all fifteen species described in the article. Of the fifteen species four are found in South Australia and are pictured below.  But to discover more read the article ……

Thelymitra nuda
Thelymitra nuda
T megcalyptra130927
Thelymitra megcalyptra
Thelymitra glaucophylla photographed by Robert Bates
Thelymitra glaucophylla photographed by Robert Bates

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thelymitra alcockiae
Thelymitra alcockiae

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 September Winning Photograph

The winning picture was a single flower of Thelymitra epipactoides (Metallic Sun Orchid) taken by Rosalie Lawrence. This picture was cropped from a photograph taken on a mobile phone. Phones have come a long way since the days of Alexander Graham Bell!

Thelymitral epipactoides or Metallic Sun Orchid

T. epipactoides is a special orchid both in its beautiful colourings and that it is one of our rarest orchids. This endangered species has been well studied in an effort to prevent its demise with the result that there is an abundance of information about it. Recently, with the knowledge gained, Dr Nouska Reiter of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC) and her team have managed to cultivate 3,000 plants with the plan to re-introduce them back into the bush in the Wimmera area.

Following are some interesting points from two good sources, which are the

  1. Biodiversity Information Resources Data page  (quotes in blue)
  2. Species Profile and Threats Database page  (quotes in brown)

 

Life Cycle

  • (2)……can remain dormant as a tuber in the soil for up to nine years ……….

(But once a plant has flowered)

  • (2)…….Plants can produce flowers from their second year of growth onwards for up to four consecutive years, but no more. Individual plants can remain dormant for up to two years then grow to produce flowers, but if dormant for four years or more, plants generally do not reappear. …..
  • (2)…… Detailed monitoring suggests that mature plants only live for about 10 years before dying (Cropper 1993). ……..
  • (2)……..flowers open when the relative humidity is lower than 52%, air temperature is above 15 °C, and there are clear skies ………….
  • (2)……..Flowers remain for up to four weeks but wither a week after pollination ……
  • (2)……. fungus is required to initiate successful seed germination (Calder et al. 1989) and seeds cannot survive more than two weeks without associating with the fungus ………

Plant Information

  • (1)…….Flower colour is highly variable, brown, copper, blue and green being the main colour groups which are determined by the proportion of red, blue and green epidermal cells, some of which are reflective giving a metallic appearance. …….
  • (2)….The leaf is loosely sheathing ………
  • (2)…Mature non-flowering plants have slightly narrower leaves to 51 cm long and not sheathing …
  • (1)………Flower colour is highly variable, brown, copper, blue and green being the main colour groups which are determined by the proportion of red, blue and green epidermal cells, some of which are reflective giving a metallic appearance. ………

Topography:

  • (2)…. is undulating plains, crests of hills, gentle slopes of low broad ridges and at the bottom of broad, shallow swales (Obst 2005). It grows in sandy soils over a clay subsoil, with these soils having a tendency to become waterlogged in winter and spring, and drying out in summer and autumn ……
  • (2)…..This species is a post-disturbance coloniser, utilising early successional stages after disturbance events such as human activities, fire, animal activities such as scratching of the soil, or associated vegetation disturbance. ……
  • (2)……..requires open sites for flowering and seedling recruitment (Calder et al. 1989). ………

Population Size

  • (1)……Population estimates vary from about 1050 plants in Australia (DEH 2006), to less than 3,000 plants (Coats et al 2002). More recent assessments suggest the population could be less than 1500 plants in the wild …….
  • (2)……In the Murray Darling Basin and South East Regions of South Australia there were ten populations of the Metallic Sun-orchid recorded in 2004 by Obst ……..

 

Reminder – November theme is Orchids and Insects (Spiders and other such critters are honorary insects)

The Role of Orchids

October is Orchid Month with the greatest number of species flowering throughout South Australia; so it is worth considering the role of orchids in the Australian bushland.  Hence this week’s blog is an article written by Belinda Newman, Western Australia.

Orchids: The Canary in the Coal Mine was published in the Friends of Kings Park magazine For Plants and People, Issue 70 p 22-24, 2010.  The article is both a good introduction to, and summary of, her 2009 thesis Orchids as Indicators of Ecosystem Health in Urban Bushland Fragments

Orchids: The Canary in the Coal Mine

Belinda Newman – Research Scientist BGPA

What could orchids and canaries possibly have in common?

Before occupational health and safety and ventilation systems were commonplace in the mining industry, a caged canary would be bought down to the coal seam by the miners.  Canaries are particularly sensitive to methane and carbon dioxide which made them excellent indicators for the build-up of dangerous gases.  A singing canary meant everything was fine, a dead canary spelt trouble and an immediate evacuation.

Although orchids can’t sing, they do possess a number of traits that make them sensitive ecological indicators.  The relationships that orchids have with their surroundings form part of a complex ecological web.  Orchids have specific relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, which they require both for germination of their dust-like seed and ongoing growth of plants in adulthood.  These fungi in turn rely on the appropriate soil moisture content and carbon sources.  Above ground, the majority of terrestrial orchids in the south west of Western Australia rely on pollinators for successful seed set.  For some orchids this plant-pollinator relationship has become so highly evolved that removal of the pollinator would spell the end of the orchid.  The pollinators also have specific requirements for habitat, appropriate food sources and nesting sites.  These above and below ground links to the ecosystem make orchids particularly sensitive to disturbances and changes in their surroundings.

The potential for orchids to be used as indicators of ecosystem health formed the basis of a study between Kings Park and Botanic Gardens and Murdoch University.  The coal seam was eleven urban reserves of varying condition on the Swan Coastal Plain.  The canaries were seven orchids common to Perth’s urban bushlands; the Carousel spider (Caladenia arenicola), Cowslip orchid (Caladenia flava), Pink Fairy orchid (Caladenia laitfolia), Pansy orchid (Diuris magnifica), Dark Banded Greenhood (Pteryostylis sanguinea), Purple Enamel Orchid (Elythranthera brunonis) and the Mignonette orchid (Microtis media).  Before it was possible to see which orchids made the best canaries, it was important to determine the health of each of the bushland sites.  A number of environmental variables were chosen that best reflected the health of the ecosystems.  Extensive surveys and analysis of species composition, plant functional groups against these environmental variables revealed a range of site conditions from close to pristine to highly degraded.  This provided the backdrop against which to determine the effectiveness of orchids as indicators through the measured responses of the orchid species.

Firstly orchid presence and abundance was measured across sites to determine if particular orchid species showed a preference for particular site conditions.  Diuris magnifica and Microtis media showed strong correlations and were most abundant in poor condition sites and Pteryostylis sanguinea showed strong correlations to sites in good condition.  While the abundance and presence of orchids appeared to correlate with site condition, we wanted to know what other aspects of the orchid we could measure as a means of judging the health of an ecosystem.

Successful seed set in plants reflects a healthy ecosystem and the reproductive success of the seven orchid species was investigated to determine the effects of declining site condition on seed set.  Pollination trials were set up to measure natural and artificial pollination events across all sites.  Widespread depression in pollination across all species and sites was found to be occurring, rendering seed set a poor measure of ecosystem health.

Investigations into the below-ground links orchids have with the ecosystem were undertaken by determining the presence and abundance of orchid mycorrhizal for the seven orchid study species across all sites.  Mycorrhizal distribution was found to be patchy within urban reserves and also revealed unoccupied niches capable of supporting orchid germination.  A greater abundance of Microtis media mycorrhizal at sites of poor condition supported earlier correlations of plant abundance at sites of poor condition.  The higher abundance of mycorrhizal symbionts for Caladenia arenicola at sites of very good condition also suggests its potential as an indicator species.

The study also looked at seedling growth in urban reserves.  This was the first time that biomass allocation in orchids has been investigated in light of ecosystem health.  In poor condition sites, Diuris magnifica and Caladenia arenicola increased growth effort to the above ground leaf. In sites of very good condition, these two species increased growth to the tuber to take advantage of being able to store starch as a result of both fungal and photosynthetic activity taking place.  Most importantly this shows a measurable change over a short period time.  Although it is effort intensive, planting orchid seedlings of a standardised size into the field may provide a useful and rapid measure of ecosystem health, much like caged canaries were used in the past.

This research into using orchids as an indicator species is the first of its kind and suggests that orchids can be used as an indicator of ecosystem health.  Future research will need to focus on the thresholds of the species identified as potential indicators in this study.  What aspect of the orchid’s ecology will give clear and repeatable data linked to ecosystem health?  Following the canary analogy, how long can orchids hold their breath? Future studies would need to focus on testing these thresholds.  The results of this study suggest that orchid presence and abundance, orchid growth and orchid symbionts can be used as indicators of ecosystem health, although work needs to be undertaken to refine the understanding of their response to specific disturbances.  This study provides a baseline for investigating the utility of orchids as indicators of ecosystem health in highly fragmented systems.  Perhaps orchids and canaries have more in common than first thought.

 

Orchids and Fire

Bushfires are a part of the Australian landscape.  The effect upon people and animals can be devastating but what of their effect upon orchids?  In 2012, Mike Duncan published a report Response of Orchids to Bushfire, Black Saturday 2009 for the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment.

Page one is a good summary of the effects experience by the orchids in Victoria:

This project addresses general community concerns about the response of orchids to the 2009 bushfires, by documenting the range of orchid responses encountered across all fire affected areas.  The information presented in the report is the result of data synthesis and direct field observations from a variety of sources, collected during the two years since the fires.
The response of orchids to the February 2009 bushfires was diverse, spanning the spectrum from being killed by fire, to being totally dependent upon the fire to flower.  In this report, the spectrum of responses that were encountered have been divided into five broad categories.

1. Fire Killed Species
Populations of epiphytes (e.g. Sarcochilus australis) and terrestrials with shallow tubers (e.g. Thynninorchis huntianus) were killed by the intense fire front.  In some cases, these species are likely to recolonise by seed from nearby unburnt areas, but in other cases, these species may require conservation intervention to assist in their recovery.

2. Fire Sensitive Species
Species such as Pterostylis alveata and Corunastylis despectans appear to have been sensitive to the bushfire, showing a large reduction in emergence over the following two years.  Populations of these species are likely to recover naturally over a number of years.

3. Fire Neutral Species
The response of the winter and spring flowering Pterostylis species were generally fire neutral, with their flowering rates neither increasing nor decreasing in the two years since the bushfire.

4. Fire Stimulated Species
The flowering of many Caladenia, Diuris, Prasophyllum and Thelymitra species was strongly stimulated by the 2009 bushfire, creating spectacular patches of massed flowering in the fire-blackened landscape.  Similarly, many smaller genera (e.g. Pheladenia and Glossodia) also showed a strong increase in flowering in response to the bushfire, sometimes producing clumps of more than 20 flowering plants.

5. Fire Dependent Species
There are four species (Burnettia cuneata, Pyrorchis nigricans, Leptoceras menziesii and Prasophyllum australe) that are dependent upon fire to flower.  These species are able to survive for extended periods without flowering.  Stimulated by the occurrence of the 2009 bushfire, these four species flowered en masse during spring 2009 (and to a lesser extent in spring 2010); the first time most of these plants have flowered since each site was last burnt.
Four nationally threatened orchid species (Caladenia concolor, C. orientalis, C. tessellata, and Pterostylis chlorogramma) occur within the area affected by the 2009 bushfire.  These species are part of an ongoing monitoring program, and the collected data offers an opportunity to quantify the post-fire flowering response of these species.  The data showed that grazing had negatively impacted seed production in each species since the 2009 bushfire.  It would also seem reasonable to assume that similarly high levels of grazing have occurred to other orchid species during this period.  A reduction in seed production is an important concern to any orchid species, but it is of particular concern to fire sensitive species, as it will lengthen the recovery time for these populations.  A reduction in seed production represents a lost opportunity for species that are fire stimulated or fire dependent, in terms of achieving recruitment to a population.  Fire-affected populations of these species will require careful management to ensure that seed production is not compromised into the future.

To see the full report, click here .………