Orchids the Flagship Plant Group: How Do We Protect Them?

This week’s post is taken from the IUCN SSC Orchid Specialist Group Facebook post concerning Resolution decided upon at the final session of the International Orchid Conservation Congress Conference, held in May 2016 at the Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, Hong Kong

It was posted by Michael Fay of Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.  He is also the Chair of the IUCN SSC Orchid Specialist Group.  According to their website, “The Orchid Specialist Group is a global network of experts who volunteer their time and expertise to build a scientific and practical foundation for the conservation of orchids (Orchidaceae).”

(A list of the meanings of acronyms appears at the end of this post.)

Michael’s post follows

Here are the Resolutions from the final session of IOCC VI in Hong Kong:

03 KK sm Sarcochilus falcatus Mt Banda Banda

Orchids are a flagship plant group with a high profile in human culture. They are known from all vegetated continents on earth but their occurrence reflects patterns in the global distribution of biodiversity and their intricate ecological associations, particularly with pollinators and mycorrhizal fungi, reflect sensitive ecosystem processes. Accordingly, orchids are indicators of ecosystem and climate health. Many orchids and their associated biota have been exposed to a variety of threats as a direct consequence of human-driven global change, with almost half of the ca. 27,000 known species now potentially at risk of extinction. Delegates of the IOCC support all efforts to research and mitigate these threats and secure environments on which orchids depend, and are committed to achieving meaningful conservation by recommending that:

  1. The creation of orchid enhanced habitats is a priority for ecological restoration.
  2. Enhanced in situ orchid protection requires the creation of orchid reserves. These will benefit a wide array of other species and biological communities and can be financed through various public and private sources.
  3. The international and domestic wild plant trade is widely recognised by governments and civil society as a major threat to the persistence of many orchid species, and that its curtailment requires concerted government action and enforcement.
  4. The propagation and cultivation of threatened orchids by small and local orchid enterprises should be supported for the sustainable production of orchids used in horticulture, medicine and food.
  5. Orchid cultivation should be licensed and audited by government or other government-approved body through a national (or international) accreditation scheme that specifies adequate safeguards to ensure best practice. Propagated orchids should be traceable and distinguishable from wild orchids so as to minimise the risk of laundering wild plants.
  6. National, regional and international networks should be established and strengthened for promoting in situ and ex situ orchid conservation.
  7. The next generation of orchid taxonomists, ecologists and conservationists is nurtured through improved training, education, publicity and awareness-raising programmes.

    Paracaleana minor 123DM
    Paracaleana minor (Little Duck Orchid) Photo: David Manglesdorf
  8. Members shall strengthen the work of OSG by:
  • Facilitating and conducting national and global Red Listing of orchids, and contributing to the Sampled Red List Index (SRLI);
  • Monitoring and reporting on the illegal trade in orchids to national enforcement agencies and to TRAFFIC;
  • Reviving Orchid Conservation International as a vehicle for web-based education and channelling funding to orchid conservation programmes, along the lines of Birdlife International;
  • Embracing social media and other web-based interactive tools as dynamic and effective means of stimulating communication, raising awareness and building networks;
  • Using citizen science as an effective means of motivating individuals and amateur groups to record orchid occurrence (e.g. OrchidMap, iNaturalist) and help scale-up the collection of verifiable data;
  • Establishing and maintaining a global database of orchid reintroductions (including both successes and failures) and ex situ orchid collections that can be accessed and updated by members and which is linked to the IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group;
  • Creating new sub-groups focusing on trade and molecular identification, to reflect important cross-cutting themes and challenges.

Thanks to Stephan Gale and Phil Cribb for producing the final version of these.

Bearded Orchid
Calochilus cupreus (Bearded Orchid)  Photo: Helen Lawrence

IOCC VI refers to the International Orchid Conservation Congress Conference was held in May 2016 at the Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden, Hong Kong

IUCN: International Union for Conservation of Nature

OSG: Orchid Specialist Groups

SSC: Species Survival Commission

TRAFFIC: Trade Records Analysis of Flora and Fauna in Commerce

Orchid Specialist Group Website: http://www.iucn.org/species/ssc-specialist-groups/about/ssc-specialist-groups-and-red-list-authorities-directory-7

Caladenia procera

Understanding the Conservation Status of South Australia Orchids

Endangered, Threatened or Rare?

Sometimes a particular species of orchid is said to be rare or endangered, for instance Thelymitra circumsepta* is listed as endangered in South Australia but has no listing federally whilst the endemic Prasophyllym murfetii* is listed as Critically Endangered federally but only Endangered in South Australia.

Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel's Leek Orchid)
Prasophyllum murfettii (Denzel’s Leek Orchid)

What do these listings mean and why are they different for the same species?

What are the Conservation Categories?

Conservation listing by governments gives species a legal status, which can then be used to determine the type of consideration to be given to individual species in decision-making processes for species conservation.

In South Australia, the two main legislations affecting native orchids are the state National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 (NPW) and the national Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPB). There is also the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List which is used for international treaties. Each has their own set of categories resulting in terms with slightly different meanings.

The IUCN classification is quite detailed but in summary the conservation status used are

  • Extinct – not seen for fifty years or despite intensive searching not seen at a previously known site
  • Extinct in the Wild – no natural populations exist; only surviving in cultivation
  • Critically Endangered – known only from a single non-viable population
  • Endangered – in danger of extinction unless the factors causing decline are arrested
  • Vulnerable – likely to become endangered if the only large populations is wiped out for whatever reason
  • Near Threatened – close to qualifying or likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future
  • Least Concern
  • Data Deficient
  • Not Evaluated

The Australian Federal government, under Section 179 of the EPBC Act, has six categories

  • Extinct – no reasonable doubt that the species has died out
  • Extinct in the Wild – no natural population existing, surviving in cultivation
  • Critically Endangered – faces an extremely high risk of extinction in the wild in the immediate future
  • Endangered – faces a very high risk of extinction in the wild in the near future
  • Vulnerable – faces a high risk of extinction in the wild in the medium term future
  • Conservation Dependent – if the cessation of a specific conservation program ceased the species could become vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered

South Australia uses three categories based on the categories from the IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria.

  • Endangered (Schedule 7) – includes Critically Endangered Extinct in the Wild and Extinct
  • Vulnerable (Schedule 8)
  • Rare (Schedule 9) – this is a South Australian term not recognised elsewhere but the criteria are consistent with the IUCN Near Threatened category and refers to uncommon species that are naturally limited in location or are in decline. Hence it is possible for a species to be common interstate but threatened in South Australia, for example Anzybas unguiculatus* is rated rare.
07 sm JP Anzybas unguiculatus 2
Anzybas unguiculatus (Little Pelican or Cherry Helmet Orchids)

Another term that is frequently used is Threatened. For the IUCN Threatened encompasses the three categories of Critically Endangered, Endangered and Vulnerable. It means that a species rated as threatened with extinction under these three categories may have different degrees of threat – note the adjectives in the IUCN definitions above. This serves as a guideline for its usage in South Australia. It should also be noted that Threatened and Rare are not interchangeable but a species rated Rare may be threatened by outside influences.

There is another level of conservation which is the regional status. This level does not have any legal standing but it is helpful in managing the species. The IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria are used to assign a regional conservation status. This is helpful in managing species at this level.

Why does a species have different Conservation Categories?

Looking through Part Two of South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011, it is not uncommon to find a species with two different conservation statuses. It is not surprising when they have the same status eg Arachnorchis behrii* is rated Endangered both state and nationally but why are the others different? Some of this is due to the different number of categories – six federally but only three at the state level so Diplodium bryophilum* is nationally Critically Endangered but only Endangered in South Australia as there is no critically Endangered category. Others have a state status but no national status, for example the endemic Diuris brevifolia* is rated Endangered. Curiously there are no endemic species with the combination of a national status but no state status, although there are five non-endemic species found in South Australia that do have this combination.

Diuris brevifolia (Late Donkey Orchid)
Diuris brevifolia (Late Donkey Orchid)

This comes about because there are two different bodies determining the statuses through two very different processes.

Nationally under the EPBC Act any individual can nominate a species which is assessed by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee, put out for public comment, changes adjusted as necessary and then the recommendations are passed onto the Minister who approves or rejects the nomination.

In South Australia, DEWNR (Department Environment Water and Natural Resources) initiates the process by asking the experts, compiling data, holding workshops with the experts. A report is written for the National Parks and Wildlife Council outlining the changes under the NPW Threatened Species Schedules. Once the changes are approved, it is sent to the Minister for approval before being released for public comment. After any necessary adjustments the report is then sent to the South Australian Parliamentary Cabinet for final approval.

Both processes check the species under consideration against the IUCN criteria.

How many South Australian orchids are under threat?

On 22nd July 2014, Doug Bickerton presented a talk at the Native Orchid Society on the conservation status of South Australian orchids. The comparison between the State and Federal listings was as follows:

Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the NPW Act (State)

  • 77 species Endangered
  • 33 species Vulnerable
  • 32 species Rare

A total of 142 species or 49% of all South Australian orchids are recognised to be under threat.

Number of Orchids with a Conservation Status under the EPBC Act (Federal)

  • 4 Critically Endangered
  • 22 Endangered
  • 19 Vulnerable

A total of 45 species for the State have a Federal government legal conservation status.

The fact that one authority recognises a species and the other authority does not doesn’t mitigate against the seriousness of the threat to that species. The fact that a species does not have a conservation status from either authority does not mean that it is not under threat. It could still be in danger of extinction.

Cryptostylis subulata (Moose Orchid)
Cryptostylis subulata (Moose Orchid) State Conservation Status: Vulnerable National Conservation Status: not listed

Currently in South Australian there is a State-wide assessment underway and the results will be published in 2016.

This article was inspired and is based upon notes taken from a talk given by Doug Bickerton in 2014 at the Native Orchid Society of South Australia. I would like to thank Thelma Bridle, Conservation Officer, Native Orchid Society of South Australia, for her help.

*Based on information found in South Australia’s Native Orchids 2011

References:

South Australia’s Native Orchids Bates 2011

http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/species#categories accessed 13th November 2015

http://www.environment.sa.gov.au/managing-natural-resources/Plants_Animals/Threatened_species_ecological_communities/Conservation_status_of_threatened_species/State accessed 13th November 2015

IUCN RED LIST CATEGORIES AND CRITERIA Version 3.1 Second edition Prepared by the IUCN Species Survival Commission As approved by the 51st meeting of the IUCN Council Gland, Switzerland 9 February 2000