The Native Orchid Society is involved in many different activities, one of them being to assist researchers. In 2020, Covid 19 struck bringing many university projects to a halt. But in South Australia, NOSSA members were able to help PhD candidate Alex Thomsen, University of New South Wales, set up her project titled Impacts of Changing Fire Seasons on Orchids. The following video is her brief presentation of her planned research that she gave to the general membership at the September meeting.
The process may have taken awhile, (for some longer than than the two years collaboration with the University of Adelaide,) but finally the Wild Orchid Watch app is now available for all Australians to use.
So why orchids…
Orchids are iconic and somewhat mysterious plants that are highly valued by sections of our society.
They are sensitive to environmental change most of which puts the survival of populations at risk of being lost permanently.
Orchids tend to be indicators of ecosystem health.
They are dependent on other parts of the ecosystem such as fungi within the soil and particular insect pollinators .
These insects are also dependent on a functioning ecosystem for their survival.
Thus, when orchids are conserved other parts of the ecosystem are also conserved resulting in broader benefits to the ecosystem as a whole.
So, why an app …
traditional methods of data collection for orchids are inadequate because of their
differences in emergence with seasons
short flowering, sometimes non-flowering, seasons
allows the collection of a wealth of knowledge known to orchid enthusiasts
this method of collecting data enables researchers to gain a better understanding of
the conservation status and trend of orchids
the value of orchids as indicators of environmental change
the phenology (life cycle), distribution and abundance of orchids
The WOW app allows citizens scientists to provide important data for researchers.
Bonus Benefit of the App – Identification
Probably one of the most frustrating things for the novice is not knowing what is the species of orchid that they have found. With this app it is not necessary to be familiar with all the orchid species.
The WOW app uses the iNaturalist platform where there is a whole community ready to assist with identification.
One can be an orchid citizen scientist without a detailed knowledge of orchids.
So, hop over to the WOW website to find more information, instructions and download the app.
Over the years, we have published several blogs concerning orchids and fire. At the beginning of the year, Renate Faast spoke at the NOSSA February meeting. John Eaton wrote an extensive summary of her talk which is reprodued here as it appeared in the 2019 March edition of the Native Orchid Society of South Australia Journal, Volume 43 Number 2.
Renate’s take home message was that we cannot make sweeping statement about orchids and fire, each species responds differently and we need to take this into account when planning proscribed. This was something that Dr Michael Duncan also brought out in his 2009 report following the Victorian Black Saturday fires – see Orchids and Fire.
An interesting aside to Renate’s research was her observations of white-winged choughs – see the paragraph Not All Relationships are Friendly.
Guest Speaker Notes John Eaton
At our February 26th meeting, thirty NOSSA members were treated to a stimulating talk by Dr Renate Faast from the University of Adelaide – our first guest speaker for 2019.
Renate acknowledged the support her project received from an Australian Research Council (ARC) grant under the Linkage Program which promotes national and international research partnerships between researchers and publicly funded research agencies – in Renate’s case – support from the University of Adelaide, SA Museum, SA Water, Forestry SA, The Australian Orchid Foundation, the Nature Foundation of SA, The Environment Institute and the SA Government.
Renate had been getting mixed messages from the field observations people had made following prescribed burning or bushfires. This ARC grant enabled her to study the impacts of prescribed burning on native terrestrial orchids.
Renate found that the response of orchids to controlled burns suggests that there are winners and losers amongst orchids: Naked sun orchids responded really well to a controlled burn with 6 plants growing to 83 plants. REALLY good news for that species of orchid but the reality is more complicated than that and this study suggests that there are no generalisations that can be drawn with any confidence about regeneration following prescribed burns or bushfires! In view of the complex interactions between orchids and other plants, and between orchids and bird-and-animal grazers, orchids rely on so many things to go right in order to set seed and recruit new plants into a population. With the exception of a few self-pollinating species, most orchids rely on pollinators for seed production. For non-clonal species, releasing seed is the only way to ensure the species’ long-term survival!
Not all relationships are friendly
Over 80% of orchid flowers had been grazed at some sites. No flowers means no seeds. Renate’s film clips embedded in her PowerPoint dramatically showed the extent of orchid predation by birds such as white-winged choughs and currawongs. They picked off the flowers quite deliberately, leaving behind an intact stalk. Five flowers were grazed every 10 sec (that’s at a rate of 30 flowers/min!) And there are all the other orchid grazers such as roos, deer and rabbits as they move through a patch, often only grazing part of the stem, in a far less targeted and thorough way, compared to these birds. All of these interactions play a key role in whether seeds are released to keep the population viable.
The Mount Bold Fire prompt
While engaged in her PhD research into reproductive ecology of spider orchids, Renate heard that a fire at Mt Bold had led to a “profusion” of Caladenia rigida flowers! The Victorian bushfires had also prompted changes to prescribed burning practises in South Australia. The combination of these two events led Renate to explore the effect of fire on the interactions orchids have with other plants and animals – leading her to ask such questions as:
Does fire promote the flowering of spider orchids (e.g. Caladenia rigida, C. behrii, C. tentaculata) and Glossodia major?
If there are more flowers following fire, will they be pollinated and will they set seed?
How does burn timing influence this response?
Do all species respond in the same way?
These are all critical issues to consider if we are to ensure a self-sustaining orchid population in the future.
There are seasonal influences on the effects of a burn. The response to a summer bushfire could be quite different from cooler season burns in autumn and spring. And even if some orchids are stimulated to flower, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will end up producing and releasing more seed – which is what really matters for the long-term survival of the orchid population.
Orchid monitoring was carried out in several sites and included 1 autumn, 3 spring burns and 4 adjacent unburnt control sites across the Mt Lofty Ranges (NE of Adelaide). Renate followed the fate of 4 species by tagging up to 150 plants for each species. Renate’s presentation focused on the Millbrook sites where she studied C. rigida and G. major before and after a prescribed burn conducted in Autumn 2013. Unfortunately and fortuitously, her control site also became a bushfire site following the Sampson Flat Fire in January 2015. Fortunately, the Autumn burn site was not affected by the Sampson Flat Fire, so became something of a control site! Renate found that 97% of C. rigida did not emerge after the Autumn prescribed burn compared with 8% at the unburnt control affected site. Flowering was not promoted and no tagged plants flowered. A similar but less severe effect was recorded for Glossodia major.
Will these orchids recover in subsequent years?
Annual monitoring up until 2017, revealed that over one third of C. rigida plants did not re-emerge for 5 consecutive years after the autumn burn. Unfortunately, these plants are likely to have been killed by this burn, probably because the fire was conducted as the orchids were about to emerge. Interestingly, spring burns did not have a detrimental impact on the orchids studied, however, a proportion (18 – 28%) of C. rigida plants may also have been killed by the summer bushfires.
One of the more striking findings out of this research was the large increase in pollination for C. rigida following the bushfires – up to 65% of flowers (protected from grazing) produced a seed pod – an unprecedented rate for Renate’s research. It seems that in the sparse blackened landscape with very few other plants in flower, C. rigida had most of the attention for pollinators. However, the removal of understorey cover also meant that grazing rates were higher after the fires, and most of the flowers that were not protected inside cages were eaten. This meant that there was no actual benefit to the orchids, as there was no increase in seed release. All of these responses were short-lived, and by spring 2016, pollination, grazing and seed release rates were much the same as before the fires.
All species are not equal – fires may benefit some species others don’t fare so well; All fires are not equal; Autumn burning may be detrimental to SOME species; Bushfire may benefit seed release, only if grazing pressure is low – and Flowering was not promoted by any fire. More research is needed on other species, and in different habitats.
Therefore, Renate pointed out that no generalisations can be made about her observations!
Some good news that has come out of this research:
Burn practices are changing, with land managers taking into account the timing of prescribed burns, and bestattempts are made to avoid late autumn burns in areas containing threatened (early-emerging) orchids;
Impacts of fire on reproductive success appear to be short-term
Renate’s hope is that one day, the message will get out there that while some orchids can respond well to burning, this isn’t the case for all species – and that we still have a long way to go before we will really understand the complexities that underlie these different responses with any degree of predictability. Renate also warned that over a third of SA’s orchids are threatened with habitat loss, weed invasion, pollinator loss, grazing and fire regimes.
Renate’s address was followed by a flurry of burning questions and observations. It is hoped that we NOSSA members will use Renate’s conclusions to guide and inform our own anecdotal field observations and test our underlying assumptions and prejudices about the effects of burning on orchid viability – especially as we enter an unprecedented and potentially species-destroying period of human – induced global warming.
Recently, 10th February 2016, Anita Marquart, PhD student, Adelaide University spoke at the Field Naturalists Society of South Australia. She is a recipient of the Society’s Lirabenda Endowment Fund Research Grant. At the meeting she gave a summary of her research – Orchids, Insects and Fire: Investigating the impacts of prescribe burning on orchid pollinators in Southern Australia. Though she has not finished collating the data she has kindly supplied a summary of her talk with her preliminary findings.
It is always encouraging to see research on our native orchids. They are the Barometer of the Bush, so the more we can discover about them, hopefully the more we will better understand how to manage our native bushland.
Orchids, Insects and Fire: Investigating the impacts of prescribed burning on orchid pollinators in Southern Australia
Anita Marquart, Renate Faast, José M. Facelli, Andrew Austin
School of Earth and Environmental Sciences,
The University of Adelaide, Adelaide 5005 Australia
Fire is an important ecological factor in Australian ecosystems. Orchids that depend on specific pollinators may be more susceptible to disturbance than more generalist species. Therefore, declines or changes in pollinator communities due to prescribed burns and wild fires could lead to reduced pollination success and consequently declines in orchid populations. The project combines traditional plant and insect ecology with advanced molecular techniques to identify orchid pollinators and assess their response to prescribed burns and wild fires. Insect relevant habitat characteristics (such as floral abundance, vegetation height, presence of logs, litter and standing litter) were assessed and trapping surveys of potential orchid pollinators were conducted in spring, before and after prescribed burns. The effect of both spring burns and autumn burns is being investigated.
Study sites are located in the Adelaide hills with always one burn and one adjacent control site respectively in Kersbrook Native Forest, Millbrook Reservoir, Para Wirra Recreation Park and South Para Reservoir. Some parts of the study sites in Kersbrook and Millbrook were affected by the Sampson Flat Bushfire. Affected sites are used to compare the effects on orchid pollinators after prescribed burns in contrast to wild fires.
Potential orchid pollinators are being identified using DNA barcoding with the mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase I (COI) gene. Sequencing results will be compared with existing databanks and confirmed using morphological identification. As the data accumulates it will build up a reference library of COI barcodes for the species found in the surveys.
The outcome of this research project might help to advise the optimal management of orchid species under fire-managed regimes in the Mount Lofty region of South Australia, as well as more generally in south eastern Australia.
Orchids and their pollinators
Native bees, thyninne wasps and Syrphid flies are known orchid pollinators of South Australian orchid species. Orchids of main interest for this study were Caladenia rigida, Caladenia behrii, Caladenia tentaculata and Glossodia major. Caladenia tentaculata and C. behrii are sexually deceptive orchids and are known to be pollinated by thynnine wasps (Bates 2011). In contrast, C. rigida is food advertising and uses a broad range of bee and fly species, such as native bees and hoverflies (Faast et al. 2009). Glossodia major is a generalist in its pollination strategy and is using small native bees of several genera (Bates 2011, personal observations).
Syrphid flies were successfully separated into different species using DNA barcoding methods. Results show that we have two dominating species on our field sites in the Adelaide hills. Both species, Melangyna collatus and Symosyrphus grandicornis are common native Australian species. Both species were caught with orchid pollinia attached and were observed on Caladenia rigida flowers.
First findings suggest that hoverflies don’t seem to be much affected by prescribed burns or bushfires. Syrphid fly numbers vary greatly between the years of sampling, but we did not find a significant impact of prescribed burning or the Samson Flat bushfire.
Statistical analyses for the data on syrphids, native bees and thynnine wasps are currently underway.
Preliminary findings suggest that a range of pollinators are still present on field sites after prescribed burns and even after bushfires. Nevertheless, some specific species might be more sensitive to fires and might have disappeared from the study sites. For example, orchids relying on one species of wasp could be more affected by changes in the abundance of their pollinator after fire, than orchids that are pollinated by a number of different insects.
We will have to analyse our results in more detail to look into the specific species composition for the insect families, especially for native bees and thynnines, rather than looking at overall abundance.
Faast R, Farrington L, Facelli JM, Austin AD (2009). Bees and white spiders: unravelling the pollination syndrome of Caladenia rigida (Orchidaceae). Australian Journal of Botany57, 315–325.
Bates, R. J. (2011). South Australia’s Native Orchids. Native Orchid Society of South Australia.
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.
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
Likely to have no perfume
Flowers short lived
More detailed information was gained by dissecting the flower.
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
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.
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.
Despite having five very different but high quality photographs, Helen Lawrence’s photograph of Calochilus cupreus (Aldinga Bearded Orchid) was the clear winner with the vast majority of votes.
In South Australia it is considered endemic and endangered. Researching it was interesting. For instance, there is no mention of it in Jones extensive book (2006) yet it was named by R S Rogers in 1918 with a description appearing in Black’s Flora of South Australia (1922 edition), including a drawing by Rosa Fiveash. Between then and now there was a shift. In the Third edition of Black’s (1978) C. cupreus is absent but C. campestris present. In Bates and Weber 1990 the authors describe C. campetris (C. cupreus). Currently, the eflora of South Australia (the electronic version of 1986 Flora of South Australia) considers it a synonym of C. campestris. This is reflected in the Census.
It would appear that as C. campestris was studied and its variations documented (e.g. article by Jones 1976 Orchadian 5:83) the distinction with C. cupreus was lost. Clements and Jones (2006) state “Calochilus cupreus R.S.Rogers = Calochilus campestris” which means that they are not using C. cupreus. But in Jones’ book an anomaly occurs – he does not include South Australia in the distribution of C. campestris and as result Bates, from 2008, states that it is not recognized as occurring in South Australia.
Though C. cupreus disappeared from the literature the name still continued to be discussed amongst orchid enthusiasts. So when in 1995 NOSSA members found a distinctively different colony at Aldinga they identified it as Rogers’ C. cupreus.
Below is a chart, based upon Dr Rogers’ description, of some of the differences that made him consider C. cupreus a separate species:
Shorter leafRather rigid or fleshy erect triangular section
Longer leaf Crescentic section
Base of labellum oblong glabrous (without hairs) with several raised longitudinal line
Base of labellum round thickened, smooth no raised longitudinal lines
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.