The project which has received funding of $110,000 for three years will be focusing on five orchid species unique to New Zealand. Some of these orchids are known from a few spots in the country with only a handful of plants left at each site.
Conservation and Science Advisor Karin Van der Walt says the project is the first of its kind in the country, and will help to develop techniques to propagate these orchids from seed so we can increase the size of wild populations and create back-up collections at Ōtari.
“We will be visiting populations of the five threatened species to determine how healthy the populations are. Hand-pollination will be used to increase the seed production in these threatened species, so we do not impact natural reproduction when we collect seed for the project.
“Orchids are interesting plants to work on because they are quite particular about where they live, and their pollination and life cycle are usually quite challenging to figure out,” says Karin.
For instance, orchid seeds will only germinate in the presence of a specific fungal partner, this process is called symbiotic germination. The relationship between the orchid and fungus benefit both, the orchids provide sugars, B vitamins and a safe house to the fungus while the fungus provides water, minerals and more than 80 percent of the plant’s carbon requirements. Scientists are however able to simulate the role of the fungus in a lab using a special orchid food, this method is called asymbiotic germination.
“Once we have collected the seeds, we will germinate them using symbiotic and asymbiotic methods. We will use DNA sequencing methods to identify the fungal partner that promotes germination in the wild,” adds Karin.
Globally there has been a huge amount of work done on orchids in the wild and how to conserve them.
We have only done a little bit of that work here in Aotearoa says Ōtari Team Manager Tim Park.
“The Lions Ōtari Plant Conservation laboratory has recently been expanded so it is the perfect time to embark on such an exciting project,” he says.
The Council-funded expansion is in the old curators’ house and it has created much needed extra space for researchers and research assistants.
This project is a collaboration between Otari and the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa.
Orchid expert Dr Carlos Lehnebach from Te Papa has described and named several new species of orchids for New Zealand.
“We have more than 100 species of orchids in New Zealand and at least 20 more are waiting to be named. Unfortunately, some of these potentially new species are already of conservation concern.
“This funding and the new research facilities at Ōtari will help us to protect these and other rare orchids from extinction.”