Friday, 4 November 2011

Butterflies are back

Cuttings#2, November 2011
Orchid Island off the coast of Taiwan and youll hear that it has successfully rehabilitated its native species of butterfly orchid, Phalaenopsis Aphrodite.

Under a government initiative, a team has selected and bred more than 1,200 seedlings of the orchid, and released them back into the wild.

The species had become nearly extinct after decades of tourism and human development on the small island.

Meanwhile, in Northern Sumatra, scientists say they have found almost 200 new species of orchids in the Eden Park tourist forest in Sionggang village in Toba Samosir.

Botanists and orchid experts Ria Telambanua and Michele Sirait have been exploring the area for years and told local press they had identified the species of forest orchids after almost four years of research by deciphering morphological differences using orchid catalogues and by consulting with experts.

They plan to launch a book documenting their findings soon. A portion of the profits would be donated to orchid experts.

Survival instinct
Down under, plant species are showing a burst of new life after one of the country’s worst natural disasters.

While the Black Saturday fires caused havoc in 2009, the flames have become a lifeline for the nationally endangered Eastern Spider Orchid, which has flowered at 10 times its normal rate in Wilsons Promontory National Park.

Four orchid species – the Lizard, Red Beaks, Hare and Austral Leek –that only bloom in Victoria when their habitat is burnt have flowered ‘spectacularly’ after the fires, Dr Duncan said.

Spider orchids made the headlines last year, too, in quite a different way. Plants picked by Victorian collectors up to 150 years ago turned into a valuable new source of data for ecologists trying to understand how climate change will affect the timing of flowering plants.

Scientists have used the labelled and dated specimens of the early spider orchid, Ophrys sphegodes, to examine the affect of spring temperatures on flowering. The flowers were collected between 1848 and 1958.

The results, published in Journal of Ecology found that for a 1.8 degree Fahrenheit increase in the spring temperature, the orchid flowered six days earlier. The results are nearly identical to field observations collected between 1975 and 2006.

Who knows what untapped information is locked within museums and herbaria?

From spider orchids to orchid spiders. A colony of mysterious spiders normally found lurking deep underground in caves is being re-housed after squatting in a redundant orchid house owned by the National Trust. A decade ago, archaeologists from the University of Bradford carried out a survey of Chapel Fell cave. At the end of each day they took some of their equipment to the nearby old orchid house to store overnight.
Unbeknown to the archaeologists they had brought with them enough cave spiders to start a new colony in the small, dark building above ground level.
The colony of spiders has been living on the National Trust's Malham Tarn estate in the Yorkshire Dales less than a quarter of a mile (half a kilometre) from their natural home.

Now it’s time the cave spiders to be relocated, and the old orchid house, which sits along the Pennine way, is to converted into a resource for walkers and school visits. The spiders will be collected using an industrial ‘pooter’, a Heath Robinson contraption, consisting of a vacuum cleaner and old fish tank. Spiders will be sucked up the spout and deposited to safety.

Bond with bees
On the subject or insects, orchids need their bee pollinators more than the bees need them, according to a study that challenges the view of how plants and their insect pollinators evolve together.

The bond between specific bees and the orchid plants they visited has been well-documented by botanists and naturalists, including Charles Darwin. Biologists discovered that male bees needed the specific perfume compounds produced by the flowering plants in order to mate with female bees.

In the University of California study, researchers screened more than 7,000 individual male bees and sequenced DNA from 140 orchid pollinaria to build up an evolutionary history of both bees and orchids, and establish which species of bee pollinates what species of orchid. To their surprise, the scientists found that the bees evolved at least 12 million years earlier than their orchid counterparts.

In Germany, scientists have discovered the trick the orchid Epipactis veratrifolia uses to attract pollinating hoverflies. The plant’s flower practises a special mimicry, producing three chemical substances that are usually emitted as alarm pheromones among aphids.

Hoverfly females smell the alarm and lay their eggs close to the aphids, which are the perfect food for their hatching larvae. By mimicking these alarm pheromones, the orchid takes advantage of the hoverfly females, deceiving them into pollinating its flower. The flies even lay their eggs on the flower. However, the hatching larvae are doomed, because no aphids are available in the orchid flower.

Finally, a blend of coffee sold in coffee-houses around Britain has a newly-discovered orchid named after it.

The coffee is Puro, a Fairtrade blend by the Miko group, and the Teagueia Puroana orchid was discovered in a rainforest which has been bought for conservation purposes by the coffee group.

World-renowned botanist Dr Lou Jost discovered the new orchid while trekking in the Cerro Candelaria reserve in central Ecuador. The orchid is endemic to the high mountains of the upper Rio Pastaza watershed.

The Miko project has also turned up eleven more previously-unknown orchids, and a formerly-undiscovered frog.


Phalaenopsis Aphrodite, Ophrys sphegodes, cave spider, bee on flower and Epipactis veratrifolia, Wikimedia