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Orchid Conservation and Research

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The interest in conserving native orchid species began in 1990 when Dr. Robert Read, a retired Smithsonian botanist living in Naples, visited Refuge headquarters.  With only a staff of three employees and established for less than a year, we gradually became acquainted with Dr. Read and the wealth of Orchidaceae that capture the interest of many Floridians.  Americorps interns conducted surveys for orchids in 1996 through 1997. A grant was received in 1999 from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to begin research and build a laboratory facility at the Refuge Field Office.  Since then, the Orchid Conservation Program became a partnership with the University of Florida with Dr. Mike Kane of the Department of Environmental Horticulture and Dr. Larry Zettler with Illinois College.  Through these two professors, and a stream of undergraduate and graduate students, we conducted investigations on orchid plant ecology, biology, propagation, and pollination biology.  This conservation partnership has begun to establish effective and efficient means of orchid conservation using the orchid flora at the Refuge as model systems.  The techniques being perfected here have already made the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Refuge, University of Florida and Illinois College leaders in the conservation and propagation of North American native orchid species.  No other conservation program currently exists in the United States that combines a proactive and integrated approach to species-level orchid conservation with the expertise of conservation practitioners and researchers.  The research and implemented practices of this conservation partnership are being closely watched by orchid experts around the world, including those with established orchid conservation programs in Australia and the United Kingdom.

North America possesses approximately 250 unique species of both epiphytic and terrestrial orchids, with Florida having about 120 of those species.  Florida native orchids are faced with a constant threat of habitat alteration from agriculture and development, exotic plant invasion, poaching, and other adverse impacts to the ecosystem.  While no Florida native orchid is federally listed as endangered or threatened, most Florida orchid species are State-listed as threatened or endangered and face the possibility of extinction if conservation and recovery plans are not investigated and instituted.  The imminent extinction of Florida native orchids may also negatively impact populations and distributions of insect pollinators common among these species.

Learn more about the research conducted on the refuge. 
Page Photo Credits — Ghost Orchids - © Larry W. Richardson
Last Updated: Nov 26, 2013
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