Reintroduction of Midwestern Terrestrial Orchids
North America is home to over 200 species of native orchids. Nearly half of these species are under severe threat due to habitat destruction and many species are likely to become extinct unless action is taken to conserve them and their fungal partners. Since 2012, a coalition of partners has focused on native orchid conservation by developing a large-scale, collaborative project addressing threats to native orchid species in Wisconsin with an emphasis on trying to understand their recovery and conservation potential, of which many species occur in coastal wetland communities.
Terrestrial orchid conservation depends upon several factors, but perhaps the least understood are approaches for successful restoration. Orchid biology is incredibly complex, with each species often requiring specific fungi to be present in the soil, as well as pollinator species for seed development. In nature, orchid seed forms an association with a particular fungus for germination and subsequent growth. Without the highly complex fungal relationship and the right set of habitat conditions, orchids are not able to grow and persist. As a result, orchids are often among the most fragile members of an ecosystem due in part to their complicated growth requirements. Therefore, a significant challenge for restoration is the limited knowledge available to the restoration community on the range of biological and ecological attributes that underpin terrestrial orchid growth, development and reproduction. For 2018, interns will work at several natural areas in and around Saukville, WI including Riveredge Nature Center and Cedarburg Bog to inventory and assess naturally occurring populations of orchids. Focusing on several species, such as Platanthera psycodes, Calapogon tuberosa, and Cypripedium reginae, we will undertake a habitat assessment of all known sites of these species to determine their habitat requirements. This will include an assessment of the soil substrate, and the associated that are found in the same habitat. To increase the success of future orchid restoration, we will locate similar or matching habitat, assessing the ecological distance of the donor and recipient sites.