Resolving taxonomic uncertainty to guide the conservation of New Zealand orchids (APSF 19047)

By 07/04/2019Current Projects
APSF 19047 | Amount: $42,000 | Project Leader: C Lehnebach | Project Period:

A project undertaken at the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, and supervised by Carlos Lehnebach

This project will help to solve the uncertainty around the taxonomic status of 23 terrestrial orchids endemic to New Zealand. Although the morphological distinctiveness of some of these orchids has been acknowledged for decades their taxonomic status has never been investigated or resolved. A shortage of plant taxonomists in the country and limited funding for taxonomic research are believed to be the main reasons for this lack of progress. Our study will use herbarium specimens, field collections and DNA Next Generation Sequencing techniques.

There are over 110 species of orchids in New Zealand and about 70% of them are endemic. The current conservation assessment of the entire New Zealand vascular flora estimates that ca. 35% of our orchids are of conservation concern. Habitat destruction and illegal collection seem to be the main threats. Surprisingly, the orchids that we are studying are also included in this list. These orchids are distributed across the categories Threatened, At Risk, Data Deficient and Not Threatened. They belong to the genera Corybas, Microtis, Pterostylis, Spiranthes and Thelymitra. A widespread tag-named orchid known as Prasophyllum colensoi “A” was not included in this assessment but nonetheless included in our study.

Clarifying the taxonomic status of these entities will not only advance our knowledge of New Zealand orchid biodiversity but also will help conservation agencies with decision making regarding the management of these orchids and prioritising conservation actions. This is very important as taxonomic uncertainty often leads to unnecessary conservation efforts and the ineffective use of resources. Furthermore, this project will advance our knowledge on speciation processes in New Zealand orchids and contribute to studies by overseas colleagues aiming to describe the diversity of species in these Australasian genera.