Volunteer work vital to threatened species

Magali Wright, Viv Muller, Nigel Swartz

One of Dr Nigel Swarts great hopes is that a project to build a living collection of some of Tasmania’s most threatened native orchids at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens with the help of volunteers, will one day help restock numbers in the wild.

The orchid research scientist says Tasmania is home to more than 200 orchid species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world. “More than a third are either critically endangered or vulnerable, and many of these are found only in a small number of populations in Tasmania,” he says.

The project is training volunteers at the Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens in plant conservation, and helping to create a seed and fungal bank for some of our most threatened orchid species.

NRM South biodiversity co-ordinator Dr Magali Wright is making the most of her expertise in using mycorrhiza fungi to propagate the orchids and has both a passionate interest in the rare flowers and a readiness to share her expertise.

“Plants grown under this program will become a living part of the gardens, acting as an insurance policy for species extinction and a seed orchard for conservation efforts,” she says. “They will also provide an important source of native orchids that can be reintroduced back into the wild. It takes around 2-3 years to grow orchids for reintroduction and this will be undertaken for species that are only known from a few unreserved sites.”

Outside the laboratory another group of volunteers have made a discovery that is yet another positive step for threatened species
management in Tasmania.

During one of their many field trips volunteers from Threatened Plants Tasmania found 180 previously unknown dainty leek orchids (Prasophyllum amoenum) on Mount Wellington.

The find could mean the dainty leek orchid has its conservation status down-listed, freeing up resources for other species at greater risk of extinction.

Threatened Plants Tasmania president Viv Muller said the work had been extremely rewarding.

“We work very closely with senior botanists from the Threatened Species and Marine Section of the Tasmanian Government who ensure our efforts are directed to the plants most in need of help and who identified the survey areas and organised permission for the activity from the Wellington Park Management Trust.”

The Threatened Plants Tasmania field trip schedule for 2013-14 will be just as busy and NRM South will continue to work with volunteers and the Threatened Species and Marine Section to coordinate field trips in the southern region and provide specialised training opportunities. Through this work project partners aim to improve the conservation status of a wide range of threatened flora, many only found in the southern region of Tasmania.

“… Tasmania is home to more than 200 orchid species, many of which are found nowhere else in the world.”


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