New electronic tool to support Australian orchid conservation
Scientists at the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research have produced an electronic identification key that will help to classify and protect Australia’s 1 300 native orchid species – many threatened by agricultural and urban development.
21 November 2006 | Updated 14 October 2011
Exhibited for the first time at Floriade 2006 in Canberra, Australian Orchid Genera is an illustrated, interactive CD-ROM containing the most comprehensive collection of data on orchid genera recorded in Australia – home to the world’s most diverse terrestrial orchids.
Developed over three years, the powerful navigation tool is the first of its kind internationally and enables both professional and amateur users to identify orchids to genus level using whatever information is available. More than 2 500 annotated images depicting flower structures and distinguishing features support this process.
The key’s 127 characters cover morphology – floral parts, fruit, leaves, stems and pseudobulbs – and geographic information, while fact sheets for each of the 192 Australian orchid genera contain botanical, biological and ecological information.
Accurate orchid classification
Orchids constitute 10 per cent of Australian flora and 85 per cent of the Australian terrestrial and epiphytic species are unique to this continent. Conservation is therefore a major priority for the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research (CPBR) – a collaboration between CSIRO Plant Industry and the Australian National Botanic Gardens.
According to renowned botanist and project leader Mr David Jones, accurate classification of native orchids is fundamental to their survival as it enables scientists to determine conservation needs and influences environmental assessments for urban planning.
'In the past 20 years Australian orchids have attracted closer examination because habitats are disappearing,' Mr Jones says. 'During that time up to 600 new species have been discovered and added to the Australian National Herbarium for examination, but about half of those species are at risk and more than 50 are on the critically endangered list.'
“CSIRO has been a world leader in delivering complex information in a simplified way and the orchid key will make identification much easier for a wider range of users, from botanists to specialist horticulturalists and orchid lovers.”
Dr Judy West
The CPBR team has modified orchid classification, scientifically naming new varieties and renaming existing species to 'better reflect ancestral development and features.'
The electronic key was conceived to explain these enhancements and to improve identification. A significant component is the Australian Orchid Name Index which lists:
Capturing botanical knowledge
CPBR Director Dr Judy West, who inspired the key’s development, says the reference has successfully captured the CPBR research team’s extensive knowledge of Australian orchids, including that of senior scientists who will soon retire.
'Botanists accumulate enormous amounts of valuable information over a career, but this has previously been difficult to store in an accessible manner,' she says.
'CSIRO has been a world leader in delivering complex information in a simplified way and the orchid key will make identification much easier for a wider range of users, from botanists to specialist horticulturalists and orchid lovers.'
The key uses Lucid software, developed by Queensland University’s Centre for Biological Information Technology, which overcomes the time investment and problems associated with using books for orchid identification.
Dr West anticipates the key will additionally inform decisions for commercial propagation – an area that has previously been complicated due to terrestrial orchids’ symbiotic relationship with fungi.
Mr Jones says the tool also has a broader application as an informant of environmental conditions given that 'orchid health is a reliable indicator of ecosystem health.'
For further details or to purchase the Australian Orchid Genera tool, visit CSIRO PUBLISHING.