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Reforestation may be key to rare orchid's survival

The rare 'lady's slipper' orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) is endangered in many EU countries, but the results of a 13-year study by researchers from the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Spain suggest that the abandonment of farming and grazing, which helps reforestation, also b...
Reforestation may be key to rare orchid's survival
The rare 'lady's slipper' orchid (Cypripedium calceolus) is endangered in many EU countries, but the results of a 13-year study by researchers from the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology in Spain suggest that the abandonment of farming and grazing, which helps reforestation, also benefits the orchid. The researchers said populations of the plant in such areas are stable or growing well. The study was published in the journal Conservation Biology.

Populations of species at the edges of their distribution areas, as is the case with the lady's slipper orchid on the southern side of the Pyrenees, have always been considered to be more vulnerable than those at the centre of their range.

Researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), which contains the Pyrenean Institute of Ecology, decided to discover whether populations of this rare Euro-Asian orchid were in a worse situation than those in countries such as Estonia or Poland. The scientists found that the populations of lady's slipper orchids, which are characterised by the slipper-shaped pouches of their flowers, on the southern edges of the Pyrenees 'are similar in size, reproduce better, and are as stable or even growing at a faster pace than those in central Europe,' explained María B. García, lead author of the study.

The team said this 'unusual' result seems to be related to reforestation in the areas of the Pyrenees studied, leading them to suggest that the ending of traditional practices, like farming and grazing, could help some endangered forest plants to recover.

'For a plant that is used to colder temperatures, such as in central and northern Europe, reforestation in more southerly areas could represent an improvement to its habitat, thereby leading to an increase in the population growth rate,' said Ms García, who confirmed that the highest such rate found to date is in the Pyrenees. The duration of the study - from 1997 to 2010 - was of key importance in allowing them to arrive at these conclusions, noting that before now 'there have not been any similar studies over such a long time', according to the researchers.

The study also highlighted the fact that landscape changes and the expansion of forests over the past 50 years in mountainous regions are providing 'new opportunities' and giving 'hope for the recovery of forest species at the edge of their range against a future backdrop dominated by biodiversity loss'.

Cypripedium calceolus is classified as 'endangered' in the whole of Europe and 'represents almost 100 forest plants that are at the limits of their range on the southern slopes of the Pyrenees,' Ms García pointed out. Climate change and global warming are threat factors that could have dramatic implications for orchids, as well as other plant species. 'However, at this time of global warming, the increase in forest area along this mountain range could be benefiting this group of species,' she said.

In the absence of severe manmade alterations to the environment, the immediate future for these orchid populations in the Pyrenees 'seems to be favourable,' the researchers concluded.

Source: Conservation Biology; Pyrenean Institute of Ecology

Related information

Countries

  • Spain
Record Number: 32874 / Last updated on: 2010-12-15
Category: Other
Provider: EC