(CMR) The survival prospects of Grand Cayman’s endemic and critically endangered Ghost Orchid received an important boost with the award of a Darwin Plus Local grant to conservationist Christine Rose-Smyth.
When extinction threatens, ex-situ propagation offers a practical tool for the conservation of species. “Out of Flask, Outcrossed, and Out of Danger” is a long-term project that involves hand-pollinating flowers of Dendrophylax fawcettii, raising seedlings in sterile flasks of nutrient-rich media for a year or more, and ultimately outplanting the seedlings into the wild.
“One of the problems with our Ghost Orchid is the apparent loss of wild pollination of the flowers. We rarely see naturally occurring seed pods, and no seedlings have been observed. Working with orchids rescued from forest lost to development, we are learning how to expand the rescue population and prepare to augment the wild populations in the future,” Rose-Smyth, former Chair of the National Conservation Council, emphasised.
Whilst we aim to produce a sustainable source of genetically diverse plants for ex situ conservation and in situ ecological restoration, the program does not substitute for the preservation of wild habitat where the orchid naturally flourishes,” she added.
Mainly self-funded, the project has also been supported by the Dr. Cecilia Koo Botanic Conservation Center and the Taiwan Orchid Growers Association through the 23rd World Orchid Conference “Project Seeding” program.
“Darwin Plus Local represents a significant step up and will fund purchases of new flasking supplies, seed sowing and reflasking in the lab, and the 2023 fieldwork of pollinations and outplant monitoring,” Rose-Smyth said.
As a protected species, the Ghost Orchid research has permissions issued by the NCC under the National Conservation Act and is supported by project partners Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, National Trust for the Cayman Islands, and the Department of Environment.
Darwin Plus Local is a new component of the UK government's Biodiversity Challenge Funds which is aimed specifically at building capacity and spending within the UK Overseas Territories. Projects are selected for their ability to contribute measured results to the wider Darwin Plus themes of biodiversity, climate change, environmental quality, and capability building.