The dawn of a new century and a new millennium is surely a time both for reflection and for anticipation. In this issue I have put forward, for what they are worth, my own choice of what I consider the five most significant developments of the past century for the orchid world. Here, though, I would like to look forward to consider what might be in store for us all.
The development of molecular tools applicable to orchid science will, I believe, prove to have the most immediate and long-lasting effect upon orchid science and its application. Already, a new classification is developing that will change many of our cherished ideas of infra-familial relationships, generic delimitation, and species relationships. The consequences for nomenclature will be considerable but will eventually lead to a more stable nomenclature at generic level and above. The rapidly increasing power of computing will also enable the more rapid analysis of large data sets, essential when tackling such a large family as the Orchidaceae.
The species concept will also be subject to scrutiny and testing using molecular tools. Maybe we can at last come to a consensus over how many orchids there are in Europe and decide whether the many newly described cryptic Australian species merit recognition.
Orchid conservation will also be helped by molecular science. Studies are beginning to be published that allow the genetic analysis of populations to be compared. This knowledge will be important when re-introductions are contemplated e.g., to select the stock that would most resemble the extinct or depleted one.
The increasing ease of communications will undoubtedly have a significant influence. Already sizeable databases and encyclopaedias of orchids and other information on orchids can be found in quantity on the world-wide web. This newsletter and that of the IUCN Species Specialist Group both appear on it and are accessible to a far greater audience than was previously conceivable. The main problem is likely to be information overload, particularly as the web lacks any editor.
Extinction will cause increasing concern. So far orchid species do not seem to have been exterminated in the quantities predicted some years ago. However, as their habitats become increasingly depleted and even disappear, I suspect that orchid extinction will dramatically increase. Lowland rainforest is virtually gone in southeast Asia, and montane forests are disappearing fast. Man always seems to leave it too late before reacting to catastrophes that are eminently predictable; indeed, many seem not to care. I fervently wish that the orchid community, perhaps through the IUCN Orchid Specialist Group, can alert authorities to the problems and provide solutions to some of the problems.
The increasing rarity of many species will also enhance the significance and viability of banking orchid seed, pollen, and protocorms. Common protocols need still to be established so that growers can rely on the quality of the material they order.
In few areas of biology do scientists, horticulturists, and conservationists have such close and long-standing working relationships. The new century offers opportunities for us, both as individuals and as a community to make significant contributions to understand and protect the plants that we all admire.
The Linnean Society and the Royal Horticultural Society host the first orchid meeting of the new Millennium in mid-March in London, the subject of which is new developments in orchid biology. I and my fellow editors hope to see you there. We would like to wish all our readers a happy and successful New Year, century, and millennium.
News From Correspondents
25 January 2000.
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