It's easy to become depressed these days by the state of orchids and their habitats around the world. The staggering growth of the human population and the increased demands on dwindling resources make sober reading: the population of Africa is expected to double in 20 years, that of Latin America in 25 years, and that of Asia in 30 years. Forty million acres are lost each year to cattle ranching; plantations of coffee,teak, bananas, and rubber; logging, farming, mining, even parking lots. Conservative estimates are that by the end of this century 66% of all plant species in the moist forests of the world will be lost. In the course of our research many of us have witnessed loss of habitat to road-building, dams, housing developments, and so on.
There's the irony of it all. By the time we finally arrive at a comprehensive phylogeny of the orchid family and indeed of all plants, we'll have to speak in the past tense for many species. We simply cannot prepare monographs and floras fast enough against the advance of the human population and global warming.
One welcome research development, however, is the active collaboration of orchid explorers and systematists from countries that were once political enemies. It's heartening to see the checklists and floras of Vietnam prepared by Leonid Averyanov and Dr. N. T. Hiep, funded by Western agencies and assisted by Western scientists.
The same can be said for the orchid scientists and other botanists of the People's Republic of China, where Professor Chen Sing-chi, Tsi Zhan-huo, and Luo Yi-bo are actively working with Phillip Cribb and me on a number of projects. Luo recently completed his Ph.D. and was awarded the President's Scholarship Prize of the Chinese Academy of Sciences for his multidisciplinary thesis on the phylogeny and biology of Hemipilia.
Likewise, Cuba is now welcoming American botanists despite the continuing economic embargo. Carlyle Luer described several new species of Pleurothallis from Cuba in the June 1999 issue of Lindleyana. The Fifth International Workshop of the University of Pinar del Rio, advertised in this issue of the Orchid Research Newsletter, will offer special lectures by Robert L. Dressler, Carlyle Luer, and Gustavo Romero. It will be a superb opportunity to enjoy the warm Cuban hospitality and share knowledge of orchids.
The IUCN Orchid Specialist Group is a forum for international dialogue and collaboration. Several of the regional groups are now active, especially the Indian sub-continental group, which held its first three-day meeting in Trivandrum in May. The North American and Far Eastern groups are also taking great strides toward solving a variety of problems in those areas.
Political walls and curtains have fallen in the last few decades, making us all professionally and personally richer and offering hope for the future of orchids and their habitats. Those expanded channels of communication may even help to preserve everything else we take for granted every day.
News From Correspondents
© Copyright The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.