The new millennium dawns with orchid research in fine fettle. We now have recent accounts of the orchid floras of most of the temperate regions of the world and over half of the tropics. Significant advances have been made in our knowledge of the orchids of the Americas, Europe, tropical and South Africa, Madagascar, China, S and SE Asia, the Malay Archipelago, Australia, and the SW Pacific Islands. Many gaps still exist, of course, notably in parts of South America, Central Africa, Madagascar, and the Malay Archipelago. New species are still being described at an amazing rate, over 150 per year for every year over the past ten years to my knowledge. Taxonomists still have much work to do.
The tools that are now available to orchid researchers grow apace, better machines, better analytical techniques, and advances in chemistry that have enabled study of the orchid genome to play an increasing role in a variety of disciplines from systematics to studies of population biology and the mycorrhizal association. The availability of techniques such as DNA analysis are bringing many young scientists into orchid research, and their work is revolutionising our understanding of this large and diverse family. A number are now involved in the monumental new classification of the orchids being published as Genera Orchidacearum. We are pleased to announce the publication of volume 2, covering Orchideae, Diseae, and Diurideae, in January 2001. The third volume approaches completion and will be submitted to the publishers shortly.
Two conferences in Australia this autumn will concentrate on some of the current work and advances in systematics and orchid conservation, respectively. The first in early September in Sydney is the Flora Malesiana Conference that will have a symposium dedicated to orchids. The Flora Malesiana region encompasses the Malay Peninsula and Archipelago, the Philippines, New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands. We still have an incomplete knowledge of the rich orchid flora of the region, estimated at over 5,000 species and including some of the most ornamental orchids. The forests of this region have been decimated in the last century and are a mere fraction of what they were only 30 years ago. Documented extinctions have been few so far but are anticipated to accelerate alarmingly in the early years of the new century. A knowledge of what orchids are currently there and where and how they grow are vital tools that can be used to ensure their survival.
The second conference, which develops the theme of orchid conservation in depth, will be in Perth in late September. The First International Orchid Conservation Congress is jointly sponsored by Kings Park Botanic Garden, Botanical Gardens Conservation International, the Australian Network for Plant Conservation and IUCN's Species Survival Commission's Orchid Specialist Group. Topics covered include population biology, conservation genetics, propagation, seed storage and banking, managing trade in wild orchids, the role of orchid nurseries and growers, re-introduction, and recovery planning. Practical issues will be emphasised. The post-conference tour at the peak of the orchid flowering season will be a highlight when over 100 species can be seen in flower!
If 1800 and the work of Olof Swarz can be taken as the start of the first century of orchid research then we enter the third century in reasonably good shape and with these two conferences a timely reminder that orchid research can make a contribution to the survival of species and habitats around the world. I look forward to seeing you all in Australia in September.
News From Correspondents
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