Why are orchids so successful?
Scientists have been studying the roles that pollinators and mycorrhizal fungi may play in the mechanisms of orchid speciation.
12 Sep 2011
The oil-collecting bee Rediviva longimanus on the orchid Pterygodium schelpei (Image: A. Pauw).
In terms of diversity, orchids are one of the most successful groups of flowering plants, with over 22,000 species. Both pollinating animals and mycorrhizal fungi are believed to have been important in the diversification of orchids (and other flowering plants), but the mechanisms by which these above- and below-ground mutualisms affect speciation remain obscure.
Scientists from Kew, Imperial College London, and Stellenbosch, Washington and Bayreuth universities have been investigating these mechanisms in a study of 52 orchid species in a small region of South Africa. Their results, published in an e-article of The American Naturalist, showed that recently diverged orchid species either use a variety of different pollinators, or place pollen on different parts of the same pollinator, consistent with the theory of pollination-mode shifts in speciation. In contrast, fungal partners are conserved between closely related species, and orchids recruit the same fungal species even when transplanted to different areas. However, co-occurring orchid species tend to use different fungal partners, consistent with their expected role in reducing competition for nutrients.
The results demonstrate that these two dominant mutualisms in terrestrial ecosystems can play major but contrasting roles in plant community assembly and speciation.
Item from Dr Martin Bidartondo (Senior Lecturer, Imperial College London/Kew)
Waterman, R.J., Bidartondo, M.I., Stofberg, J., Combs, J.K., Gebauer, G., Savolainen, V., Timothy G. Barraclough, T.G., & Pauw, A. (2011). The effects of above- and belowground mutualisms on orchid speciation and coexistence. Amer. Nat. 177, E54.
Help Kew break new ground and inspire new generations
By making a donation to Kew today you can help our scientists to find out more about the fascinating world of plants, break new ground and inspire generations of young people to get to know plants better.
Our scientific programmes are focused on understanding plants and conserving the world's plant life and habitats at risk. Plants are essential to life on earth. In a world where the sustainability of the planet’s rich biodiversity is becoming less certain, Kew’s science work is ever more critical. Find out how your donation can make a difference.
Browse Kew news
- In the Gardens
- Science and conservation
- How you are helping
- Specialist science
- Kew blogs
- All Kew news
Keep up to date with events and news from Kew
- english garden
- around the world
- ground breaking
- for kids
- english heritage
- for friends
- gifts that help
- the UK
- brand new
- for plant lovers
- special interest
- Kew at home
- garden plants
- high up
Kew on twitter
Unable to parse the data in the RSS file.