Why are orchids so successful?

Sep 13, 2011
The oil-collecting bee Rediviva longimanus on the orchid Pterygodium schelpei. Credit: 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 , 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 can play major but contrasting roles in plant community assembly and speciation.

Explore further: Research helps steer mites from bees

More information: Waterman, R.J., et al. (2011). The effects of above- and belowground mutualisms on orchid speciation and coexistence. Amer. Nat. 177, E54.

Provided by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

3 /5 (1 vote)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

New research explains orchids' sexual trickery

Dec 17, 2009

A new study reveals the reason why orchids use sexual trickery to lure insect pollinators. The study, published in the January issue of The American Naturalist, finds that sexual deception in orchids leads to a more effici ...

Orchid sexual deceit has male wasps in a loved-up frenzy

Apr 29, 2008

Orchids are admired by humans and insects alike, but according to Macquarie University research, one Australian wasp is so enthralled by ‘Orchid Fever' that actually he ejaculates while pollinating orchid ...

The evolution of orchids

Nov 19, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Charles Darwin and many other scientists have long been puzzled by the evolution of orchids, the largest and most diverse family of flowering plants on Earth. Now genetic sequencing is giving ...

Orchids and fungi: An unexpected case of symbiosis

Jul 12, 2011

The majority of orchids are found in habitats where light may be a limiting factor. In such habitats it is not surprising that many achlorophyllous (lacking chlorophyll), as well as green, orchids depend on ...

Scientists find new home for threatened orchids

Jun 03, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- For many people uprooting and moving to a new home is a stressful and time consuming exercise, however it pales in comparison to the complexity of relocating native populations of rare and ...

Recommended for you

Research helps steer mites from bees

Sep 19, 2014

A Simon Fraser University chemistry professor has found a way to sway mites from their damaging effects on bees that care and feed the all-important queen bee.

Bird brains more precise than humans'

Sep 19, 2014

(Phys.org) —Birds have been found to display superior judgement of their body width compared to humans, in research to help design autonomous aircraft navigation systems.

User comments : 0