6 February 2017
New findings from a USC researcher are giving one of Australia’s most coveted orchid species a fighting chance of survival.
USC PhD candidate Laura Simmons recently completed a four-year study into the genetics of the endangered swamp orchid – a project backed by the charitable trust of Queensland philanthropist Jani Haenke.
The species is found along parts of the east Australian coastline but its population has been reduced by urban development, feral animals and even gardeners cultivating wild plants.
Ms Simmons’ research, which was funded by a $185,000 Jani Haenke Charitable Trust grant, found that the species has the capacity to regenerate quickly following a destructive event – but only if left to its own devices.
“The biggest threat to this species has been development on coastal swamp land,” she said.
“Two populations of swamp orchids disappeared in the time I was studying them – one in just a two-month period.
“My study showed that swamp orchids have fairly low genetic diversity.
“However, I found that in a natural environment, the species can restock and recover well from fire or other population loss. The critical part is making sure these plants are left to their own devices in good quality habitat.”
Ms Simmons’ recommendations on protecting and restoring the species, including fire management plans, are now being actively implemented by natural resource groups in Queensland and New South Wales.
Her PhD scholarship was one of several dozen conservation, cultural, overseas aid and personal care projects funded by the Jani Haenke Charitable Trust.
“The generosity of Mrs Haenke has actively contributed to the conservation of an endangered species,” Ms Simmons said.
“Having the funding from the trust allowed me to study the same areas over multiple years and get data over a vast geographic distance. That’s something that’s absolutely critical for conservation studies.
“Seeing my findings making a practical difference on the ground has been the most satisfying aspect of the whole project. I’ve got a positive outlook for the survival of the species.”
Miss Simmons’ PhD was supervised by USC Associate Professor of Vegetation and Plant Ecology Dr Alison Shapcott.
— Gen Kennedy