What We Think We Know vs. What We Need to Know About Orchid Pollination and Conservation: Cypripedium L. as a Model Lineage

Research paper by Peter Bernhardt, Retha Edens-Meier

Indexed on: 31 Mar '10Published on: 31 Mar '10Published in: The Botanical review; interpreting botanical progress


While Darwin (1862, 1877) showed that reproductive success in orchid populations depended on adaptive floral morphology coupled with pollinator visitation a more recent review of the literature (Tremblay et al., 2005) confirmed that many out-breeding species are pollinator-limited because most orchid species showing low fecundity also lack rewards. The absence of rewards depresses both pollinator fidelity and the frequency of pollinator visits to an orchid population even though orchid flowers that lack rewards retain the same interlocking floral structures for precise pollinia removal and deposition found in related species that offer rewards. Using the genus, Cypripedium, as a model lineage of non-rewarding flowers this study also shows that the correlation between low fruit set in a Cypripedium sp. and its specific pollinator(s) is insufficient to predict specific frequencies of low fecundity. Annual rates of fruit set often vary broadly between populations of the same species and within the same population over several seasons. We speculate that fruit-set rates also decline when orchid demography and additional biotic and abiotic factors interrupt rates of pollinator activity (pre-zygotic) and fertilization/fruit maturation (post-zygotic). We suggest that that traditional field studies on pollination ecology and breeding systems be combined with data sets recording genetic variation and orchid flower demography in relation to seasonal variation in climate. We also propose that the same information be collected in regard to genetic variation, demography and phenology of populations of known orchid pollinators and co-blooming angiosperm species native to orchid habitats.