Isotria medeoloides, a North American Threatened Orchid: Fungal Abundance May Be as Important as Light in Species Management

Plants (Basel). 2021 Sep 15;10(9):1924. doi: 10.3390/plants10091924.

ABSTRACT

The management of endangered or threatened plant species is difficult if protocols are not developed to propagate species for the purpose of restoration or the enhancement of existing populations. The management of endangered and threatened orchids is especially difficult because of the obligate interactions between orchids and orchid mycorrhizal fungi. Isotria medeoloides is a federally threatened forest-dwelling orchid species with a wide distribution in eastern North America. Seeds have not been successfully germinated and current management is based primarily on using subcanopy thinning to increase light in areas where monitoring demonstrates that populations are declining. We report the results of long-term monitoring efforts, canopy thinning, and orchid mycorrhizal fungus abundance studies at two locations in Virginia. The declining populations responded positively to the experimental and natural thinning of the canopy. At one site, the response was the result of understory canopy thinning. At the second site, the response was due to the natural death of a canopy tree. In light of the dramatic increase in fungal abundance following death of the canopy tree, we propose the Fungal Abundance Hypothesis as an additional approach to the management of endangered plant species. The removal of canopy trees in or adjacent to Isotria populations results in an increase in dead belowground biomass (i.e., roots of the dead canopy tree) that provides substrates for microbial growth, including orchid mycorrhizal fungi, that benefit Isotria.

PMID:34579457 | DOI:10.3390/plants10091924

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