Habitat characteristics of the rare underground orchid Rhizanthella gardneri

Jeremy Bougoure, Mark Brundrett, A. Brown, Pauline Grierson

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    Rhizanthella gardneri R.S.Rogers is an entirely subterranean mycoheterotrophic orchid known only from two isolated populations within south-western Western Australia (WA). This rare species appears restricted to habitats dominated by species of the Melaleuca uncinata complex. R. gardneri purportedly forms a tripartite relationship with Melaleuca1, via a connecting mycorrhizal fungus, for the purpose of carbohydrate and nutrient acquisition. Here, we quantify key climate, soil and vegetation characteristics of known R. gardneri habitats to provide baseline data for monitoring of known R. gardneri populations, to better understand how R. gardneri interacts with its habitat and to identify possible new sites for R. gardneri introduction. We found that the habitats of the two known R. gardneri populations show considerable differences in soil chemistry, Melaleuca structure and Melaleuca productivity. Multivariate analyses showed that both multidimensional scaling (MDS) and principal components analysis (PCA) ordinations of soil chemical characteristics were very similar. Individual sites within populations were relatively similar in all attributes measured, whereas overall northern and southern habitats were distinct from each other. These results suggest that R. gardneri can tolerate a range of conditions and may be more widespread than previously thought, given that there are extensive areas of Melaleuca thickets with similar habitat characteristics across south-western WA. Variability within the habitats of known R. gardneri populations suggests translocation of this species into sites with similar vegetation may be a viable option for the survival of this species.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)501-511
    JournalAustralian Journal of Botany
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 2008


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