Indonesia orchid species threatened by deforestation

Hans Nicholas Jong, The Jakarta Post 17 Feb 16;

Indonesian orchids are increasingly coming under threat as rapid deforestation puts pressure on their natural habitats.

There are 5,000 species of orchids in the country, while some scientists have predicted that there are at least 6,000.

Bogor Botanical Garden orchid curator Sofi Mursidawati said that researchers had found increasingly fewer new species in recent years.

“Our forests create a specific ecosystem for orchids to live. If our forests are left intact, then the orchids will continue to evolve. We used to have pristine forests, but in the past 20 years, during exploration, we rarely found new species,” Sofi said on Tuesday.

Sofi suspected that many species of orchids had gone extinct on account of deforestation before they were discovered.

The current amount of species could decline further if the government failed to stop the rate of deforestation, Sofi said, as orchids, unlike other species of flowers, were extremely dependent on their habitats.

“Sixty to 70 percent of orchid species in Indonesia really depend on big trees. So when the trees are cut or burned, the orchids will die as well,” she said.

Some orchid species in the country belong to Appendix I of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) and the Red List of International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

One of the most sought-after species is the shiny green leaf paphiopedilum or tropical lady’s slipper, an endemic orchid species that grows at the foot of Mount Semeru in East Java.

The mountain is also home to a rare orchid species called adenalia variensis, which came under threat from last year’s forest fires.

Another rare and endangered orchid species threatened by last year’s forest fires was grammatophylum specosum, locally known as anggrek macan or tiger orchid. Seventy five percent of its habitat in the Pematang Damar Forest in Jambi was burned, encompassing 200 out of 240 hectares in four villages.

Even when orchids are not being threatened by forest fires, they lead a fragile existence.

“Other orchid species in Indonesia belong to Appendix II because orchids are very difficult to grow. While their seeds are plenty, reaching thousands, only one or two seeds survive until adulthood,” she said.

Besides depending on big trees, orchids are also very dependent on insects and fungus and growing up they depend on insects to carry over their pollens given their weight.

“So if the fungus and insects disappear, then the orchids will also disappear,” she said.

Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (Kehati) executive director MS Sembiring said that the government should start a program to involve locals in protecting orchids.

“The public should be at the forefront. Once we can build their capacity, nature will flourish,” he said.

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