Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species". Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in the Azorean archipelago: not one but three species, including arguably Europe's rarest orchid", was published today in the peer-reviewed open-access journal PeerJ.
The research team, led by independent botanist Prof. Richard Bateman in collaboration with local botanist Dr. Mnica Moura (University of the Azores) and plant morphologist Dr. Paula Rudall (of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew), originally viewed these butterfly-orchids as a simple, tractable system ideal for studying the origin of species and so they initiated a focused exploration of all nine Azorean islands.
A combination of field and laboratory research soon showed that butterfly-orchids first colonized the Azores from the Mediterranean rather than from North America, rapidly undergoing miniaturization of their ancestrally large flowers. It proved easy to distinguish the widespread Short-spurred Butterfly-orchid (Platanthera pollostantha) from the rarer Narrow-lipped Butterfly-orchid (P. micrantha) using morphology, DNA sequences, and the identities of mycorrhizal fungi associated with the roots of the orchids. However, this 'simple' study was thrown into disarray when Dr. Moura explored remote dwarfed laurisilva forests along the highest volcanic ridge on the central island
|Contact: Richard Bateman|