Candy spider-orchid research
New research into an endangered candy spider-orchid (Caladenia versicolor), found only in small numbers in Victoria, Australia, has revealed some surprising results that scientists believe will help conserve the species.
The research into the formerly widespread orchid, was undertaken by scientists at Cranbourne Gardens, in collaboration with the Australian University and University of Western Australia.
Dr Noushka Reiter and her team found that this species of orchid was almost solely pollinated by male Leioproctus platycephalus bees – 97.5 per cent of visits were by this species, with the majority of them being male. This suggests that the orchid has a specialisation with one species of bee pollinator.
Before this study, no spider-orchids were known to have specialised pollination with just one bee species. This research has opened up a range of new opportunities for this group of orchids and their conservation.
Another unexpected result is that the candy spider-orchid was not previously known to produce nectar to attract bees. Instead, they were thought to be ‘food deceptive’, meaning that they did not produce a sweet nectar reward for their pollinator, but only deceptively looked and smelt like they did. Upon investigation the team found that it actually does produce very small amounts – which the Leioproctus platycephalus bees foraged on.
This research shows that although many assume some orchids don’t produce nectar, they actually might. This could lead to many more investigations into other orchid species that are previously thought to be only ‘food deceptive’.
Additionally, being aware of this specialised relationship between Leioproctus platycephalus bees and the candy spider-orchid can be very helpful in the creation of conservation management plans. One clear outcome was that to conserve and reintroduce the orchid, it is also vital to conserve the bees.
At present, Leioproctus platycephalus bees are still common throughout Australia, but conservationists should always make sure that their populations are taken into account when they are trying to conserve the candy spider-orchid.
To read the paper on the research, please find it here