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Orchid conservation in the biodiversity hotspot of southwestern China

Liu, Qiang, Chen, Jin, Corlett, Richard T., Fan, XuLi, Yu, DongLI, Yang, HongPei, Gao, JiangYun
Conservation biology 2015 v.29 no.6 pp. 1563-1572
Hevea brasiliensis, Orchidaceae, area, botanical gardens, climate change, collectors, conservation areas, conservation status, continuous cropping, ex situ conservation, flora, land use change, markets, ornamental value, plant genetic resources, plantations, rubber, species diversity, surveys, tropical forests, China
Xishuangbanna is on the northern margins of tropical Asia in southwestern China and has the largest area of tropical forest remaining in the country. It is in the Indo‐Burma hotspot and contains 16% of China's vascular flora in <0.2% of the country's total area (19,690 km²). Rapid expansion of monoculture crops in the last 20 years, particularly rubber, threatens this region's exceptional biodiversity. To understand the effects of land‐use change and collection on orchid species diversity and determine protection priorities, we conducted systematic field surveys, observed markets, interviewed orchid collectors, and then determined the conservation status of all orchids. We identified 426 orchid species in 115 genera in Xishuangbanna: 31% of all orchid species that occur in China. Species richness was highest at 1000–1200 m elevation. Three orchid species were assessed as possibly extinct in the wild, 15 as critically endangered, 82 as endangered, 124 as vulnerable, 186 as least concern, and 16 as data deficient. Declines over 20 years in harvested species suggested over‐collection was the major threat, and utility value (i.e., medicinal or ornamental value) was significantly related to endangerment. Expansion of rubber tree plantations was less of a threat to orchids than to other taxa because only 75 orchid species (17.6%) occurred below the 1000‐m‐elevation ceiling for rubber cultivation, and most of these (46) occurred in nature reserves. However, climate change is projected to lift this ceiling to around 1300 m by 2050, and the limited area at higher elevations reduces the potential for upslope range expansion. The Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden is committed to achieving zero plant extinctions in Xishuangbanna, and orchids are a high priority. Appropriate in and ex situ conservation strategies, including new protected areas and seed banking, have been developed for every threatened orchid species and are being implemented.