Australian Orchid Foundation


Project: 353/2023


Title:  Amendment to approved project: Recovery of Rhizanthella gardneri populations and habitat post fire 

Applicant: Dr. Jacopo Calevo 

Institution:  Curtin University, School of Molecular and Life Sciences, Kent Street, Bentley WA 6102


In the past decades, habitat fragmentation and modification, has negatively impacted populations of the critically endangered achlorophyllous underground orchid Rhizanthella gardneri Rogers. that form a delicate tripartite interaction with Ectomycorrhizal fungi (EcM) and Melaleuca uncinata. Given the small size of the populations (less than 20 individuals) and habitat, artificial fires, typically applied by DBCA to other natural environments, were not introduced into these habitats. However, in February 2022, an uncontrolled fire burned almost half of the known populations. We have therefore the chance to study the resilience of R. gardneri to fire events as well as the response of the habitat, specifically investigating the soil mycobiome (and therefore the response of the EcM fungi associating with R. gardneri and M. uncinata). Understanding how R. gardneri and its symbionts respond to fire is totally unknown and studying this event will have significant influence on managing these restricted populations in the future and ultimately preventing extinction of this species.

The project will be articulated in three key studies: i) Niche modelling to determine the effect of climate change on existing populations, ii) in vitro experiments to provide empirical testing of effect of fire and temperature on EcM, and iii) In situ experiments on soil to compare burnt and pristine areas soils mycobiome.