While Palau is most famous for its stunning marine biodiversity and dive sites, its forests and the orchids hidden within them remain less well-known and need to be studied and protected as well. The Palau Orchid Conservation Initiative (POCI) works to conserve nearly 100 species of Palauan orchids, working alongside domestic and international collaborators and community members to better understand and protect this biodiversity hotspot in the growing face of environmental change.
The POCI is a collaborative program that focuses on the biology, ecology, conservation, and restoration of orchids and their associated fungi. The program was launched by the North American Orchid Conservation Center (NAOCC) and is a coalition of organizations established by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), the National Museum of Natural History’s Department of Botany and the U.S. Botanic Garden, along with the U.S. Forest Service’s Institute of Pacific Islands Forestry and researchers from Illinois College. The program aims to improve our understanding of orchid communities, their biology, and distribution across Palau while acquiring detailed information on their co-occurrence with specific tree species, vegetation types, soil types, and habitats. The program also aims to explore the diversity of mycorrhizal fungi associated with orchids in Palau to determine how these symbiotic partners influence the diversity, distribution, and abundance of orchid species in a unique insular setting that is a critical component of the Polynesia/Micronesia global biodiversity hotspot. The goals of the Palau Orchid Conservation Initiative are to determine how ecological variables influence orchid diversity and distribution, to propagate native orchids for conservation purposes, and to engage local communities to develop the most effective conservation strategies. The project’s initial findings have expanded our understanding of orchid ecology and bolstering appreciation for orchids and their habitats, thereby furthering our ability to protect tropical island orchid communities and sustain a biodiverse planet.