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Illinois College announces orchid recovery collaboration in Madagascar


A team of scientists from the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and Illinois College have finalized plans to collaborate on research studying selected critically endangered orchids in Madagascar.

Dr. Lawrence W. Zettler, professor of biology at Illinois College, has been invited to join the team whose collective expertise makes possible a holistic approach to orchid conservation in Madagascar. Zettler’s involvement in the project will focus on the capture and use of fungi these orchids need for growth and long-term survival. Dr. Viswambharan Sarasan, head of Kew’s Conservation Biotechnology Section, will serve as the leader of a team which includes 10 other specialists for the five-year project.

“By understanding how these orchids utilize fungi to grow in nature, we hope to develop and improve techniques for growing these rare species from seed in a practical, reliable manner,” explained Zettler.

Funding for the research will be provided mostly by Kew through the Sainsbury Orchid Project, supported by the Sainsbury Family Charitable Trust (£56,000). An additional $50,000 will be provided by Illinois College through a foundation with the majority being used for transportation expenses by Illinois College faculty, staff and students who will work with Zettler. Research will be carried out at Kew’s on-site facility in Madagascar, with expeditions to remote orchid habitats. Members of the team are planning their first trip in June 2012. The team hopes to begin work by documenting natural orchid pollination, perhaps involving high-speed (trigger) photography.

Zettler brings to the team 22 years of research experience growing rare orchids native to North America, including Hawaii and South Florida, in collaboration with specialists from the National Tropical Botanical Garden and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Florida and Ph.D. from Clemson University. Currently serving on the Research Committee of the American Orchid Society, he is also a member of the North American Region of the Orchid Specialist Group, International Union for the Conservation of Nature, as well as a research associate at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle.

Sarasan joined Kew in 1999 and received Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees, as well as a Ph.D. from the University of Kerala, India. He currently serves on orchid science teams encompassing the United Kingdom, United Kingdom overseas territories as well as Madagascar.

Other members of the research team include:
:: Stuart Cable (Herbarium and Millennium Seed Bank Partnership)
:: Dr. Bryn Dentinger (Mycology)
:: Dr. Mike Fay (Genetics)
:: Jonathan Kendon and Harriet Day (Conservation Biotechnology)
:: Landy Rajaovelona, Tiana Randriamboavonjy, Hélène Ralimanana, Franck Rakotonasolo and Jacky Andriantiana of Kew’s Madagascar Conservation Centre.

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world famous scientific organization internationally respected for its outstanding living collection of plants and world-class herbarium, as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the United Kingdom and around the world. Kew Gardens in London is a major international visitor attraction. Its landscaped 326 acres (132 hectares) and Kew’s country estate, Wakehurst Place, attract nearly two million visitors every year. Kew was made a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site in July 2003 and its 250th anniversary was celebrated in 2009. Wakehurst Place is home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew and its partners have collected and conserved seed from 10 percent of the world’s wild flowering plant species (approximately 30, 000 species) and aim to conserve 25 percent by 2020.

The Orchid Recovery Program at Illinois College engages students in research aimed at saving rare orchids from extinction. The research in Madagascar will complement the program’s mission to integrate student learning with orchid conservation, instilling an appreciation for the planet’s natural resources.
Photography by Jonathan Kendon used with the permission of the Board of Trustees of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.
About Illinois College

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is a residential liberal arts college fostering academic excellence rooted in opportunities for experiential learning while preparing students for lifelong success. The college is located in Jacksonville, Ill. With an enrollment of about 1,000 students, the college offers over 50 undergraduate programs and a Master of Arts in Education degree program. In 1932 the society of Phi Beta Kappa established a chapter at Illinois College, and it remains one of only 11 in the state.

Illinois College is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association.

Visit or call 217-245-3467 for more information.

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