During the past decade, our students have been conducting research in the Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge on projects involving rare native epiphytic orchids, their mycorrhizal fungi, and their associated insects. Many of our students are funded annually by the generous support of the Naples Orchid Society
. Both laboratory and field work are carried out by our students at the Refuge, the former taking place in a research lab facility on site. Among the projects include reintroduction of Epidendrum nocturnum assisted by mycorrhizal fungi, floral fragrance analysis of the Ghost Orchid, Dendrophylax lindenii, and molecular identification of the fungal associations in orchid roots. Currently, we are working with Dr. Ernesto Mujica from Cuba to document and monitor all known ghost orchids at the Panther Refuge, comparing data for ghost orchids inhabiting Guanahacabibes National Park in Cuba. Accordingly, we hope to identify the ecological factors that this rare orchid relies on for survival in both regions, broadening our understanding. We are also engaged in isolating and testing – through symbiotic seed germination – fungi acquired from roots of the leafless orchids (e.g., D. lindenii) in collaboration with Dr. Mike Kane’s research lab
at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Our students also regularly work with visiting scientists at the Refuge from far-away locations such as India and Ecuador, in addition to Cuba.