How Orchids Act as Climate Indicators

Ecologist Jis Sebastian explains how orchids are useful tools to study climate change. Sebastian works in India’s Western Ghat Mountains. Many orchids live as air plants, or epiphytes, growing on tree trunks and branches. They thrive in mature, healthy forests. In the tree canopy, climate variations affect them quickly. The presence, or absence, of orchids can point to changes affecting the environment.

Orchids and similar epiphytic plants indicate a healthy ecosystem within each tree ecosystem. A great number of micro and macro-organisms work along with these plants within the canopy. A healthy canopy results in a healthy forest ecosystem.

Therefore, if orchids are protected, the mature trees that host orchids are also protected. As more mature trees are maintained in any ecosystem, it regulates the climate of the region, supports more biodiversity and ensures the ecosystem services are uninterrupted. Orchids may be used as flagship species like a tiger to protect the entire ecosystem.

Along with studying the Western Ghats’ orchids, Sebastian is encouraging scientific research and conservation in local communities. She’s also promoting farming practices which protect native ecosystems, and in turn help farmers increase their yields and survive extreme weather events.

Learn more about Sebastian’s conservation work in last year’s post, Fallen Flowers: Restoring Wild Orchids in India‚Äôs Western Ghats.

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