What We’re Reading- March 17, 2017

An Endangered Generalist? 
Soon after germination orchids must be colonized by fungi whose hyphae both enter orchid cells and create an extensive mycorrhizal network in the soil, thereby transferring nutrients to the plant.  Orchids may be mycorrhizal generalists able to associate with many different fungal species, or specialists only able to associate with one or a few fungi.  Thus, the distribution of fungi can limit or promote the distribution of the plant.  In this paper (sub), researchers measured which fungi associated with an endangered orchid Liparis loeselii, and measured fungal diversity at sites where the orchid did and did not grow.  They found that this orchid associated with many species of fungi from multiple different families.  While fungi diversity and abundance was different in soil samples from diverse sites, the high diversity of species that associated with the orchid meant that the fungi did not limit the distribution of the plant.  The researchers went on to test soil characteristics and determined that soil moisture may be the limiting factor for this endangered species.

Side photo credit of Liparis loeselii by Dick Hutchings via ARKive.

The Distribution of Pangolin Poaching
Recently three tons of pangolin scales were seized in Hong Kong.  The estimated underground market value of scales is $3000 per kilogram; thus this shipment may have been worth more than $8 M.  Since there are eight species of pangolins distributed in Africa and Asia and all are either vulnerable or endangered with extinction according to IUCN, a natural question was which species was poached for this seizure?  Knowing the species would give both law enforcement and conservation organizations targets for where anti-poaching efforts were needed.  Researchers used DNA barcoding techniques to identify species within the shipment.  This paper reports (sub) that three African species (white-bellied, black-bellied, and Temminck’s ground pangolins) and one Asian species (Sunda pangolin) were identified.  Thus the poaching network to reach all of these species and combine the scales for the market must be very extensive.  However, more troubling might be the number of reports of similar large (1-3 ton) pangolin scale and meat seizures reported over the last several years.  The one intercepted in Hong Kong was one of many, with who knows how many large (and small) shipments make it to market.

The white-bellied or tree pangolin native to western and central Africa. New research identified six lineages using mitochondrial DNA.
Photo Credit: Michael Gore via ARKive

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