Conservation Genetics

, Volume 19, Issue 2, pp 451–465 | Cite as

Genetic diversity of endangered orchid Phaius australis across a fragmented Australian landscape

  • Laura Simmons
  • Michael T. Mathieson
  • Robert W. Lamont
  • Alison Shapcott
Research Article


Historical events such as colonisation, spatial distribution across different habitats, and contemporary processes, such as human-mediated habitat fragmentation can leave lasting imprints on the population genetics of a species. Orchids currently comprise 17% of threatened flora species in Australia (Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999) due to the combination of fragmentation and illegal harvesting (Benwell in Recovery plan, swamp orchids Phaius australis, Phaius tancarvilliae, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Sydney, 1994; Jones in A complete guide to native orchids of Australia including the island territories, 2nd edn, Reed Natural History, Sydney, 2006; DE in Phaius australis in species profile and threats database, Department of the Environment., 2015). The federally endangered Swamp Orchid Phaius australis has a disjunct distribution across an almost 2000 km latitudinal range along Australia’s east coast but it was estimated that 95% of the populations have been lost since European settlement (Benwell 1994). Phaius australis is endangered due to illegal collection and habitat loss that has resulted in limited connectivity between populations, in ecosystems that are vulnerable to climate change. Thus the genetic impacts of its history combined with more recent fragmentation may have impacts on its future viability especially in light of changing environmental conditions. Thirty-four populations were sampled from tropical north Queensland to the southern edge of the subtropics in New South Wales. Population genetics analysis was conducted using 13 polymorphic microsatellite markers developed for the species using NextGen sequencing. Spatial genetic patterns indicate post-colonisation divergence from the tropics southwards to its current climate niche limits. Genetic diversity is low across all populations (A = 1.5, H e  = 0.171), and there is little evidence of genetic differentiation between regions. Consistent with population genetic theory, the historic loss of populations has resulted in significantly lower genetic diversity in small populations compared to large (P, A, He; p < 0.05). The viability and persistence of P. australis populations now and in a changing climate are discussed in the context of conservation priorities.


Phaius Orchid Population genetics Founder effect Fragmentation 



This study was funded by the Jani Haenke Charitable Trust with additional support from the University of the Sunshine Coast and the Queensland Herbarium. The authors thank B. Jeffers, E. Grant, D. Holzheimer, N. McDonald, J. Aldenhoven, P. March, B. Gray, QYAC, QLD and NSW NPWS for assistance in the field and with locating populations.

Supplementary material

10592_2017_1022_MOESM1_ESM.docx (77 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 77 KB)


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Genecology Research Centre, Faculty of Science Health, Education and EngineeringUniversity of the Sunshine CoastMaroochydoreAustralia
  2. 2.Queensland Herbarium, Department of Science, Information Technology and InnovationToowongAustralia

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