Here Lies Jacob Orchidgrower…


I love Aaron J. Hicks’ response to a question posed on the Native Orchid Conference list about re-introducing orchids using seed that does not come from the local area:

“…what is the concern with integrating with local populations? I guess my question is, what does “local” mean? Same county, same state, same acre?”

Aaron replies:

I would define “local” as populations that are reasonably capable of exchanging genetic material in the absence of human interference. …as you increase the distance, the probability of exchange drops dramatically. So, this is not to say that a seed from a given cypripedium might not end up germinating 100 miles away, but the chances are slim.

Reasonably, as these plants are not capable of producing any tangible products, the only objections that I can think of would be that this sort of thing runs the risk of bewildering molecular phylogenists in the future. (“Bert, we just found identical genes in isolates of Cypripedium californicum from Oregon and Michigan. That hangs it- I quit!”) There are also concerns about contamination of the gene pool, reduction of genetic diversity, preservation of subspecies, that sort of thing. After all, evolution occurs more quickly in small, isolated populations. Still, I don’t think there is a significant risk of going to the grave with “Here Lies Jacob Orchidgrower, who singlehandedly prevented the birth of a new species. Nice going, Jacob” as their epitaph.

Now, if you want to throw some REAL mud into your soda, we have to go back a few years while glaciers were still roaming the country (before the great North American Anti-Glaciation Act of 13,000 BC), when just about everything was covered with a sheet of ice as thick as Paris Hilton’s skull. After the retreat of the glaciers, it’s a fair guess that there wasn’t much of anything alive that didn’t have legs for some time. Whether this makes for a good argument as to whether we should go about shuffling the genes is open to discussion.

All these considerations are theoretical. To the best of my knowledge, nobody’s ever come up with cogent arguments as to why it’s *bad* to re-introduce extirpated species (at least those that are innocuous and benign, like orchids- let’s just skip the whole wolf thing for now, shall we?), and I’d say the benefits outweigh the detractions.

Aaron J. Hicks