Small Whorled Pogonia, Fire, and Fungi

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Tuesday, October 10, 2023
7:00 pm

Montgomery County Human Services


Biodiversity loss is becoming an existential threat globally. Here in our backyard, habitat loss could make one orchid disappear. A charismatically understated little flower, Small Whorled Pogonia is now listed as imperiled in the state of Virginia and endangered nationally. And although this orchid relies on woodlands with an open canopy—a habitat often maintained by and associated with forest fire—managers have been cautious about using fire for fear of extirpation. But one population of Small Whorled Pogonia is now being managed by prescribed fire. Virginia Tech and DCR are now teaming up to study the unique relationship between Small Whorled Pogonia, fire, and soil mycorrhizae. Moreover, the special relationship between Small Whorled Pogonia and Russulaceae fungi is not well understood, but researchers at SERC have found that abundance of soil Russulaceae is a major indicator of Small Whorled Pogonia abundance, density, and dormancy. The Mt. Joy Pond Small Whorled Pogonia study will investigate that relationship by comparing environmental factors and fungal abundance pre- and post-fire. This will in turn inform land management best practices for Small Whorled Pogonia.

Pika MacDougal is a first year PhD student at Virginia Tech studying the effects of prescribed fire and land management on an endangered orchid species, Small Whorled Pogonia. Pika comes from a background in land management, and wildland fire mitigation. They have worked with AmeriCorps, BLM, the Adaptive Management Experiment (AMEX), and Davey Resource Group on a variety of projects—notably on public lands in the Great Basin and in California.