Enhancing conservation and cultural knowledge through orchids of Papua New Guinea

A collaborative project undertaken at the University of Canberra and supervised by Jasmyn Lynch

Project Team:

Jasmyn Lynch, University of Canberra, Australia & Jim Thomas, Tenkile Conservation Alliance, Papua New Guinea


With globally declining biodiversity and increasing human populations and pressures on resources, it is imperative that we improve our approaches to biodiversity conservation and management. This is particularly important in biodiverse developing countries such as Papua New Guinea (PNG), which are known for extremely high biological and cultural diversity yet under intense development pressure for their natural resources. Orchids are an exemplar of the immense but little studied plant diversity of PNG. There are over 3000 orchid species in PNG, although many endemic orchids may have already become extinct. As in many countries, orchids in PNG have socio-cultural importance, being ‘farmed’ by some communities and valued plants commonly being distributed among relatives.

Most of PNG is under traditional land tenure, so community awareness and participation in conservation initiatives is imperative. Integrated, small-scale community-focused and community-backed projects are increasingly being shown to yield positive, enduring outcomes by conserving highly threatened, culturally important taxa while also addressing some of the social needs of local communities. Flagship species and taxonomic groups are prized local assets which provide the opportunity for researchers and practitioners to work directly at the local level to enhance engagement, awareness, and education on conservation and resource management.

This project will contribute to a greater understanding of the orchids of the Torricelli Mountains, Sandaun Province, in north-west PNG, and their conservation needs. Using a transdisciplinary approach, our project will evaluate scientific, historical and cultural knowledge on the distribution, ecology, local Indigenous values and uses, and past and present cultivation of local wild orchids. The primary outcomes of the project will be an assessment of the conservation requirements of these orchids as an iconic group of plants that can be a focus for raising conservation awareness, while building on local socio-ecological knowledge, skills, capacity and development.

During 2015, we are reviewing literature on European orchid collections from PNG and particularly the Torricelli Mountain Ranges, as well as preparing for interviews with the local people about their knowledge, use and perspectives on orchids in the region.

Figures 1-5. Examples of cultivated orchids in PNG (photos courtesy of Arthur Georges)

Figure 6: View of Lumi, the project field base in the Torricelli Mountains, PNG (photo by Jasmyn Lynch)