Forces of Change

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Explorers
Dennis Whigham

Dennis Whigham

Orchid Ecologist, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center

Dennis is an orchid ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC). He studies the many fascinating ways that orchids interact with soils and soil microbes.

Why does soil interest you?

Plants root themselves in soil and they get almost all the resources they need from that soil. Scientists must understand soils to fully understand the ecology of plants.

What do orchids have to do with soil fungi?

At one or more stages in the life cycle of all orchids, they get all their water and nutrients through soil fungi. Learning about the many types of fungi that orchids interact with and the many, many factors that affect the this relationship has been amazing and challenging.

How do earthworms affect orchids?

The indirect interaction between orchids and fungi is really interesting. Non-native earthworms reduce the diversity of fungi that orchids must have to grow. The result is a decrease in the number of young orchids that we find in the soil. Our work shows the unexpected consequences that follow invasive, non-native organisms in our forests.