Laboratory for Integrative Biology





James Ackerman



Orchids are typically characterized by highly specialized morphology and interspecific interactions, either involving pollinators or mycorrhizal fungi.  While this perception is largely true, there are some species of orchids that are weedy.  Is there something about the biology of weedy orchids that differs from those species with very restricted distributions?  Are invading orchids innocuous?  This is where I have turned towards a small, phylogenetically diverse group of orchids that have become invasive.  On Puerto Rico, Oeceoclaes maculata was our first documented orchid invader (besides the Vanilla planifolia that has persisted since the collapse of the short-lived vanilla industry on the island).  Roy Woodbury, a plant taxonomist at UPRRP first encountered O. maculata in 1966.  In a span of just a little more than a decade, there were places on the island where it was impossible to walk through the forest and not to step on them.  Several other species soon followed, most notably Spathoglottis plicata. And the most recent arrival rapidly spreading across the island is Dendrobium crumenatum.  Thus far, we have published articles on the Oeceoclades and Spathoglottis invasions and are working on more manuscripts involving those two, as well as Arundina graminifolia.  Contact me for reprints ( or visit Research Gate where nearly all my publications are available.

Podcast for talk given by Dr. Ackerman at the International Orchid Conservation Conference in Reunion Island entitled, "Finding friends in strange lands: contrasting tales of two invasive species". Wilfredo Falcón, Wilnelia Recart, Pablo Hernández, Claudia Baider are co-authors of this work, which is still in progress.

While orchids have grabbed my attention throughout my professional career, plants first became interesting to me after a pollination lecture by Dennis E. Anderson, which he gave as a guest speaker to my general botany class during my undergraduate days at Humbodt State. And that interest in pollination has stayed with me ever since.  The latest manifestation of pollination studies by my group (other than what concerns the invasive orchid studies) is a project to investigate the stability and resilience of pollination networks in a naturally disturbed ecosystem: beach dune vegetation.  So, this project involves two of my favorite things: pollination studies and Caribbean beaches.  And also includes an invasive species component as these systems have their share of non-indigenous flowering plants and flower visitors.  We have been at this for nearly two years, but have no manuscripts out at this time.