Brimming Bromeliads

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Science  08 Mar 2002:
Vol. 295, Issue 5561, pp. 1795
DOI: 10.1126/science.295.5561.1795b

Tropical forest canopies are suspected to harbor a significant proportion of the world's animal species. Epiphytes—plants that grow on the stems and branches of other plants—are a common feature of these forests. In the neotropics, rosette-forming bromeliads impound water in their leaf axils; these natural tanks provide an array of microhabitats for animals, particularly arthropods, in the forest canopy, but their contribution to the overall animal species diversity of tropical forests is still poorly known.

Armbruster et al. and Stuntz et al. have begun to quantify the role of selected epiphyte species in determining arthropod species diversity and community structure in lowland forests in Ecuador and Panama, respectively. In both studies, the abundance and diversity of animals (mainly arthropods) was related to individual plant parameters such as biomass, leaf number, and tank volume. In the Panamanian forest, arthropod species composition was also dependent on epiphyte species. Given the diversity of bromeliads and other epiphytes, these results point to a central role for these plants in the maintenance of high species richness in the tropics. — AMS

Oikos96, 225 (2002); J. Trop. Ecol.18, 161 (2002).

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