Ecology

Elucidating Epiphyte Diversity

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Science  06 May 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6030, pp. 641-643
DOI: 10.1126/science.332.6030.641-d
CREDIT: A. M. BENAVIDES

In tropical forests, an important fraction of the total plant species diversity is composed of epiphytes: plants that are rooted for part or all their life on the trunks and branches of trees and lianas. The patterns of epiphyte diversity are still poorly understood relative to those of trees, however, because of logistical challenges, such as tree height. Benavides et al. performed a comparative analysis of the epiphyte communities in lowland forest in Colombian Amazonia, aiming to understand how landscape unit (swamp forest, floodplain forest, and well-drained upland) and host tree species influenced the composition of their epiphyte communities, using a combination of collecting by tree climbing and binocular observations. They recorded 154 epiphyte species on 411 tree species. There were clear associations between tree/liana species assemblages and epiphyte species assemblages, but there were few significant associations between individual host species and epiphyte species. The high diversity of both groups of plants in the sampled plots made testing for individual host preferences difficult, suggesting the need for further studies.

J. Trop. Ecol. 27, 223 (2011).

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