PLANT ECOLOGY

Lichens provide a protective coat

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Science  06 Jun 2014:
Vol. 344, Issue 6188, pp. 1129
DOI: 10.1126/science.344.6188.1129-a

Epiphytes like mosses and lichens cover trees in a South American forest.

PHOTO: © IMAGEBROKER/ALAMY

Lichens help even out temperatures and moisture levels in foggy deserts, according to a pioneering study of epiphytes: plants that grow on the stems and branches of larger plants. Stanton et al. studied the ecological role of lichens, mosses, and bromeliads inhabiting host trees in fog-fed desert ecosystems in Peru and Chile. They removed epiphytes from the columnar cacti and trees they were growing on and created artificial cacti at the field site, which they covered with collected epiphytes. Epiphytes affected the microclimatic conditions around the host plant: Their presence reduced both the amount of water that reached the ground and the amount that evaporated from the soil. They also buffered daily temperature fluctuations. Epiphytes are abundant in tropical forest ecosystems and they may play a considerable role in cycling water and nutrients.

Funct. Ecol. 10.1111/1365-2435.12249 (2014).

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