Distribution of vascular epiphytes along a tropical elevational gradient: disentangling abiotic and biotic determinants.
ABSTRACT: Epiphytic vascular plants are common species in humid tropical forests. Epiphytes are influenced by abiotic and biotic variables, but little is known about the relative importance of direct and indirect effects on epiphyte distribution. We surveyed 70 transects (10 m × 50 m) along an elevation gradient (180 m-1521 m) and sampled all vascular epiphytes and trees in a typical tropical forest on Hainan Island, south China. The direct and indirect effects of abiotic factors (climatic and edaphic) and tree community characteristics on epiphytes species diversity were examined. The abundance and richness of vascular epiphytes generally showed a unimodal curve with elevation and reached maximum value at ca. 1300 m. The species composition in transects from high elevation (above 1200 m) showed a more similar assemblage. Climate explained the most variation in epiphytes species diversity followed by tree community characteristics and soil features. Overall, climate (relative humidity) and tree community characteristics (tree size represented by basal area) had the strongest direct effects on epiphyte diversity while soil variables (soil water content and available phosphorus) mainly had indirect effects. Our study suggests that air humidity is the most important abiotic while stand basal area is the most important biotic determinants of epiphyte diversity along the tropical elevational gradient.
Project description:Vascular epiphytes are an understudied and particularly important component of tropical forest ecosystems. However, owing to the difficulties of access, little is known about the properties of epiphyte-host tree communities and the factors structuring them, especially in Asia. We investigated factors structuring the vascular epiphyte-host community and its network properties in a tropical montane forest in Xishuangbanna, SW China. Vascular epiphytes were surveyed in six plots located in mature forests. Six host and four micro-site environmental factors were investigated. Epiphyte diversity was strongly correlated with host size (DBH, diameter at breast height), while within hosts the highest epiphyte diversity was in the middle canopy and epiphyte diversity was significantly higher in sites with canopy soil or a moss mat than on bare bark. DBH, elevation and stem height explained 22% of the total variation in the epiphyte species assemblage among hosts, and DBH was the most important factor which alone explained 6% of the variation. Within hosts, 51% of the variation in epiphyte assemblage composition was explained by canopy position and substrate, and the most important single factor was substrate which accounted for 16% of the variation. Analysis of network properties indicated that the epiphyte host community was highly nested, with a low level of epiphyte specialization, and an almost even interaction strength between epiphytes and host trees. Together, these results indicate that large trees harbor a substantial proportion of the epiphyte community in this forest.
Project description:Tropical forests are biodiversity hotspots, but it is not well understood how this diversity is structured and maintained. One hypothesis rests on the generation of a range of metabolic niches, with varied composition, supporting a high species diversity. Characterizing soil metabolomes can reveal fine-scale differences in composition and potentially help explain variation across these habitats. In particular, little is known about canopy soils, which are unique habitats that are likely to be sources of additional biodiversity and biogeochemical cycling in tropical forests. We studied the effects of diverse tree species and epiphytes on soil metabolomic profiles of forest floor and canopy suspended soils in a French Guianese rainforest. We found that the metabolomic profiles of canopy suspended soils were distinct from those of forest floor soils, differing between epiphyte-associated and non-epiphyte suspended soils, and the metabolomic profiles of suspended soils varied with host tree species, regardless of association with epiphyte. Thus, tree species is a key driver of rainforest suspended soil metabolomics. We found greater abundance of metabolites in suspended soils, particularly in groups associated with plants, such as phenolic compounds, and with metabolic pathways related to amino acids, nucleotides, and energy metabolism, due to the greater relative proportion of tree and epiphyte organic material derived from litter and root exudates, indicating a strong legacy of parent biological material. Our study provides evidence for the role of tree and epiphyte species in canopy soil metabolomic composition and in maintaining the high levels of soil metabolome diversity in this tropical rainforest. It is likely that a wide array of canopy microsite-level environmental conditions, which reflect interactions between trees and epiphytes, increase the microscale diversity in suspended soil metabolomes.
Project description:Vascular epiphytes are important components of biological diversity in tropical forests. We measured the species richness and abundance of vascular epiphytes along four vertical crown zones and five horizontal orientations on 376 trees, as well as the diameter at breast height (DBH) of host trees in tropical cloud forests in Bawangling, Hainan, China. The relationship between vascular epiphyte species richness and host tree DBH was assessed using a generalized linear model. There were 1,453 vascular individual epiphytes attributed to 9 families, 24 genera and 35 species, with orchids and pteridophytes dominating. Both the species richness and abundance of epiphytes significantly differed among the four crown zones for all collections and each host tree, suggesting that vertical microhabitats contribute to the distribution of epiphytes on host trees. Neither epiphyte abundance nor species richness differed among the eastern, southern, western, and northern orientations for all host trees; however, both richness and abundance were significantly higher for epiphytes that encircled host tree trunks. This suggests that morphological and physiological characteristics of the tree, but not microclimates probably contribute to the distribution of epiphytes on host trees. Epiphyte species richness was positively correlated with tree DBH across the six host tree species studied, with increases in DBH among smaller trees resulting in larger increases in richness, while increases in DBH among larger host trees resulting in more modest increases in ephiphyte richness. Our findings contribute support for a positive relationship between epiphyte species richness and host tree DBH and provide important guidance for future surveys of epiphyte community development.
Project description:The processes that govern diverse tropical plant communities have rarely been studied in life forms other than trees. Structurally dependent vascular epiphytes, a major part of tropical biodiversity, grow in a three-dimensional matrix defined by their hosts, but trees differ in their architecture, bark structure/chemistry and leaf phenology. We hypothesized that the resulting seasonal differences in microclimatic conditions in evergreen vs. deciduous trees would affect epiphytes at different levels, from organ physiology to community structure. We studied the influence of tree leaf phenology on vascular epiphytes on the Island of Barro Colorado, Panama. Five tree species were selected, which were deciduous, semi-deciduous or evergreen. The crowns of drought-deciduous trees, characterized by sunnier and drier microclimates, hosted fewer individuals and less diverse epiphyte assemblages. Differences were also observed at a functional level, e.g. epiphyte assemblages in deciduous trees had larger proportions of Crassulacean acid metabolism species and individuals. At the population level a drier microclimate was associated with lower individual growth and survival in a xerophytic fern. Some species also showed, as expected, lower specific leaf area and higher ?(13)C values when growing in deciduous trees compared with evergreen trees. As hypothesized, host tree leaf phenology influences vascular epiphytes at different levels. Our results suggest a cascading effect of tree composition and associated differences in tree phenology on the diversity and functioning of epiphyte communities in tropical lowland forests.
Project description:The high diversity and abundance of vascular epiphytes in tropical montane cloud forest is associated with frequent cloud immersion, which is thought to protect plants from drought stress. Increasing temperature and rising cloud bases associated with climate change may increase epiphyte drought stress, leading to species and biomass loss. We tested the hypothesis that warmer and drier conditions associated with a lifting cloud base will lead to increased mortality and/or decreased recruitment of epiphyte ramets, altering species composition in epiphyte mats. By using a reciprocal transplant design, where epiphyte mats were transplanted across an altitudinal gradient of increasing cloud immersion, we differentiated between the effects of warmer and drier conditions from the more general prediction of niche theory that transplanting epiphytes in any direction away from their home elevation should result in reduced performance. Effects differed among species, but effects were generally stronger and more negative for epiphytes in mats transplanted down slope from the highest elevation, into warmer and drier conditions, than for epiphyte mats transplanted from other elevations. In contrast, epiphytes from lower elevations showed greater resistance to drought in all treatments. Epiphyte community composition changed with elevation, but over the timescale of the experiment there were no consistent changes in species composition. Our results suggest some epiphytes may show resistance to climate change depending on the environmental and evolutionary context. In particular, sites where high rainfall makes cloud immersion less important for epiphyte water-balance, or where occasional drought has previously selected for drought-resistant taxa, may be less adversely affected by predicted climate changes.
Project description:Local variation in the abundance and richness of vascular epiphytes is often attributed to environmental characteristics such as substrate and microclimate. Less is known, however, about the impacts of tree and branch turnover on epiphyte communities. To address this issue, we surveyed branches and epiphytes found on the forest floor in 96 transects in two forests (Atlantic rainforest in Brazil and Caribbean rainforest in Panama). In the Brazilian forest, we additionally distinguished between edge and core study sites. We quantified branch abundance, epiphyte abundance, richness and proportion of adults to investigate the trends of these variables over branch diameter. Branches <2 cm in diameter comprised >90% of all branches on the forest floor. Abundance and richness of fallen epiphytes per transect were highest in the Brazilian core transects and lowest in the Panamanian transects. The majority of epiphytes on the floor (c. 65%) were found attached to branches. At all three study sites, branch abundance and branch diameter were negatively correlated, whereas epiphyte abundance and richness per branch, as well as the proportion of adults were positively correlated with branch diameter. The relationship between branch diameter and absolute epiphyte abundance or richness differed between study sites, which might be explained by differences in forest structure and dynamics. In the Panamanian forest, epiphytes had been previously inventoried, allowing an evaluation of our surveying method by comparing canopy and forest floor samplings. Individuals found on the forest floor corresponded to 13% of all individuals on branches <10 cm in diameter (including crowns), with abundance, richness and composition trends on forest floor reflecting canopy trends. We argue that forest floor surveys provide useful floristic and, most notably, demographic information particularly on epiphytes occurring on the thinnest branches, which are least accessible. Here, branchfall acts as an important demographic filter structuring epiphyte communities.
Project description:Elevational patterns of tree diversity are well studied worldwide. However, few studies have examined how seedlings respond to elevational gradients and whether their responses vary across climatic zones. In this study, we established three elevational transects in tropical, subtropical and subalpine mountain forests in Yunnan Province, southern China, to examine the responses of tree species and their seedlings to elevational gradients. Within each transect, we calculated species diversity indices and composition of both adult trees and seedlings at different elevations. For both adult trees and seedlings, we found that species diversity decreased with increasing elevation in both tropical and subalpine transects. Species composition showed significant elevational separation within all three transects. Many species had specific elevational preferences, but abundant tree species that occurred at specific elevations tended to have very limited recruitment in the understory. Our results highlight that the major factors that determine elevational distributions of tree species vary across climatic zones. Specifically, we found that the contribution of air temperature to tree species composition increased from tropical to subalpine transects, whereas the contribution of soil moisture decreased across these transects.
Project description:Abstract <h4>Background</h4> This data paper describes a new, comprehensive database (BIOVERA-Epi) on species distributions and leaf functional traits of vascular epiphytes, a poorly studied plant group, along gradients of elevation and forest-use intensity in the central part of Veracruz State, Mexico. The distribution data include frequencies of 271 vascular epiphyte species belonging to 92 genera and 23 families across 120 20 m × 20 m forest plots at eight study sites along an elevational gradient from sea level to 3500 m a.s.l. In addition, BIOVERA-Epi provides information on 1595 measurements of nine morphological and chemical leaf traits from 474 individuals and 102 species. For morphological leaf traits, we provide data on each sampled leaf. For chemical leaf traits, we provide data at the species level per site and land-use type. We also provide complementary information for each of the sampled plots and host trees. BIOVERA-Epi contributes to an emerging body of synthetic epiphytes studies combining functional traits and community composition. <h4>New information</h4> BIOVERA-Epi includes data on species frequency and leaf traits from 120 forest plots distributed along an elevational gradient, including six different forest types and three levels of forest-use intensity. It will expand the breadth of studies on epiphyte diversity, conservation and functional plant ecology in the Neotropics and will contribute to future synthetic studies on the ecology and diversity of tropical epiphyte assemblages.
Project description:An extensive review of the literature describing epiphytes on submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV), especially seagrasses, was conducted in order to evaluate the evidence for response of epiphyte metrics to increased nutrients. Evidence from field observational studies, together with laboratory and field mesocosm experiments, was assembled from the literature and evaluated for a hypothesized positive response to nutrient addition. There was general consistency in the results to confirm that elevated nutrients tended to increase the load of epiphytes on the surface of SAV, in the absence of other limiting factors. In spite of multiple sources of uncontrolled variation, positive relationships of epiphyte load to nutrient concentration or load (either nitrogen or phosphorus) often were observed along strong anthropogenic or natural nutrient gradients in coastal regions. Such response patterns may only be evident for parts of the year. Results from both mesocosm and field experiments also generally support the increase of epiphytes with increased nutrients, although outcomes from field experiments tended to be more variable. Relatively few studies with nutrient addition in mesocosms have been done with tropical or subtropical species, and more such controlled experiments would be helpful. Experimental duration influenced results, with more positive responses of epiphytes to nutrients at shorter durations in mesocosm experiments versus more positive responses at longer durations in field experiments. In the field, response of epiphyte biomass to nutrient additions was independent of climate zone. Mesograzer activity was a critical covariate for epiphyte response under experimental nutrient elevation, but the epiphyte response was highly dependent on factors such as grazer identity and density, as well as nutrient and ambient light levels. The balance of evidence suggests that epiphytes on SAV will be a useful indicator of persistent nutrient enhancement in many situations. Careful selection of appropriate temporal and spatial constraints for data collection, and concurrent evaluation of confounding factors will help increase the signal to noise ratio for this indicator.
Project description:Information on the degree of host specificity is fundamental for an understanding of the ecology of structurally dependent plants such as vascular epiphytes. Starting with the seminal paper of A.F.W. Schimper on epiphyte ecology in the late 19th century over 200 publications have dealt with the issue of host specificity in vascular epiphytes. We review and critically discuss this extensive literature. The available evidence indicates that host ranges of vascular epiphytes are largely unrestricted while a certain host bias is ubiquitous. However, tree size and age and spatial autocorrelation of tree and epiphyte species have not been adequately considered in most statistical analyses. More refined null expectations and adequate replication are needed to allow more rigorous conclusions. Host specificity could be caused by a large number of tree traits (e.g. bark characteristics and architectural traits), which influence epiphyte performance. After reviewing the empirical evidence for their relevance, we conclude that future research should use a more comprehensive approach by determining the relative importance of various potential mechanisms acting locally and by testing several proposed hypotheses regarding the relative strength of host specificity in different habitats and among different groups of structurally dependent flora.