- Long-term changes of vascular epiphyte assemblages in the tropical lowlands of Panama (2006)
- The study provides insights into the dynamic processes of vascular epiphyte vegetation in two host tree species of lowland forest in Panama. Further, a novel approach is presented to examine the possible role of host tree identity in the structuring of vascular epiphyte communities: For three locally common host tree species (Socratea exorrhiza, Marila laxiflora, Perebea xanthochyma) we created null models of the expected epiphyte assemblages assuming that epiphyte colonization reflected random distribution of epiphytes in the forest. In all three tree species, abundances of the majority of epiphyte species (69 – 81 %) were indistinguishable from random, while the remaining species were about equally over- or underrepresented compared to their occurrence in the entire forest plot. Permutations based on the number of colonized trees (reflecting observed spatial patchiness) yielded similar results. Finally, a Canonical Correspondence Analysis also confirmed host-specific differences in epiphyte assemblages. In spite of pronounced preferences of some epiphytes for particular host trees, no epiphyte species was restricted to a single host. We conclude that the epiphytes on a given tree species are not simply a random sample of the local species pool, but there are no indications of host specificity either. To determine the qualitative and quantitative long-term changes in the vascular epiphyte assemblage of the host tree Socratea exorrhiza, in the lowland forest of the San Lorenzo Crane Plot, we followed the fate of the vascular epiphyte assemblage on 99 individuals of this palm species, in three censuses over the course of five years. The composition of the epiphyte assemblage changed little during the course of the study. While the similarity of epiphyte vegetation decreased on single palm individuals through time, the similarity analyzed over all palms increased. Even well-established epiphyte individuals experienced high mortality with only 46 % of the originally mapped individuals surviving the following five years. We found a positive correlation between host tree size and epiphyte richness and detected higher colonization rates of epiphytes per surface area on larger trees. Epiphyte assemblages on single Socratea exorrhiza trees were highly dynamic while the overall composition of the epiphyte vegetation on the host tree species in the study plot was rather stable. We suggest that higher recruitment rates due to localized seed dispersal by already established epiphytes on larger palms promote the colonization of epiphytes on larger palms. Given the known growth rates and mortality rates of the host tree species, the maximum time available for colonization and reproduction of epiphytes on a given Socratea exorrhiza tree is estimated to be about 60 years. Changes in the epiphyte vegetation of c. 1000 individuals of the host tree species Annona glabra at Barro Colorado Island over the course of eight year were documented by means of repeated censuses. Considerable increase in the abundance of the dominating epiphyte species and ongoing colonization of the host tree species suggests that the epiphyte vegetation has not reached a steady state in the maximal 80 years since the establishment of the host tree. Epiphyte species composition as a whole was rather stable. We disentangled the relationship between epiphyte colonization and tree size/available time for colonization with the finding that tree size explained only a low proportion of colonization while other factors like connectivity to dispersal source and time explain may explain a larger part. Epiphyte populations are patchily distributed and examined species exhibit properties of a metapopulation with asynchronous local population growth, high local population turnover, a positive relationship between regional occurrence and patch population size, and negatively correlated relationship between extinction and patch occupancy. The documented metapopulation processes highlight the importance of not colonized suitable habitat for the conservation of epiphytes.