Diversity and biogeography of vascular epiphytes in Western Amazonia, Yasuní, Ecuador

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Abstract:

Abstract Aim 

Although vascular epiphytes are important components of species richness and complexity of Neotropical forests, vascular epiphytes are under-represented in large scale biogeographical analyses. We studied the diversity, biogeography and floristic relationships of the epiphytic flora of the Yasuní region (Western Amazonia) in a Neotropical context, with special emphasis on the influence of the Andean flora on floristic composition and diversity of surrounding lowland forests. Location 

Western Amazonian lowland rainforest, Tiputini Biodiversity Station (0°38′ S 76°09′ W, 230 m a.s.l., 650 ha), Yasuní National Park, Ecuador. Methods 

We compared the vascular epiphyte flora of Yasuní with 16 published Neotropical epiphyte inventories. Secondly, based on a floristic database with records of more than 70,000 specimens of vascular epiphytes from the Neotropics the elevational composition of eight selected inventories was analysed in detail. Results 

The vascular epiphyte flora of Yasuní is characterized by a very high species richness (313 spp.). A moderate portion of species is endemic to the Upper Napo region (c. 10%). However, this figure is much higher than previous analyses primarily based on woody species suggested. Geographical ranges of these species match with a proposed Pleistocene forest refuge. Compared with Northern and Central Amazonian sites, Western Amazonian epiphyte communities are characterized by a higher portion of montane and submontane species. Species richness of vascular epiphytes at the sites was correlated with the amount of rainfall, which is negatively correlated with the number of dry months. Main conclusion 

Recent and historic patterns of rainfall are the driving forces behind diversity and floristic composition of vascular epiphytes in Western Amazonia: high annual rainfall in combination with low seasonality provides suitable conditions to harbour high species richness. The proximity to the Andes, the most important centre of speciation for most Neotropical epiphytic taxa, in combination with the climatic setting has allowed a continuous supply of species richness to the region. At least for epiphytes, the borderline between the Andean and Amazonian flora is much hazier than previously thought. Moreover, the comparatively moist climate in Western Amazonia during the Pleistocene has probably led to fewer extinctions and/or more speciation than in more affected surrounding lowlands.
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