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The relationship between tree size and epiphyte species richness : testing four different hypotheses

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Abstract Aim 

For epiphytic plants trees are habitat units, and tree size determines epiphyte species richness. While growing, trees generate vertical microhabitats that are exploited by epiphytes. One would expect to find four different types of relationship between tree size and epiphyte species richness: positive linear (young trees), neutral (old trees), negative (old decaying trees) and positive asymptotic (trees of mixed size class in a mature forest). We tested these relationships in plots of colonizing sweetgum trees in pastureland, isolated remnant trees in pastureland (old oaks) and sweetgum and oaks in a pristine forest. Location 

The study was carried out in a landscape shaped by the fragmentation of lower montane cloud forest in San Andrés Tlalnelhuayocan (19°30′56′′ N and 96°59′50′′ W; 1500–1600 m a.s.l.) in central Veracruz, Mexico. Methods 

We measured the d.b.h. of all oaks and sweetgum trees (d.b.h. ≥ 5 cm) present in pastureland and in three 100 m2 plots of a lower montane cloud forest. All trees were climbed and species richness of the epiphytes recorded. Results 

As expected, colonizer trees in pastureland showed a linear positive relationship. Although we found evidence that remnant oaks in pastureland had a neutral relationship between tree size and epiphyte species richness, the low power of the test did not allow us to make conclusions about the kind of relationship. Mixed size-class pristine forest trees showed a positive linear relationship between tree size and epiphyte species richness instead of a positive asymptotic one. Main conclusions 

Our results suggest that in the study area epiphyte communities are unsaturated, as the number of species increases with tree size and does not reach a ceiling. This evidence supports the idea that the species–area relationship is not asymptotic. However, the epiphyte community on remnant pastureland oaks may be saturated as epiphyte species richness did not increase with tree size, but a larger sample size is needed to confirm the neutral pattern. Neutral, asymptotic and negative patterns in the relationship between tree size and epiphyte species richness depend on the saturation of the trees by epiphytes. Other studies have suggested tree saturation, but further research is necessary in order to confirm or rule out these patterns.

Keywords: Community saturation; Mexico; Veracruz; diversity; montane forest; species–area relationship; vertical stratification

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: Instituto de Ecología, A.C., Departamento de Ecología Funcional, Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico

Publication date: 2006-02-01

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