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Evaluating the structure of epiphyte–phorophyte networks

Epiphytic vascular plants make up an essential part of the tropical flora and are a key component for ecosystem functioning. Interactions between vascular epiphytes (hence- forth referred to as epiphytes) and host trees (phorophytes) are considered to be commensalistic because epiphytes establish on the host tree for support without causing harm or benefit. Despite their importance in tropical forest ecosystems, our understanding of the mechanisms structuring epiphyte communities is still rather poor. Some recent studies have used a network approach to investigate the interaction of epiphytes with host phorophytes at the community level. However, knowledge on commensalistic epiphyte–phorophyte network structure still lags behind with regard to other biotic interaction networks.

Bromeliad epiphytes on a tree in Costa Rica
Bromeliad epiphytes on a tree in Costa Rica. Image credit: E. Murray (Flickr.com).

A recent study by Naranjo et al. published in AoBP aimed to provide an overall perspective on epiphyte–phorophyte networks and their placement with respect to the networks of other more studied biotic interactions. The authors compiled and analysed the structural properties of 12 commensalistic epiphyte–phorophyte networks and compared them with the same metrics of 11 ant–myrmecophyte, 86 pollination and 13 seed dispersal mutualistic networks. The results showed that epiphyte–phorophyte networks are structured similarly to most other types of networks that involve coevolutionary interactions as they were, in most cases, significantly nested and modular. It also confirmed that the interaction between vascular epiphytes and host phorophytes is predominantly generalist.

Researcher highlight

Carlos Lara-Romero is a Postdoctoral researcher in the AdAptA-Lab at Rey Juan Carlos University (URJC) in Madrid, Spain. Carlos received a PhD in Natural Resources Conservation at the URJC in 2014, being awarded the Extraordinary Doctoral Thesis Award. Subsequently, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Integrative Biology at ETH Zurich and at the Technical Particular University of Loja, Ecuador. In 2016, Carlos was awarded a “Juan de la Cierva – Formación” Fellowship at the IMEDEA-CSIC.

Carlos focusses his research on plant adaptation in response to climate change, reproductive biology and ecological interactions. He applies an integrative approach that combines population genetics and genomics, spatial statistics and complex network analysis.

Written by William Salter

William (Tam) Salter is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the School of Life and Environmental Sciences and Sydney Institute of Agriculture at the University of Sydney. He has a bachelor degree in Ecological Science (Hons) from the University of Edinburgh and a PhD in plant ecophysiology from the University of Sydney. Tam is interested in the identification and elucidation of plant traits that could be useful for ecosystem resilience and future food security under global environmental change. He also has an active interest in effective scientific communication.

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