1. Bromeliad and heliconia phytotelmata in the same forest area were compared in terms of their animal assemblages, nutrient inputs, and plant architecture.
2. For all major elements, nutrient inputs from canopy-derived debris and rainfall in bromeliads were significantly lower than those derived from decaying flower parts and plant secretions in heliconia bracts. Bromeliads contained significantly fewer organisms per unit volume of water and unit dry weight of organic matter than did heliconia inflorescences. They also contained a significantly lower animal biomass (199 mg DW from 15 bromeliads, 527 mg DW from 15 heliconia inflorescences).
3. Species richness was independent of abundance, demonstrating that, at least for small container habitats, higher abundance does not necessarily lead to a greater species richness. Communities were remarkably similar in patterns of relative abundance and species richness (23 spp. in bromeliads, 21 spp. in heliconia), probably due to functional similarities in plant architecture, with the two most abundant species comprising 60–62% of the total community. Coefficients of similarity were low because of marked differences in species assemblages.
4. Some taxa were phytotelm generalists but most showed a preference for one particular habitat, indicating differential selection in the choice of oviposition sites and larval development within the forest ecosystem. In common with many island communities, species richness was lower than that reported for these phytotelm habitats in mainland central and south America.