Aim: Shaded coffee plantations constitute an important refuge for biodiversity. Despite the fact that epiphytic plants form a significant component of these agroecosystems, their removal from the shade trees is commonplace in Latin America. To what extent does the epiphyte community recover from this severe disturbance?
Location: Shaded coffee agroecosystem in Veracruz, Mexico (19°28′03″ N, 96°55′58″ W; 1200 m asl).
Methods: We assessed the diversity, biomass and recolonization patterns of vascular epiphytes in shade trees, 8-9 yr after complete epiphyte removal (E−), and in control ‘non-removal’ sites (E+). In order to evaluate the effects of prior epiphyte removal, all vascular epiphytes were completely removed from 10 trees per treatment (E− and E+); all epiphyte species collected were identified and dry biomass measured.
Results: Eight to nine years after removal, epiphyte biomass in the E− shade trees was 35% of that found in the control sites. A total of 55 epiphyte species, belonging to 12 families, were registered; 40 in E−, and 48 in E+. Six species belonging to Bromeliaceae, Orchidaceae, Cactaceae and Araceae accounted for 75% of the biomass in E+ while six species of bromeliads accounted for 76% of the biomass in E−. Some bromeliads proliferated following disturbance; however, ferns showed lower recovery.
Conclusions: Epiphyte community recovery, in terms of biomass and diversity, is considerably higher in the coffee plantation than has been previously reported for other tropical ecosystems. Epiphyte recolonization patterns reflected both the abundance of species in the surrounding matrix and certain species-specific traits. For such agroecosytems to function as effective reservoirs of epiphyte diversity, epiphyte stripping should be avoided.