Question: Vascular epiphytes and hemiepiphytes (E/HE) in neotropical forests account for a large fraction of plant richness, but little is known of how the interplay between phorophyte architectural characteristics and habitat perturbation affect communities of E/HE.
Location: Sabal mexicana forests in a coastal area of Veracruz, Mexico.
Methods: We compared communities of E/HE on phorophytes with different architectural characteristics – the palm S. mexicana and non-palm phorophytes – in three environments: conserved sites, perturbed sites and small regenerated forest fragments. We combined traditional (abundance, species richness, similarity and complementarity indices) and more recent (phylogenetic diversity) metrics to describe the communities of E/HE.
Results: Overall, we recorded 924 E/HE individuals (nine families, 16 genera and 21 species). The abundance and species richness of E/HE was higher on palms than on non-palm phorophytes. Abundance-based complementarities between phorophytes and sites were high. We detected clear changes in community structure of E/HE with habitat perturbation, but there were no effects on the phylogenetic diversity of the E/HE community. Palm phorophytes hosted a more phylogenetically diverse community of E/HE than did non-palm phorophytes.
Conclusions: Palm phorophytes are key elements supporting the conservation of resilient communities of E/HE in S. mexicana forest. Habitat fragmentation has a strong effect on the structure of the E/HE community in S. mexicana forests. Ferns are the group of epiphytes most severely affected by habitat perturbation, but we detected no significant effect on the phylogenetic diversity of the community.