Most mistletoe species that live in savanna patches are subjected to frequent fires. Although having similar habits, even congener species may parasitize very different host species and show different degrees of specialization that may differentially affect their resistance to fire. We studied three congener mistletoe species with a diverse degree of specificity to their hosts: Psittacanthus biternatus, Psittacanthus eucalyptifolius and Psittacanthus plagiophyllus, the first being the most generalist species, and the last the most specialist. We investigated their prevalence (proportion of hosts infected) in 35 plots of an Amazonian savanna, with different fire histories. Our aim was to understand if they respond similarly to fire frequency and the abundance of their hosts. Additionally, we experimentally applied fire to individuals of the three species using a portable propane flamethrower to test for the influence of mistletoe species, plant size and quantity of heat pulses (single or double burn) on mistletoe survivorship. Prevalence varied greatly among species: 1.5 percent for P. biternatus, 4.8 percent for P. eucalyptifolius and 20 percent for P. plagiophyllus. Prevalence of P. plagiophyllus was negatively related to fire frequency, while for the other two species it was not. Psittacanthus biternatus had a higher probability of survival compared with the other two species, and larger plants were more likely to survive under single burn treatment and to regenerate through sprouting. Our results suggest that, due to complex interactions between fire, hosts and mistletoes, even sympatric species may respond differently to fire frequency and host abundance.
Abstract in Portuguese is available in the online version of this article.