Composition and ecology of vascular epiphyte communities along an altitudinal gradient in central Veracruz, Mexico


*Author for correspondence: present address: Botanisches Institut, Universität für Bodenkultur, Gregor Mendel-Str. 33, A-1180 Wien, Austria; Fax +43 1 3195670; E-mail HIETZ@EDV1.BOKU.AC.AT


Abstract. Vascular epiphytes were studied in forests at altitudes from 720 to 2370 m on the Atlantic slope of central Veracruz, Mexico. The biomass of all trees of each species > 10 cm diameter at breast height within plots between 625 and 1500 m2 was estimated. The number of species per plot ranged between 22 and 53, and biomass between 9 and 249 g dry weight/m2. The highest values, both of species and biomass, were found at an intermediate altitude (1430 m). Habitat diversity may contribute to epiphyte diversity in humid forests, but the importance of this effect could not be distinguished from the influence of climate. A remarkably high number of bromeliads and orchids grew in relatively dry forests at low altitudes. In wet upper montane forests, bromeliads were replaced by ferns, while orchids were numerous at all sites, except for a pine forest. The number of epiphytic species and their biomass on a tree of a given site were closely related to tree size. According to Canonical Correspondence Analysis, the factor determining the composition of the epiphytic vegetation of a tree was altitude and to some extent tree size, whereas tree species had practically no influence. The only trees which had an evidently negative effect on epiphytes were pines, which were particularly hostile to orchids and to a lesser degree to ferns, and Bursera simaruba, which generally had few epiphytes due to its smooth and defoliating bark.