Cloud forests are unique ecosystems due to their tropical nature, high elevations, and extremely high presence of epiphytes that serve many important roles for the ecosystem’s biotic and abiotic components. As epiphytes can make up anywhere from one-quarter (Foster 2001) to a half (Gómez González et al. 2017) of all local plant species in cloud forests, it is essential to understand how their habitat distributions change with elevation and whether climate change will have a significant effect on that. This study used observational survey methods to record the amount of monocots (separately counted bromeliads and orchids), dicots, ferns, and percent moss cover of thin, medium, and thick mosses on multiple trees at every 50 meters (m) of elevation increase along trails in Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve in Pichincha, Ecuador. These data allowed for results to analyze the microclimatic distributions and overall ecosystem distributions of these epiphytic plants to test whether the changes in their prevalence across an elevation gradient were significant and could be used to predict how they will shift as the climate continues to change due to increased atmospheric Carbon Dioxide (CO2). This study concluded that there were increasing trends in the average numbers of ferns, bromeliads, and medium moss per tree as elevation increased. It also used differences between counts from 0-5 m on tree trunks and 5-10 m on tree trunks to analyze how distributions changed only on tree trunks across the studied elevation range (1,600-2,200 m). The number of ferns on the 0-5 m sections significantly increased (R = 0.7405) and the same for bromeliads, although not significantly. On both sections of the trees, medium moss coverage significantly increased along with elevation which allows for conclusions on water storage potential and the optimization of mosses in more humid environments to be made. The results of this study could be used in conjunction with other studies that research how plant distributions change with climate change in order to predict how certain epiphyte distributions may change as climate change progresses.
Botany | Climate | Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Forest Sciences | Latin American Studies
Melnick, Nicole L., "How elevation affects epiphyte distribution: An analysis in epiphyte distribution changes at different elevations and tree strata in Santa Lucia Cloud Forest Reserve, Ecuador" (2022). Independent Study Project (ISP) Collection. 3508.