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Macalester College

Publication Date

Spring 2023

Program Name

Ecuador: Comparative Ecology and Conservation


Epiphytes are defined as plants that grow on a host, often another plant, and acquire their nutrients and water from the atmosphere. As such is true, epiphyte composition is largely dependent upon atmospheric and thus climactic conditions. Due to high levels of atmospheric water availability that results from the frequent presence of mist, clouds, and high humidity, epiphytic plants grow and thus store water within the above ground region of the Andean cloud forest at levels higher than in any other ecosystem found in Ecuador. This study was done in hopes of revealing any trends of epiphytic water storage capacity along an elevational gradient within the western Ecuadorian cloud forest of the Santa Lucia Reserve. Individual trees were analyzed at 5 different elevations along an altitudinal gradient that spanned 1650 to 2270 meters. Within each analyzed tree, data was collected between approximately 5 and 7 meters above the ground. Vascular individuals were recorded to the family level, and moss coverage and moss thickness were estimated. Epiphytic growth was sampled from a standard 2500 cm2 region of each tree, and from this sample, water capacity (g/m2) was extrapolated. It was found that water capacity of mosses and other non-bromeliad epiphytes increased with elevation. Moss cover was also seen to increase with elevation, and moss thickness was seen to peak at roughly 2040 meters. An increase in water storage capacity was correlated with both an increase in moss cover as well as number of vascular epiphytes present within sampled trees. Changes in moss composition appeared to influence both vascular epiphytes and vascular individuals more generally. An increase in moss cover was correlated with an increase in number of vascular epiphytes, and an increase in moss thickness was correlated with an increase in number of vascular individuals, including climbers and epiphytes. It was speculated that as the level of water associated with moss is dependent upon how much is available in the surrounding environment, the change in moss composition that is correlated with a change in water capacity is due to climactic conditions that vary with elevation.


Botany | Forest Biology | Latin American Studies | Research Methods in Life Sciences | Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecology


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