Factors Influencing Epiphyte Habitat Preference in Moorea, French Polynesia
Epiphytes are important in forest ecosystems because they contribute to species diversity and aid in nutrient cycling. Despite this, the ecology of tropical epiphytes, particularly nonvascular species, is not well understood. This study compared epiphyte richness, cover, diversity, and species distributions to host tree diameter, canopy cover, aspect, and height on the trunk. Thirty-two Metrosideros collina trees were sampled for epiphyte species every 0.5 centimeters along circumferential transects at 0, 0.75, and 1.5 meters off the ground. Host tree diameter at 0.5 meters was measured, as well as canopy cover at North, South, East, and West. Epiphyte cover was lowest at the bottom of the trunk and highest at 1.5 meters. Richness correlated positively with diameter and canopy cover, but it did not vary significantly with height or aspect, according to the Wilcoxon and Tukey tests. Epiphyte cover correlated positively with canopy cover, but it did not vary significantly with diameter or aspect. Moss and fern cover increased significantly with diameter but did not vary with height. Liverwort and lichen cover were not correlated with diameter, but they were lowest at the bottom of the trunk and highest at 1.5 meters. Diversity, calculated with the Shannon-Wiener index, correlated positively with epiphyte cover and tree diameter but did not vary significantly with height. Overall, epiphytes preferred habitats in the upper trunk region on trees with high canopy cover, and their distributions were correlated with every variable except aspect.