Scientists tested the importance of epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants) in supporting a variety of arthropod species in a shade grown coffee plantation in Veracruz, Mexico. They compared trees with epiphytes to trees that had been pruned of them.
The trees with epiphytes had 90 percent more arthropods and 22 percent more species of arthropods. And with respect to large arthropods, those bigger than five millimeters, and an important food source for birds, the difference was even more dramatic: 184 percent more individuals and 113 percent more species.
Agroforestry systems, such as shade grown coffee and shade grown cacao, are important sanctuaries for conserving the biodiversity of tropical forests. Epiphytes, sometimes pruned by coffee farmers, provide an important niche for tropical organisms.
This article summarizes the information in this publication:
Cruz-Angon, Andrea, Baena, Martha L. and Greenberg, Russell S. 2009. The contribution of epiphytes to the abundance and species richness of canopy insects in a Mexican coffee plantation. Journal of Tropical Ecology, 25: 453-463. doi:10.1017/S0266467409990125
The abundance of epiphytes has been assumed to be important in explaining the high diversity of tropical canopy arthropods. In this study we assessed the possible role that the presence of epiphytes may have on the diversity and abundance of canopy insects in an experimental study conducted in a coffee plantation in Coatepec, Veracruz, Mexico. Epiphytes were removed from trees in one of two plots in two sites of the coffee plantation. In each plot we collected insects from three Inga jinicuil trees by knockdown insecticide fogging. Insects were sorted to morphospecies, counted and measured. Trees with epiphytes had significantly higher numbers of species and individuals and insects larger than 5mm were also more species-rich and abundant in trees with epiphytes.The magnitude of the enhancement was surprisingly large with the epiphyte plot samples having on average 90% more individuals and 22% more species than plots without epiphytes. These differences were even greater for large (>5 mm) insects (184% and 113% respectively). Our results support the tenet that epiphytes provide valuable resources to arthropods, which we have illustrated for canopy insects in shade trees of coffee plantations.
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