Drip-tips are a common phenomenon in tropical rain forests, often believed to facilitate drainage of water from the leaf surface and, in that way, reduce epiphyll growth. Some authors suggest a function in reducing splash soil erosion, leaching of substances from the leaf, and light reflectance, while other studies did not find any such correlations. We used an experimental approach to test for the effect of drip-tips on the development of epiphyllous lichen communities. Artificial leaves with and without pronounced drip-tips were exposed in a tropical lowland rain forest at La Selva Biological Station (Costa Rica) for a period of 38 mo, and the physical behaviour of rainwater was tested. On leaves with drip-tips, the water ran off in small, frequent drops 8–30 mm3 in size. On leaves without drip-tips, the water accumulated in the apex region and dripped off periodically in large drops 50–150 mm3 in size. Nevertheless, there was no significant difference in the development of epiphyllous lichen communities on leaves with and without drip-tips, in terms of area covered, species richness and composition. However, leaves without drip-tips had more debris accumulated in the apex region and, at the same time, fewer lichen species present in this region. Thus, while drip-tips do have an influence on how water is channelled off the leaf surface, they do not impair the development of epiphyllous lichen communities, except for the apex region where the presence of drip-tips does in fact enhance, not reduce, the establishment of lichens, by preventing the accumulation of debris. We conclude that, while drip-tips may have an ecological function, this function is unrelated to the development of epiphyllous lichen communities.
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