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Growth and survival of Tillandsia flexuosa on electrical cables in Panama

  • Stefan Wester (a1) and Gerhard Zotz (a1) (a2)

Almost 50% of the estimated 2500 species in the Bromeliaceae grow epiphytically in a remarkably wide range of habitats from inhospitable deserts to tropical rain forests (Benzing 2000). The degree of dependence on the host varies (Benzing 1990, Laube & Zotz 2006), and in some cases, epiphytic bromeliads may dispense completely with living hosts, and may thrive on artificial substrates such as electrical cables. This is not entirely surprising because this family provides examples of particularly remarkable adaptations to the epiphytic habitat like water-impounding leaf bases and water- and nutrient-absorbing scales (Benzing 2000). The so-called atmospheric forms in this family (e.g. Tillandsia recurvata) possess a dense covering of these scales, and use roots entirely as holdfasts, while leaves perform photosynthesis and take up water and nutrients. Although quite regularly mentioned in the literature (Benzing 1990, 2000; Brighigna et al. 1997, Lüttge 1989), we are not aware of any study investigating the vigour of plants growing on cables compared with plants growing on trees. The only functional aspects that have already been studied are related to nutrients, i.e. presence of nitrogen-fixing endophytes in Tillandsia recurvata plants from natural hosts and from electrical cables in Mexico (Puente & Bashan 1994) and differences in chemical composition of plant tissues and nutrient retention by leaves in Tillandsia capillaris growing on cables and trees in Argentina (Abril & Bucher 2009). Intermittent water supply, but also low nutrient supply, play an important role in epiphyte ecology (Zotz & Hietz 2001), which leads to the following alternative hypotheses: (1) Plants on electrical cables are usually close to roads.

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Journal of Tropical Ecology
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