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The functional roles of epiphytes and arboreal soils in tropical montane cloud forests

  • Sybil G. Gotsch (a1), Nalini Nadkarni (a2) and Autumn Amici (a2)

Epiphytes and their associated decomposing litter and arboreal soils (herein, epiphytic material, EM) are ubiquitous features of tropical montane cloud forests (TMCF) and play important roles in ecosystem function. EM intercepts water and nutrients from the atmosphere and from intercepted host tree sources, and may contribute significant inputs of these resources to the forest floor. Despite the importance of EM in the TMCF, a systematic review of the ecosystem roles of EM has not been compiled before. We have synthesized the literature that documents functions of EM in undisturbed TMCFs and discuss how these roles may be affected by disturbances, including changes in climate and land use. The range of EM biomass and water storage in the TMCF varies greatly across sites, with different amounts associated with stand age and microclimate. EM is important as habitat and food for birds and mammals, with over 200 species of birds documented as using EM in the Neotropics. Given its sensitivity to moisture, projected shifts in cloud base heights or precipitation due to changes in climate will likely have a large impact on this community and changes in EM diversity or abundance may have cascading impacts on the ecosystem function of the TMCF.

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