Diversity of vascular epiphytes

Wilhelm Barthlott, Jürgen Nieder & Viviane Schmit-Neuerburg
Department of Botany
Division of Systematics and Biodiversity
Botanical Garden Bonn

Approximately 10% of all vascular plant species are epiphytes, plants living on other plants without drawing water or nutrients from its living tissue. In the tropics, epiphytic plants - mainly orchids, bromeliads and Araceae - are a characteristic element of the vegetation.
Full of hidden wonders: the canopy of the tropical rainforest.
The forest shown on this Photo, a lowland rainforest in southern Venezuela, is one of the study sites of our project. (Photo: J. Nieder).
An epiphyte from a south-american montane cloud forest: The orchid Bifrenaria aurantiaca from Ecuador
(Photo: J. Nieder).
During the last decade the Botanical Institute of the University of Bonn has been carrying
out various field studies and theoretical investigations based on detailed evaluation of floras and inventories of epiphytes. The studies generally enclose all systematic levels of epiphytic flora with special focus on vascular epiphytes. Our aim is to contribute to the relatively scarce knowledge on the structure and the dynamics of epiphytic plant communities of mainly neotropical study sites in comparison to the terrestrial vegetation. Previous studies in Bolivia (Ibisch 1996) and Ecuador (Rudolph et al. 1998) were realized  and a dissertation was carried out in various forest types in Ruanda and Zaïre (Biedinger & Fischer 1996). Analysis of flora literature with regard to Peru was published by Ibisch et al. (1996).
Furthermore our project group participates in the Surumoni crane project of the Austrian Academy of Science studying the canopy of a lowland rain forest in Southern Venezuela.
An instrument of canopy research in our project: the crane of the Surumoni Projekt (upper Orinoco, Venezuela).

Current study sites:

- Río Surumoni crane project (lowland rain forest, upper Orinoco river)
For more information please take a look at:
http://www.oeaw.ac.at /~klivv/surumoni/welcome.html ni/extern/index.htm


- Otonga (mountain rain forest)
- Río Guajalito (mountain rain forest)
For each site various questions have to be answered:
  • How many epiphyte species are there, how is the epiphytic plant community composed?
  • What factors determine species richness and community structure of epiphytes?
  • How do these communities change over time?

  • General scientific aimes are:

  • to provide a database with epiphyte inventories and species numbers of various worldwide study sites, spatial distribution patterns, geographical distribution and registration of abiotic conditions.
  • to explain the cause of diversity and distribution of epiphytes.
  • to elucidate the role of epiphyte diversity on total plant diversity and to make understandable the consequences on total biodiversity.

  • to compare undisturbed and disturbed areas: bioindicative potential of epiphytes, species conservation, concept for protection and use.
    The mountain rainforest at Río Guajalito, Ecuador 
    (Photo: J. Nieder)

    Scientific Cooperations:


    Funding of projects:

    Venezuela: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: "Epiphyten im Kronenbereich neotropischer Regenwälder - Struktur und Dynamik einer Lebensgemeinschaft"
    Ecuador: Volkswagen-Stiftung: "Epiphytische Gefäßpflanzen in zwei ecuadorianischen Bergregenwäldern und ihre Bedeutung für die Aufrechterhaltung des Artenreichtums von Pflanzen und Tieren im Canopy"


    Diploma theses

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