Vascular epiphytes contribute disproportionately to global centres of plant diversity

2021 | journal article; research paper. A publication with affiliation to the University of Göttingen.

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​Vascular epiphytes contribute disproportionately to global centres of plant diversity​
Taylor, A.; Zotz, G.; Weigelt, P. ; Cai, L.; Karger, D. N.; König, C.   & Kreft, H. ​ (2021) 
Global Ecology and Biogeography31(1) pp. 62​-74​.​ DOI: 

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Taylor, Amanda; Zotz, Gerhard; Weigelt, Patrick ; Cai, Lirong; Karger, Dirk Nikolaus; König, Christian ; Kreft, Holger 
Abstract Aim Vascular epiphytes are ubiquitous components of wet tropical forests where they contribute substantially to local and regional plant diversity. While some basic epiphyte distribution patterns are relatively well studied, little effort has been made to understand the drivers responsible for constraining their global distribution. This study quantifies the substantial contribution of epiphytes to global gradients and centres of vascular plant diversity and explores whether epiphytes vary from terrestrial plants in relation to contemporary and historical environmental variables. Location Global. Time period Present. Major taxa studied Tracheophyta. Methods Using a comprehensive epiphyte species list (EpiList 1.0), and distribution information for 27,850 epiphyte species derived from numerous literature sources, we describe the global biogeography of epiphytes. We use generalized linear mixed effects models to assess the relationship between epiphytic and terrestrial plant diversity, and contemporary and historical environmental predictors. Results Epiphytes substantially contribute to global centres of vascular plant diversity, accounting for up to 39% of the vascular flora in Neotropical regions. Epiphytes decrease in species numbers with increasing latitude at a rate three times faster than terrestrial plants, a trend that is driven mainly by the distribution of tropical forests and precipitation. Further, large regional differences emerge that are explained by several large endemic angiosperm families (e.g., Neotropical Bromeliaceae) that are absent in other tropical regions. Main conclusions Our results show that epiphytes are disproportionately diverse in most global centres of plant diversity and play an important role in driving the global latitudinal diversity gradient for plants. The distribution of precipitation and tropical forest area emerge as major drivers of the latitudinal diversity gradient in epiphyte species richness. Finally, our findings demonstrate how epiphyte floras in different biogeographical realms are composed of different families and higher taxa, revealing an important signature of historical biogeography.
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Global Ecology and Biogeography 
Zentrum für Biodiversität und Nachhaltige Landnutzung ; Fakultät für Forstwissenschaften und Waldökologie ; Burckhardt-Institut ; Abteilung Biodiversität, Makroökologie und Biogeographie 
Swiss Data Science Project
Swiss National Foundation
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft



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