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Contrasting effects of host tree isolation on population connectedness in two tropical epiphytic bromeliads


Amici, Autumn; Nadkarni, Nalini; DiBlasi, Emily; Seger, Jon (2019), Contrasting effects of host tree isolation on population connectedness in two tropical epiphytic bromeliads, Dryad, Dataset,


Premise of the study

Conversion of primary forests to pastures is a major cause of habitat fragmentation in the tropics. Fragmentation is expected to impede gene flow for many plant species that are restricted to remaining forest fragments. Epiphytes may be especially vulnerable to this effect of forest fragmentation because they depend on host trees. However, trees that remain in pastures may enhance connectivity across the landscape for epiphyte species that can thrive on such trees. To investigate this possibility, we studied the genetic structures of two such species on isolated pasture trees and surrounding forest, in relation to their local abundances in different habitat types and aspects of their reproductive biology including pollen and seed dispersal agents, and looked for evidence of increased or diminished gene flow.


We used microsatellite markers to assess geographic patterns of genetic diversity and differentiation in two epiphytic bromeliads, Catopsis nitida and Werauhia tonduziana, in the Monteverde region of Costa Rica.

Key results

About 85% of the FST value for Catopsis nitida was found among pastures within regions, while for Weruahia tonduziana, about 80% of the FST value was contributed by differences between regions, indicating much more gene flow within regions, relative to C. nitida.


Although there was substantial genetic differentiation among epiphyte populations, those on isolated pasture trees were not substantially less diverse than those in adjacent forests, suggesting that pasture trees may serve as "stepping stones" that help these species maintain their genetic connectedness and diversity at larger geographic scales.