Skip to main content

Data from: Putting vascular epiphytes on the traits map

Cite this dataset

Hietz, Peter et al. (2021). Data from: Putting vascular epiphytes on the traits map [Dataset]. Dryad.


Epiphyte trait data for the paper Hietz et al. 2021 Putting vascular epiphytes on the traits map. Journal of Ecology

Plant functional traits impact the fitness and environmental niche of plants. Major plant functional types have been characterized by their trait spectrum, and the environmental and phylogenetic imprints on traits have advanced several ecological fields. Yet very few trait data on epiphytes, which represent almost 10% of vascular plants, are available.

We collated >80,000 mostly unpublished trait observations for 2,882 species of vascular epiphytes that were compared with non-epiphytic herbs and trees (mainly using data from, which are not included in the Dryad dataset) to test hypotheses related to how the epiphytic habit affects traits, and if epiphytes occupy a distinct region in the global trait space. We also compared variation in traits among major groups of epiphytes, and investigated the coordination of traits in epiphytes, ground-rooted herbs and trees. Data include information on trait type, unit of measurement, species, individuals, location and data contributor.

Epiphytes differ from ground-rooted plants mainly in traits related to water relations. Unexpectedly, we did not find lower leaf nutrient concentrations, except for nitrogen. Mean photosynthetic rates are much lower than in ground-rooted plants and lower than expected from the nitrogen concentrations. Trait syndromes clearly distinguish epiphytes from trees and from most non-epiphytic herbs.

Among the three largest epiphytic taxa, orchids differ from bromeliads and ferns mainly by having smaller and more numerous stomata, while ferns differ from bromeliads by having thinner leaves, higher nutrient concentrations, and lower water content and water use efficiency.

Trait networks differ among epiphytes, herbs and trees. While all have central nodes represented by specific leaf area and mass-based photosynthesis, in epiphytes, traits related to plant water relations have stronger connections, and nutrients other than potassium have weaker connections to the remainder of the trait network. Whereas stem specific density reflects mechanical support related to plant size in herbs and trees, in epiphytes it mostly reflects water storage and scales with leaf water content.

Our findings advance our understanding of epiphyte ecology, but we note that currently mainly leaf traits are available. Important gaps are root, shoot and whole plant, demographic and gas exchange traits. We suggest how future research might use available data and fill data gaps.


The dataset is a compilation of unpublished traits data by the authors plus some previously published data

Usage notes

Data files are tab-delimited text files:


Contains trait data, mostly at individual level, with columns:

Contributor: See abbreviations in project member list, "Lit means data were not contributed but are published data gleaned from the respective reference" 

siteID: unique identifier for the site, see sheet "sites"

Inividual: unique identifier for each individual sampled plant; same identifiers for several trait measurement taken from the same plant

OrigSpeciesName: species name (genus + epithet); indet: family or species completely unknown

SpeciesName: Cleaned species name (Genus & epithet or morphospecies name)  in some cases morphospecies names are changed if they are not unique identifiers for the whole dataset

Genus: Genus of sampled plant; if possible also assigned to morphospecies

trait: type of trait

trait_value: measured value

unit: unit of trait_value


Contains names, affiliations and emails of data contributors with columns


Last name







Contains information on locations where trait data were collected from with columns:

Contributors: as in trait table

siteID: unique site identifier as given in the trait data table

environment: e.g. "natural environment", "green house"

lat: standard decimal format

lon: standard decimal format

elevation: m above sea level



For details see the reference publication

Peter Hietz, Katrin Wagner, Flavio Nunes Ramos, Juliano Sarmento Cabral, Claudia Agudelo, Ana Maria Benavides, Manuel Cach Pérez, Catherine Cardelús, Nahlleli Chilpa Galván, Lucas Costa, Rodolfo de Paula Oliveira, Helena Einzmann, Rafael Farias, Valeria Guzmán Jacob, Jens Kattge, Michael Kessler, Catherine Kirby, Holger Kreft, Thorsten Krömer, Jamie Males, Samuel Monsalve Correa, Maria Moreno, Gunnar Petter, Casandra Reyes, Alfredo Saldaña, David Schellenberger, Amanda Taylor, Noé Velázquez Rosas, Wolfgang Wanek, Carrie Woods , Gerhard Zotz. 2021 Putting vascular epiphytes on the traits map. Journal of Ecology.