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Ecological niches of epiphyllous bryophytes along afrotropical elevation gradient

Cite this dataset

Dolezal, Jiri (2023). Ecological niches of epiphyllous bryophytes along afrotropical elevation gradient [Dataset]. Dryad.


Understanding multiple environmental drivers governing tropical organisms' distribution and ecological niches is crucial for predicting their responses to ongoing rapid deforestation. While macroclimatic effects via energy and water availability are well predicted, less is known about locally modulating factors such as canopy structure, light and edaphic conditions. Here we show that minimum temperatures and ambient humidity drive the abundance and richness of leaf-inhabiting epiphyllous bryophytes across a 4-km elevation gradient on Mount Cameroon, West Africa, separating epiphyll-rich rainforests (0–2200 m) from epihyll-poor fire-driven afromontane savanna (23004000 m). However, local factors contribute more than half to the total abundance and richness variation, either directly (light) or indirectly (edaphic conditions) via their effects on host plant composition. The most abundant epiphyllous communities occur in vertically stratified upland rainforests between 600 and 1100 m elevation, where N-fixing tree legumes dominate. Their canopy is relatively sparse, due to nutrient-poor soils leached by high rainfall, leaving room for the development of diverse subcanopy tree and understory shrub and herb layers with epiphyll-rich communities. Vertically homogenous lowland rainforests on fertile soils below 500 m, with dense overstory and shaded and species-poor understory, have less developed epiphylls, as do seasonally dry montane forests between 2000 and 2300 m, or elephant fragmented forests between 1200 and 1600 m. We conclude that high temperature and humidity together with a vertically stratified canopy support epiphylls, whereas precipitation seasonality, disturbed vegetation with unstable microclimate, or dense, unstratified canopy discourage the development of epiphyllous communities. Our study illustrates that ecological niches of epiphyllous bryophytes are shaped by a complex interplay of multiple drivers, knowledge of which is essential for more realistic predictions of the impacts of current accelerated habitat loss on species distribution and diversity changes in the tropics.


Data on epiphyllous bryophytes, host plants, soil chemistry, vegetation structure and canopy light conditions were collected on Mount Cameroon.

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Czech Academy of Sciences, Institute of Botany