Changes in the distribution of mechanically dependent plants along a gradient of past hurricane impact

Sven Batke, Daniel Kelly

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The severity of the effects that large disturbance events such as hurricanes can have on the forest canopy and the associated mechanically dependent plant community (epiphytes, climbers, etc.) is dependent on the frequency and intensity of the disturbance events. Here we investigate the effects of different structural and environmental properties of the host trees and previously modelled past hurricanes on dependent plants in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. Tree-climbing methods were employed to sample different dependent life-forms in ten 150 × 150 m plots. We identified 7094 individuals of dependent plants from 214 different species. For holo- and hemi-epiphytes, we found that diversity was significantly negatively related to past hurricane impact. The abundance of dependent plants was greatly influenced by their position in tree canopy and hurricane disturbance regimes. The relationship between abundance and mean branch height shifts across a gradient of hurricane impact (from negative to positive), which might result from a combination of changes in abundance of individual species and composition of the dependent flora across sites. Mechanically dependent plants also responded to different structural and environmental conditions along individual branches. The variables that explained much of the community differences of life forms and families among branches were branch surface area and bryophyte cover. The factors that explained most variation at a plot level were mean vapour pressure deficit and elevation. At the level of the individual tree, the most important factors were canopy openness and past hurricane impact. We believe that more emphasis needs to be placed on the effects that past disturbance events have on mechanically dependent plant communities, particularly in areas that are prone to catastrophic perturbations.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date18 Aug 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Aug 2015


  • Cusuco National Park
  • disturbance
  • epiphyte
  • plant community
  • species diversity
  • species richness


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