Epiphyte host preferences and host traits: Mechanisms for species-specific interactions

Ragan M. Callaway, Kurt O. Reinhart, Georgianne W. Moore, Darrin J. Moore, Steven C. Pennings

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


We investigated species-specific relationships among two species of vascular epiphytes and ten host tree species in a coastal plain forest in the southeastern United States. The epiphytes Tillandsia usneoides and Polypodium polypodioides were highly associated with particular host species in the field, but host traits that favored colonization were inadequate to fully explain the epiphyte-host associations for either epiphyte. Field transplant experiments that bypassed epiphyte colonization demonstrated that the growth of epiphytes was significantly higher on host tree species that naturally bore high epiphyte loads than on host species with few or no epiphytes. These species-specific relationships were highly correlated with the water-holding capacity of the host tree's bark. Positive and negative effects of through-fall, light attenuation by the canopy, and bark stability did not explain the overall patterns of host specificity, but did correlate with some epiphyte-host species relationships. The relative importance of particular host traits differed between the "atmospheric epiphyte" Tillandsia, and the fern Polypodium, which roots in the bark of its hosts. Species-specific interactions among plants, such as those described here, suggest that communities are more than individualistic assemblages of co-occurring species.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-230
Number of pages10
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2002


  • Biological diversity
  • Community theory
  • Facilitation
  • Positive interactions


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