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Dispersal and life history strategies in epiphyte metacommunities: alternative solutions to survival in patchy, dynamic landscapes


Host trees for obligate epiphytes are dynamic patches that emerge, grow and fall, and metacommunity diversity critically depends on efficient dispersal. Even though species that disperse by large asexual diaspores are strongly dispersal limited, asexual dispersal is common. The stronger dispersal limitation of asexually reproducing species compared to species reproducing sexually via small spores may be compensated by higher growth rates, lower sensitivity to habitat conditions, higher competitive ability or younger reproductive age. We compared growth and reproduction of different groups of epiphytic bryophytes with contrasting dispersal (asexual vs. sexual) and life history strategies (colonists, short- and long-lived shuttle species, perennial stayers) in an old-growth forest stand in the boreo-nemoral region in eastern Sweden. No differences were seen in relative growth rates between asexual and sexual species. Long-lived shuttles had lower growth rates than colonists and perennial stayers. Most groups grew best at intermediate bark pH. Interactions with other epiphytes had a small, often positive effect on growth. Neither differences in sensitivity of growth to habitat conditions nor differences in competitive abilities among species groups were found. Habitat conditions, however, influenced the production of sporophytes, but not of asexual diaspores. Presence of sporophytes negatively affected growth, whereas presence of asexual diaspores did not. Sexual species had to reach a certain colony size before starting to reproduce, whereas no such threshold existed for asexual reproduction. The results indicate that the epiphyte metacommunity is structured by two main trade-offs: dispersal distance vs. reproductive age, and dispersal distance vs. sensitivity to habitat quality. There seems to be a trade-off between growth and sexual reproduction, but not asexual. Trade-offs in species traits may be shaped by conflicting selection pressures imposed by habitat turnover and connectivity rather than by species interactions.

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We thank Irene Bisang, Heinjo During, Tord Snäll, Sebastian Sundberg and Lars Söderström for useful comments on the manuscript, and Scott Spellerberg for revising the English. Financial support was received from FORMAS. The work conforms to the legal requirements of the countries in which it was carried out, including those relating to conservation and welfare.

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Correspondence to Swantje Löbel.

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Communicated by Brian Beckage.

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Löbel, S., Rydin, H. Dispersal and life history strategies in epiphyte metacommunities: alternative solutions to survival in patchy, dynamic landscapes. Oecologia 161, 569–579 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-009-1402-1

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  • Growth
  • Local processes
  • Metapopulation
  • Reproduction
  • Trade-offs