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Nutrient limitation restricts growth and reproductive output in a tropical montane cloud forest bromeliad: findings from a long-term forest fertilization experiment


From studies in seasonal lowland tropical forests, bromeliad epiphytes appear to be limited mainly by water, and to a lesser extent by nutrient supply, especially phosphorous. Less is understood about the mineral nutrition of tropical montane cloud forest (TMCF) epiphytes, even though their highest diversity is in this habitat. Nutrient limitation is known to be a key factor restricting forest productivity in TMCF, and if epiphytes are nutritionally linked to their host trees, as has been suggested, we would expect that they are also nutrient limited. We studied the effect of a higher nutrient input on reproduction and growth of the tank bromeliad Werauhia sintenisii in experimental plots located in a TMCF in Puerto Rico, where all macro- and micronutrients had been added quarterly starting in 1989 and continuing throughout the duration of this study. We found that bromeliads growing in fertilized plots were receiving litterfall with higher concentrations of N, P, and Zn and had higher concentrations of P, Zn, Fe, Al, and Na in their vegetative body. The N:P ratios found (fertilized = 27.5 and non-fertilized = 33.8) suggest that W. sintenisii may also be phosphorous limited as are lowland epiphytes. Fertilized plants had slightly longer inflorescences, and more flowers per inflorescence, than non-fertilized plants, but their flowers produced nectar in similar concentrations and quantities. Fertilized plants produced more seeds per fruit and per plant. Frequency of flowering in two consecutive years was higher for fertilized plants than for controls, suggesting that fertilized plants overcome the cost of reproduction more readily than non-fertilized plants. These results provide evidence that TMCF epiphytic bromeliads are nutrient limited like their lowland counterparts.

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We thank E. Meléndez-Ackerman, J. Zimmerman, and A. Sabat for their advice. The Department of Natural and Environmental Resources of Puerto Rico provided logistic support. This work was supported by a grant from “Fondo Institucional para la Investigación” at the University of Puerto Rico. The Luquillo-LTER program provided additional financial support for nutrient analyses. This work is based on a thesis presented to the University of Puerto Rico in partially fulfillment of requirements for an MS degree (E.L.). All experiments comply with the current laws of Puerto Rico and were performed with the necessary permits.

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Correspondence to Eloisa Lasso.

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Communicated by Walt Carson.

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Lasso, E., Ackerman, J.D. Nutrient limitation restricts growth and reproductive output in a tropical montane cloud forest bromeliad: findings from a long-term forest fertilization experiment. Oecologia 171, 165–174 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-012-2403-z

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  • Bromeliaceae
  • Cost of reproduction
  • Epiphytes
  • TMCF
  • Werauhia sintenisii