Trade-offs between succulent and non-succulent epiphytes underlie variation in drought tolerance and avoidance

S. G. Gotsch, C. B. Williams, R. Bicaba, R. Cruz-de Hoyos, A. Darby, K. Davidson, M. Dix, V. Duarte, A. Glunk, L. Green, B. Ferguson, K. Muñoz-Elizondo, J. G. Murray, I. Picado-Fallas, R. Nӕsborg, T. E. Dawson, N. Nadkarni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Epiphyte communities comprise important components of many forest ecosystems in terms of biomass and diversity, but little is known regarding trade-offs that underlie diversity and structure in these communities or the impact that microclimate has on epiphyte trait allocation. We measured 22 functional traits in vascular epiphyte communities across six sites that span a microclimatic gradient in a tropical montane cloud forest region in Costa Rica. We quantified traits that relate to carbon and nitrogen allocation, gas exchange, water storage, and drought tolerance. Functional diversity was high in all but the lowest elevation site where drought likely limits the success of certain species with particular trait combinations. For most traits, variation was explained by relationships with other traits, rather than differences in microclimate across sites. Although there were significant differences in microclimate, epiphyte abundance, and diversity, we found substantial overlap in multivariate trait space across five of the sites. We found significant correlations between functional traits, many of which related to water storage (leaf water content, leaf thickness, hydrenchymal thickness), drought tolerance (turgor loss point), and carbon allocation (specific leaf area, leaf dry matter content). This suite of trait correlations suggests that the epiphyte community has evolved functional strategies along with a drought avoidance versus drought tolerance continuum where leaf succulence emerged as a pivotal overall trait.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)645-661
Number of pages17
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022, The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature.


  • Functional traits
  • Microclimatic gradient
  • Stable isotopes
  • Tropical montane cloud forest
  • Water relations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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