Journal Article

Population dynamics of epiphytic orchids in a metapopulation context

Manuela Winkler, Karl Hülber and Peter Hietz

in Annals of Botany

Published on behalf of The Annals of Botany Company

Volume 104, issue 5, pages 995-1004
Published in print October 2009 | ISSN: 0305-7364
Published online August 2009 | e-ISSN: 1095-8290 | DOI:
Population dynamics of epiphytic orchids in a metapopulation context

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Background and Aims

Populations of many epiphytes show a patchy distribution where clusters of plants growing on individual trees are spatially separated and may thus function as metapopulations. Seed dispersal is necessary to (re)colonize unoccupied habitats, and to transfer seeds from high- to low-competition patches. Increasing dispersal distances, however, reduces local fecundity and the probability that seeds will find a safe site outside the original patch. Thus, there is a conflict between seed survival and colonization.


Populations of three epiphytic orchids were monitored over three years in a Mexican humid montane forest and analysed with spatially averaged and with spatially explicit matrix metapopulation models. In the latter, population dynamics at the scale of the subpopulations (epiphytes on individual host trees) are based on detailed stage-structured observations of transition probabilities and trees are connected by a dispersal function.

Key Results

Population growth rates differed among trees and years. While ignoring these differences, and averaging the population matrices over trees, yields negative population growth, metapopulation models predict stable or growing populations because the trees that support growing subpopulations determine the growth of the metapopulation. Stochastic models which account for the differences among years differed only marginally from deterministic models. Population growth rates were significantly lower, and extinctions of local patches more frequent in models where higher dispersal results in reduced local fecundity compared with hypothetical models where this is not the case. The difference between the two models increased with increasing mean dispersal distance. Though recolonization events increased with dispersal distance, this could not compensate the losses due to reduced local fecundity.


For epiphytes, metapopulation models are useful to capture processes beyond the level of the single host tree, but local processes are equally important to understand epiphyte population dynamics.

Keywords: Dispersal; epiphyte; fecundity; Jacquiniella leucomelana; Jacquiniella teretifolia; Lycaste aromatica; matrix population model; metapopulation model; population dynamics; conflict between seed survival and colonization

Journal Article.  6314 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Evolutionary Biology ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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