Vascular epiphytes form a diverse group of almost 30 000 species, yet theory concerning their community structure is still largely lacking. We therefore employed the simplest models of biodiversity, (near-)neutral models, to generate hypotheses concerning their community structure. With recently developed tools for (near-)neutral models we analyzed species abundance data from many samples in Central and South America which we divided into four metacommunities (Mesoamerica, Central America, Amazonia and Paraná), where for each metacommunity we considered two subsets differing in dispersal syndrome: an animal-dispersed guild and a wind-dispersed guild. We considered three models differing in the underlying speciation mode. Across all metacommunities, we found observed patterns to be indistinguishable from patterns generated by neutral or near-neutral processes. Furthermore, we found that subdivision in different dispersal guilds was often supported, with recruitment limitation being stronger for animal-dispersed species than for wind-dispersed species. This is the first time that (near-)neutral theory has been applied to epiphyte communities. Future efforts with additional data sets and more refined models are expected to further improve our understanding of community structure in epiphytes and will have to test the generality of our findings.
- dispersal limitation
- neutral theory
- species abundance distributions
- vascular epiphytes