Epiphyts and Biodiversity

Biodiversity is the the variety of live found in different environments and ecosystems around the world. Any living organism, plant animal or even microorganism increases or contributes to the biodiversity. Epiphytes greatly increase the biodiversity of rainforest.

An epiphyte is any plant that does not live in the soil, have true root systems, and frequently lives on another plant providing no benefit but causing no harm. This differentiates them from Symbiotic plants or parasitic ones. Epiphytes are often referred to as Air Plants, but this is incorrect as there are aquatic epiphytes, Air plants are arboreal or terrestrial epiphytes.

In referring to epiphytes, one may ask, how many types are there? The answer is, no one really knows. In one research project, they found over 2100 species in just 500 square meters of jungle, this is a space 30 feet across and 150 feet long, less than 1/10 of an acre, the average yard is 1/8! And epiphytes are not just in the tropics, in a Northern forest, there would be about 210 in a comparable area, so epiphytes are everywhere! There will probably be new types of epiphytes discovered for decades to come!

Epiphytes contribute organic matter through dying and decomposition, and their nutrients help others. Their own genetic material also helps to raise the biodiversity of the forest, but they help increase it in other ways as well. Many provide food and living accommodations for specific insects, birds, bats or other mammals. Without the epiphytes, those creatures would perish, disappearing from the face of the Earth forever. This is termed symbiosis and many of the epiphytes are symbiotic. Symbiotic relationships are often complex and can involve several species.

An specific type of insect may be essential for pollinating one type of epiphyte. That epiphyte may supply specific nutrients required for juvenile hummingbirds and those hummingbirds may be the only pollinator for some species of tree. Destroy the insect or epiphyte and then the hummingbird dies off and so does the tree> Was the tree important? It may have been the only source for some rare drug, that drug could have saved lives.

The greater the biodiversity, the greater the resources and the better off everything is, epiphytes contribute to the biodiversity of all forests. They contribute through organic matter, direct DNA, and through beig a part of and supporting a myriad of other organisms!