Food or furniture: Separating trophic and non-trophic effects of Spanish moss to explain its high invertebrate diversity

Annieke C.W. Borst*, Christine Angelini, Anne ten Berge, Leon Lamers, Marlous Derksen-Hooijberg, Tjisse van der Heide

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Foundation species are typically suggested to enhance community diversity non-trophically by increasing habitat structure and mitigating physical stress, while their trophic role is considered of minor importance. Yet, there is little experimental evidence on the relative importance of trophic and non-trophic effects and the interaction with patch size. Here, we transplanted different festoon sizes of living Tillandsia usneoides (Spanish moss) and structural mimics assessing the trophic and non-trophic roles of this habitat-forming epiphyte in mediating the invertebrate community. Compared to bare branches, mimics enhanced species and feeding guild richness and abundances, but living festoons even more so, demonstrating that trophic and non-trophic effects jointly stimulated the community. Specifically, our results show that, independent of patch size, 40% of the total species richness and 46% of total guild richness increase could be contributed to habitat structure alone, while Spanish moss trophically stimulated these metrics by another 60% and 54%. As detritivores were particularly enhanced in living festoons, our findings suggest that trophic stimulation occurred primarily through the provisioning of Spanish moss detritus. Our results highlight that foundation species can facilitate their associated communities through both trophic and non-trophic pathways, calling for studies addressing their indirect trophic role via the brown food web.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere02846
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2019


  • brown food web
  • detritus
  • feeding guilds
  • food provisioning
  • foundation species
  • habitat complexity
  • habitat structure
  • non-trophic interactions
  • patch size
  • species richness
  • surface area


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