The Quest for a Suitable Host: Size Distributions of Host Trees and Secondary Hemiepiphytes Search Strategy

M.P. Balcázar-Vargas, M.C. Peñuela-Mora, T.R. van Andel, P.A. Zuidema

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)


As climbing plants lack the capacity to hold themselves upright, they need to encounter a suitable host. Vines, lianas, and secondary hemiepiphytes need, therefore, an effective searching strategy. Various hypotheses have been put forward on searching strategies, including ‘skototropism’—growth toward darkness—and random searching. We studied host searching strategies of three secondary hemiepiphyte species belonging to the genus Heteropsis. We recorded information on the diameter distribution of host and evaluated whether these hosts were ‘suitable’, i.e., sufficiently tall for Heteropsis individuals to reach reproductive size. The diameter distribution of host trees bearing Heteropsis seedlings was similar to that of the trees in our study plots. Also, we found that 72–81 percent of the Heteropsis seedlings were present on unsuitable hosts (seedlings, saplings, herbs). These results suggest that Heteropsis seedlings search hosts in a random manner and not by skototropism. We found quite a distinct pattern for adult Heteropsis individuals, which predominantly occur on host trees bigger than 10 cm dbh. Host diameter distribution for Heteropsis adults differed significantly from that of the entire tree community. This difference suggests that Heteropsis individuals may change hosts if they are initially present on nonsuitable hosts. We observed that Heteropsis seedlings and juveniles on unsuitable hosts often produced vegetative shoots that searched for another host. In many cases, such shoots did not find a suitable host. For Heteropsis, our results suggest that host tree searching is a long-term trial and error process that is governed by a random searching strategy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-26
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • eastern brazilian amazon
  • tropical rain-forest
  • lianas
  • araceae
  • diversity
  • behavior
  • ecology
  • history
  • roots


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