Microclimatic variation in tropical canopies: A glimpse into the processes of community assembly in epiphytic bryophyte communities

Ting Shen*, Richard T. Corlett, Flavien Collart, Thibault Kasprzyk, Xin Lei Guo, Jairo Patiño, Yang Su, Olivier J. Hardy, Wen Zhang Ma, Jian Wang, Yu Mei Wei, Lea Mouton, Yuan Li, Liang Song*, Alain Vanderpoorten

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Epiphytic communities offer an original framework to disentangle the contributions of environmental filters, biotic interactions and dispersal limitations to community structure at fine spatial scales. We determine here whether variations in light, microclimatic conditions and host tree size affect the variation in species composition and phylogenetic structure of epiphytic bryophyte communities, and hence, assess the contribution of environmental filtering, phylogenetic constraints and competition to community assembly. A canopy crane giving access to 1.1 ha of tropical rainforest in Yunnan (China) was employed to record hourly light and microclimatic conditions from 54 dataloggers and epiphytic bryophyte communities from 408 plots. Generalized Dissimilarity Modelling was implemented to analyse the relationship between taxonomic and phylogenetic turnover among epiphytic communities, host-tree characteristics and microclimatic variation. Within-tree vertical turnover of bryophyte communities was significantly about 30% higher than horizontal turnover among-trees. Thus, the sharp vertical variations in microclimatic conditions from tree base to canopy are more important than differences in age, reflecting the likelihood of colonization, area, and habitat conditions between young and old trees, in shaping the composition of epiphytic bryophyte communities. Our models, to which microclimatic factors contributed most (83–98%), accounted for 33% and 18% of the variation in vertical turnover in mosses and liverworts, respectively. Phylogenetic turnover shifted from significantly negative or non-significant within communities to significantly positive among communities, and was slightly, but significantly, correlated with microclimatic variation. These patterns highlight the crucial role of microclimates in determining the composition and phylogenetic structure of epiphytic communities. Synthesis. The mostly non-significant phylogenetic turnover observed within communities does not support the idea that competition plays an important role in epiphytic bryophytes. Instead, microclimatic variation is the main driver of community composition and phylogenetic structure, evidencing the role of phylogenetic niche conservatism in community assembly.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3023-3038
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Ecology
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • beta diversity
  • biotic interactions
  • environmental filters
  • epiphytic bryophytes
  • forest canopy
  • microclimates
  • niche conservatism
  • phylogenetic constraints


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