Spider diversity in epiphytes

Spider diversity in epiphytes: Can shade coffee plantations promote the conservation of cloud forest assemblages? .
Francisco Emmanuel Méndez-Castro, Dinesh Rao
Abstract
Cloud forests (CF) are disappearing due to anthropogenic causes such as cultivation. A characteristic feature of the CF is that a high proportion of its biomass occurs in the form of epiphytes, which are vital microhabitats to canopy dwelling arthropods. Coffee plantations overlap with CF and replace them. Epiphytes are abundant in shade coffee (SC) plantations and therefore these plants are an appropriate background for comparing the diversity between these systems. Spiders are understudied in canopies, and since they are major predators and their communities are highly sensitive to environmental changes, they can be used to test the similarity between habitats. We conducted a diversity assay of spiders living in epiphytes in cloud forest fragments and SC plantations, to test the hypothesis that SC plantations function as refugia. We manually sampled epiphytes within the canopy of two coffee plantations and two fragments of cloud forest in central Veracruz, Mexico. Our results show that SC plantations account for higher spider abundance and species richness than cloud forest fragments, there is little overlap between the species found in both systems, and the range of distribution and the guild structure of the spider assemblages between both systems is similar. As there were no significant differences between cloud forest fragments and SC plantations in terms of spider species assemblages, species distribution and guild structure the epiphytes from the SC plantations can be consider a refuge for the spider fauna from the surrounding cloud forest fragments. Epiphyte load and tree height are important factors driving the differentiation at community level, between sites and habitats. Bromeliads harbored more spiders than the other types of epiphytes, and since these plants are frequently removed by farmers or extracted for commercial and religious purposes, we suggest that preserving epiphytes in coffee plantations and cloud forest fragments could aid in the conservation of spiders.

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