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Individual Highlight

Novel secondary forests provide valuable habitat for non-vascular plants

African tulip trees, on kartz topography, showing more abundant bryophyte cover at the bases of their tree trunks. Frank Su?rez, Biology Department, Mayagez Campus, University of Puerto RicoSnapshot : The value of secondary forests dominated by introduced species has been the subject of much debate. Forest Service sponsored research in Puerto Rico has shown that these forests support the reestablishment of numerous species of native mosses and liverworts. Mosses and liverworts are important to maintaining short-term water supplies, wildlife habitat, and as germination sites for other plants.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Van Bloem, Skip 
Research Location : Puerto Rico
Research Station : International Institute of Tropical Forestry (IITF)
Year : 2011
Highlight ID : 311


In Puerto Rico many secondary forests are dominated by the African tulip tree (Spathodea campanulata), an introduced species. These novel forests emerged after abandonment of agricultural fields in mid 20th century. The International Institute of Tropical Forestry and University of Puerto Rico have been interested in determining the ecological function of these forests. Our goal was to determine if emerging forests also foster establishment of non-vascular epiphytic plants such as mosses and liverworts. These plants regulate short-term fluxes in the water cycle, provide habitat to wildlife, and sites for seeds of other plants like orchids to germinate. We inventoried moss and liverwort communities within Spathodea forests that emerged on abandoned sugar cane fields, fruit-tree and coffee plantations. From our inventories we found 57 mosses and liverwort species. We observed the highest richness of mosses and liverworts on Spathodea forests that emerged from abandoned fruit and coffee plantations on karst topography. Abandoned sugar cane fields on alluvial plains had the lowest diversity. Overall, Spathodea patches were similar in moss and liverwort diversity to mature native forests on the island, suggesting that these forests, even though dominated by introduced species, provide the ecological characteristics necessary to support native non-vascular plant communities. Although the African tulip tree is considered to be an invasive species, African tulip-dominated forests have conservation value because they promote the succession of epiphytes (mosses and liverworts) by providing a suitable habitat. Re-establishment of mosses and liverworts is an important step in the development of novel secondary forests in the tropics and in maintaining ecological functions that are similar to native forests.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez