Chin J Plant Ecol ›› 2023, Vol. 47 ›› Issue (7): 895-911.DOI: 10.17521/cjpe.2022.0454

• Review •     Next Articles

Ecological functions of vascular epiphytes in habitat construction

ZHANG Zhong-Yang1, SONG Xi-Qiang1, REN Ming-Xun2, ZHANG Zhe1,2,*()   

  1. 1Key Laboratory of Genetics and Germplasm Innovation of Tropical Special Forest Trees and Ornamental Plants, Ministry of Education, School of Forestry, Hainan University, Haikou 570228, China
    2Center for Terrestrial Biodiversity of the South China Sea, School of Ecology and Environment, Hainan University, Haikou 570228, China
  • Received:2022-11-10 Accepted:2023-02-24 Online:2023-07-20 Published:2023-07-21
  • Contact: *ZHANG Zhe(
  • Supported by:
    The Hainan Natural Science Foundation(322RC569);The Hainan Natural Science Foundation(321QN188);The National Natural Science Foundation of China(32201347)


In forest ecosystems, vascular epiphytes in the forest canopy act as buffers against environmental pressures, create important habitats for other organisms, increase the complexity of forest ecosystems, and enhance species diversity and community stability. Vascular epiphytes can create distinct habitat forms and perform unique ecological functions. Based on their morphological functional characteristics, they can be categorized into two groups: collecting plants and ant-nest plants. The former group includes “trash-basket” and “tank-form” plants, while the latter group includes “ant-garden” and “ant-house” plants. The present paper discusses the positive effect of vascular epiphytes on canopy biodiversity through the creation of habitats. It reveals the existence of these microhabitats can increase the complexity of the canopy community structure and food web, thereby promoting community stability. Additionally, we analyze how herbivorous defense and nutrient acquisition promote the evolution of special structures of vascular epiphytes for creating habitats, and the impact of these structures on the evolution of other canopy organisms. Drawing on the current research hotspots in canopy science, this paper explores the role of habitat-constructing vascular epiphytes in the three prominent areas: biological interactions in forest canopies, community succession, and responses to global change. This paper highlights the role of habitat-constructing vascular epiphytes as “umbrella species” with significant conservation value in the face of global change. We suggested to strengthen the research on the evolutionary history and ecological functions of different types of vascular epiphytes, and to explore the biodiversity conservation strategies for tropical and subtropical forests ecosystems in the context of global change.

Key words: forest ecosystem, biodiversity, biotic interaction, community ecology, umbrella species, canopy