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Understanding how biotic interactions influence the distribution of epiphytic orchids in tropical forests: An integrated network approach.

Understanding how biotic interactions influence the distribution of epiphytic orchids in tropical forests: An integrated network approach.

Objective

Understanding the factors that limit species distribution is a longstanding question in ecology. In land plants, species distribution is simultaneously limited by multiple factors, including climate, dispersal ability, competition, and species' physiological tolerance. The ecological requirements of obligate inter-specific interactions impose additional, often over-looked, limitations. How complex interactions influence plant species distribution has received little attention despite its relevance for species conservation in the face of global change. EpiNet will address this gap by investigating how two obligate partners, interacting with abiotic factors, influence plant distribution in mega-diverse tropical assemblages. Tropical epiphytic orchids provide an exceptional study model because they depend on two partners to germinate and grow: a host tree and mycorrhizal fungi. To this end, I propose to study tripartite interaction networks of tropical epiphytic orchids with their partners under different ecological conditions. I will examine the effect of host trees and mycorrhizal fungal diversity on orchid species distribution across geographical and local gradients, analyzing how abiotic factors such as temperature, humidity and light availability affect these interactions. I will establish germination experiments to assess whether orchids replace mycorrhizal partners over ontogeny or retain them for a lifetime. Mycorrhizal replacement is an understudied variable that may influence seedling establishment success. The methodology combines extensive data collection in natural communities (from dry to cloud tropical forests in the Colombian Andes), cutting-edge techniques in molecular biology (mycorrhizal DNA meta-barcoding), and advanced statistical analyses (tripartite networks). This innovative and integrated approach will provide an unprecedented, comprehensive understanding of the ecological factors influencing the distribution of tropical epiphytic orchids.

Coordinator

KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT LEUVEN

Address

Oude Markt 13
3000 Leuven

Belgium

Activity type

Higher or Secondary Education Establishments

EU Contribution

€ 166 320

Project information

Grant agreement ID: 835837

Status

Grant agreement signed

  • Start date

    2 September 2019

  • End date

    1 September 2021

Funded under:

H2020-EU.1.3.2.

  • Overall budget:

    € 166 320

  • EU contribution

    € 166 320

Coordinated by:

KATHOLIEKE UNIVERSITEIT LEUVEN

Belgium