Epiphytes have the potential to modify the canopy environments in which they grow. Accurately evaluating the impact of epiphytes can be challenging, since plants without epiphytes may also otherwise differ from host plants, and experimental removal is impractical and difficult to replicate in many forests. We studied the impacts of epiphytes (primarily fruticose lichens and Tillandsia spp.) on host plants (Eulychnia saint-pieana and Caesalpinia spinosa) in two fog ecosystems in Chile (Pan de Azucar) and Peru (Atiquipa). These desert ecosystems sustain very high epiphyte loads and depend heavily on fog-water inputs. Using a combination of artificial substrates and epiphyte removals, we show significant impacts of epiphytes on their host plants. The presence of epiphytes reduced throughfall volumes, reducing fog and rainfall inputs to the soil beneath host plant canopies. Soil moisture loss rate was increased below cacti after removal of epiphytes from sun-facing but not shade-facing branches. This suggests epiphyte effects on hosts are microclimatic. Epiphytes also buffered temperature fluctuations and reduced daytime vapour pressure deficit. Epiphytes can have strong effects on host plant ecophysiology and forest ecosystem processes, making them an important component for models and studies of canopy environments.
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© 2014 British Ecological Society.