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How effective are non-destructive sampling methods to assess aquatic invertebrate diversity in bromeliads?


With the growing interest in small aquatic water bodies, especially as naturally replicated model systems for ecological research, aquatic invertebrate communities in phytotelmata are increasingly receiving attention these days. The recognition of the substantial contribution to the regional species pool of specialised species draws further attention to these small and often temporary habitats. The methods currently used for studying communities in some types of phytotelma, such as bromeliads, tend to be destructive, typically involving complete dissection of the plant. The expected increase in sampling intensity associated with the increasing interest in phytotelmata may result in a negative impact on plant populations in some areas, decreasing numbers in an unsustainable way, especially in locations with ongoing, intensive research. We therefore aimed to investigate whether less-destructive sampling methods can achieve sufficient data quality to allow their use as alternatives to complete plant dissection. We tested the effectiveness of three such methods in measuring the aquatic invertebrate communities in tank bromeliads (Tillandsia guatemalensis) in Cusuco National Park, Honduras. The three methods were pipetting the water out of the bromeliad, turning the bromeliad upside down and dissecting only the outer part of the plant (the oldest, often deteriorating leaves). Overall, we found that these methods were poor predictors of richness and abundance of the organisms in communities. However, we found big differences between taxonomic groups, depending in part on the ecology of the organisms, and we suggest that some less-destructive alternative methods may be appropriate for studying some specific groups (e.g. Culicidae). Based on these results and a rapid survey of the abundance of bromeliads in the national park, we question whether intensive, ongoing research into aquatic invertebrate communities in similar phytotelma populations is sustainable. From the point of view of conservation, alternative model systems need to be found.

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We would like to thank the people from Buenos Aires, Cortecito and Tierra Santa around National Park Cusuco for collaboration and guidance on the numerous excursions in the forest. Also we thank the staff and volunteers of Operation Wallacea for supporting the project.

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Correspondence to M. Jocque.

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Handling editor: Karl E. Havens

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Jocque, M., Kernahan, A., Nobes, A. et al. How effective are non-destructive sampling methods to assess aquatic invertebrate diversity in bromeliads?. Hydrobiologia 649, 293–300 (2010).

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  • Bromeliad
  • Sampling methodology
  • Richness
  • Destructive methods
  • Phytotelmata