Strangler figs may support their host trees during severe storms

Abstract

While strangler figs in the genus Ficus have been assumed to have only epiphytic and parasitic relationships with the host trees on which they grow, we suggest that a mutualistic relationship may also exist that benefits host trees during severe storms. Twenty-nine months after a cyclone, uprooted and standing trees in Lamington National Park, Queensland, Australia were compared for the presence of attached strangler figs. A significantly smaller percentage of uprooted (12.8%) than standing trees (58.5%) had large attached strangler figs. Strangler figs might provide four different mechanisms that make it less likely that their host trees will be uprooted in storms. Aerial roots may provide two distinct mechanisms, first through attachments to surrounding vegetation, and second through attachments to rooting points in the ground. The canopy closure added by strangler fig canopies may provide shielding from winds. Anastomosing root networks adhering to host tree trunks may also provide scaffolding support.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Michael (Mick) OReilly and the O’Reilly’s staff for logistical assistance, information, and advice; Daniel S. Miller for statistical advice and testing; David Richardson and an anonymous reviewer for helpful ideas and suggestions; Francis E. Putz, Robert E. Cook, Thomas Mione and Douglas Carter for helpful comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript; and Dale Dixon, Barbara J. Nicholson, and George C. Elliott for useful discussions.

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Correspondence to Leora S. Richard.

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Richard, L.S., Halkin, S.L. Strangler figs may support their host trees during severe storms. Symbiosis 72, 153–157 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13199-017-0484-5

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Keywords

  • Ficus mutualism
  • Tree wind resistance
  • Lamington National Park
  • Strangler fig
  • Semitropical rainforest
  • Hemiepiphyte