Plant Ecology and Evolution 148(3): 377-386, doi: 10.5091/plecevo.2015.1024
Hemi-epiphytic Ficus (Moraceae) in a Congolese forest
expand article infoSydney T. Ndolo Ebika, David Morgan, Crickette Sanz, David J. Harris
‡ Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Open Access
Background and aimsFicus species exhibit a variety of morphological habits (tree, hemi-epiphyte, shrub, climber, creeping shrub and rheophytic shrub) but their description, and especially the difference between tree and hemi-epiphyte, has led to confusion in previous works. In this paper the terms tree, free-standing strangler, hemi-epiphyte, trunk and pseudo-trunk are defined, discussed and illustrated. The aim in this study was to build on these definitions and document how many tree and hemi-epiphytic Ficus species occur at one site in northern Congo; investigate how many hemi-epiphytic species reach the free-standing strangler habit at that site and provide data on host tree species for the hemi-epiphytic Ficus . Results – In the Goualougo Triangle in the southern part of the Nouabalé-Ndoki National Park (Republic of Congo), 285 Ficus individuals belonging to 19 species were studied, one of which was a tree while the remaining 18 were hemi-epiphytes of which only six reached the free-standing strangler habit. The host species on which the Ficus grew were also recorded; 244 individuals of 69 species were found, one of which, Petersianthus macrocarpus, was the most common support for hemi-epiphytic Ficus species. Two Ficus species, F. elasticoides and F. burretiana, were also found as hosts for other species of Ficus species. A field method for determining whether an adult specimen was a free standing hemi-epiphyte or a tree was tested and proved reliable; this is to knock the trunk to see if it sounds hollow or not. Conclusion – The differences observed between Ficus species in tree and free-standing stranglers, the stages they can reach in the hemi-epiphytic habit and the different host species, indicate that the Ficus species play very different roles in the ecosystem. It is likely that the species will vary in response to climate or land-use changes that are happening in tropical forests.