Urban forests forgetting epiphytes

Press Release – Waikato University

Two University of Waikato ecology students spent the summer in the forest canopies of Waikato and Taranaki conducting research they hope will lead to better conservation and restoration of native forests nationwide.5 October 2011

Urban forests forgetting epiphytes

Two University of Waikato ecology students spent the summer in the forest canopies of Waikato and Taranaki conducting research they hope will lead to better conservation and restoration of native forests nationwide.

Catherine Bryan and Fiona Clarkson both graduate this October with first class honours and are looking forward to more time in the field, having taken full-time positions as research assistants at the University of Waikato Environmental Research Institute.

The duo were investigating what factors affect the establishment and survival of vascular epiphyte populations – plants that non-parasitically perch and grow on others. Epiphytes are a crucial and but often forgotten part of native forests and contribute to the ecosystem and biodiversity of forests.

Their findings pointed to a declining epiphyte population in urban forests with some forest fragments of Hamilton City having only 60% of the epiphyte species that should be present.

“A part of our research is on urban restoration,” says Fiona. “Basically epiphytes are just another plant group that’s needed in forests. They contribute to biodiversity and ecosystem services, as well as food, habitat and nesting materials for native wildlife and fauna.”

“Epiphytes are part of making a forest function properly. We are studying them because not many people know about epiphytes and when people try to attempt forest restoration epiphytes are often left out,” says Catherine.

Both hope their roles at the ERI will help them understand the group of plants better so as to improve conservation and restoration of populations across the country.

Fiona’s work focussed on the population genetics and autecology of the endemic shrub epiphyte Pittosporum cornifolium while Catherine’s research investigated the ecology of local epiphyte populations and the physiology of the shrub epiphyte Griselinia lucida.

Already their research has been picked up by community groups and councils eager to restore epiphyte species to their forests.

“Hamilton City Council is letting us trial re-introduction techniques later this year,” says Catherine. “At the moment we’re looking at nailing, strapping or planting them in the forks of trees, to see what works and we’ll go from there.”

Both received presentation awards for their Masters research at the 2011 New Zealand Ecology Conference held in Rotorua during August.

On October 20 Fiona and Catherine graduate at a 2pm ceremony at Hamilton’s Founders Theatre. More than 500 University of Waikato students graduate this month at ceremonies held on October 19-20.

ENDS

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