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Life in the trunk region....

Peru Rainforest Amazon Pachitea Llullapichis Panguana Species Diversity : Leben im Stammbereich

The trunk region is located underneath the crown. Depending on the height of each tree is takes on a different quality. Numerous plants that grow up the trunks provide living space for all kinds of animals. "Little cabbage slightly shorter than the length of a finger that grows on tree trunks. It is so rare, that I don't know of anyone having seen it before." This is the description of the Swedish botanist Osbeck of a "leafless parasite growing directly on a tree trunk" in eastern Java. He gave it the scientific name Melia parasitica. Osbeck didn't know at the time that it wasn't a parasite, but rather just a growth formation that is completely unknown in Northern Europe. Today it is known as cauliflory, out of which blossoms, and later fruit, grow. The perfect example for cauliflory is the cocoa fruit (Theobroma cacao), which grows right in the middle of the tree trunk. Where branches and light conditions allow, epiphytes settle in. There are much more common in the crown level, however. Lianas are a defining element in the trunk region of the Amazon. Young plants sprout on the ground. In their search for light they climb up the tree. If they slide down or are pulled down by their weight they try again at another spot, thus allowing them to reach lengths of over 200 meters. In an environment that insects prevail over, the plants that they feed on have had to develop defenses throughout their evolution in order to avoid extinction. Most plants in the tropics have poisonous substances that protect them from numerous predators.

Having been in a competition between feeding methods and defense mechanisms over millions of years, several plants have found allies. They are bodyguards that keep any possible attacker away, and get something in return. In forest areas with so-called secondary vegetation this phenomenon is relatively common. After naturally felled trees, floods or wind damage, the Cecropia is the pioneer of trees. Its finger-shaped, light green leaves that look a bit like the leaves of our horse chestnut tree are recognizable on riverbanks from afar. One has to be careful when disembarking on the banks however, since ants will rain down upon you if you even brush the Cecropia. Little, aggressive ants, appropriately named Azteca, protect their tree against hungry enemies. The tree "pays" for this service in its own way. It offers the ants protection, living and breeding areas in hollow stalks — this is a symbiosis in perfect form. Very few feeding enemies will brave this protective army. Among them however are sloths, who particularly enjoy Cecropia leaves. Besides poisons, remarkably thick leaves can be another protection against being eaten by insects.

Text und Fotos © Andreas Schlüter 2003-2004