In the Neotropics, species from the genus Heliconia (Heliconiaceae) are an important component of the forest understory in conserved and human modified habitats. Because the use of heliconias as ornamental plants and their economic value, their pests, pathogens and pollinators are relatively well known. Therefore, Heliconia species provide an excellent model system for understanding the impact of anthropogenic disturbance on biotic interactions. All plant structures of heliconias interact with a variety of organisms in different relationships including the following trophic guilds: parasites, saprophytes, herbivores, omnivores and predators. Using community ecology metrics and ecological networks we have determined that habitat modification affects the biotic interactions between heliconias and other organisms. In general, we found that habitat disturbance increased the level of leaf damage by herbivores and fungal pathogens and the abundance of parasitic nematodes of heliconias. In contrast, disturbance decreases floral visitors. Habitat disturbance changed the community structure of heliconias natural enemies and potential pollinators. The ecological networks showed that pathogen-heliconia networks were more specialized and compartmentalized than herbivore-heliconia networks probably because the high intimacy that pathogens have with their host plants as compared to the more generalized feeding modes of herbivores. Because heliconias provide food and habitat for the associated fauna and several microhabitats for colonization, species of the genus could be used as habitat elements for animal conservation in human impacted landscapes.


Heliconiaceae, habitat disturbance, biotic interactions, pests, plant diseases, habitat elements

Julieta Benitez-Malvido

Presentation within symposium:

S-8 The role of biotic interactions in shaping tropical forest diversity

Pests and pathogens in tropical disturbed habitats: heliconias as a model system