Saturday, 10 May 2014

How the Piñuela affects soil communities in its native environment.

The Piñuela, Bromelia pinguin, is a ground dwelling Bromeliad widely farmed in Central America and the Caribbean both for its fruit and its hedge forming ability. It naturally forms dense clumps spiney growth, unusual in rainforests, where finding two plants of the same species is often a challenge. The Piñuela is also known for its Fungus-suppressing abilities, and therefore changes the nature of soils in areas where it is grown.

A stand of wild Piñuela Plants in Costa Rica. Área de Conservación Guanacaste.


In a paper published in the journal BMC Ecology on 5 May 2014, Caitlin Looby of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of California-Irvine and William Eaton of the Biology Department at Pace University examine the role of the Piñuela in its native ecosystems in the rainforests of Costa Rica.

Looby & Eaton collected soil samples from both stands of Piñuela and the surrounding forest in the Maquenque National Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Maquenque), and analyzed them for moisture, pH, microbial biomass and fungal diversity.

Soils from within stands of Piñuela were found to have similar pH and moisture levels to soils from the surrounding forest, however they showed a marked reduction in microbial biomass, which was typically less than half that of the surrounding soils. The taxonomic composition of fungi within the Piñuela stands was markedly different, dominated by Basidiomycote Fungi of the orders Tremellales (which was completely absent from forest soils) and Agaricales and Ascomycote Fungi of the order Hypocreales, while the soil in the surrounding forests was dominated by the Ascomycote Fungi of the order Helotiales (which was completely absent from the Piñuela soils) and Basidiomycote Fungi of the order Thelephorales (which formed only 5% of the fungi in the Piñuela soils). Members of the phyla Zygomycota, Glomermycota, and Chytridiomycota were found within the Piñuela soils, but not within soils from the surrounding forests.

This study demonstrates that the Piñuela Plant has a profound effect on the composition of the fungal community in soils where it occurs, despite there being little difference in soil pH and moisture, usually thought to be the determining factors in soil community composition in tropical soils. Since the breakdown of organic matter in soils is largely accomplished by fungi and bacteria, this is likely to have an equally profound effect on nutrient flow within these soils.

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Bromeliads are herbaceous Monocotyledons native to the Americas (with a single species known from West Africa) and related to the Sedges and Grasses. They have a distinctive rosette shape, with blade-like leaves spiraling out from a central point. In some cases the centre of this rosette forms a water reservoir held in place by tightly overlapping leaf-bases, which can contain entire miniature...



Bromeliads are monocotyledonous plants related to grasses. They are a diverse group, including many epiphytes (plants that grow on other plants, typically on the branches of trees), and a number of fleshy, succulent species dwelling in deserts. Bromiliads are noted for their tight whorls of leaves, that sometimes trap pools of water at the base. The group are almost entirely restricted to the American tropics, with a few subtropical species, and a single known species native to West Africa.



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