Insects and allies associated with bromeliads: a review

Insects and allies associated with bromeliads: a review

J. H. Frank and L. P. Lounibos


Bromeliads are a Neotropical plant family (Bromeliaceae) with about 2,900 described species. They vary considerably in architecture. Many impound water in their inner leaf axils to form phytotelmata (plant pools), providing habitat for terrestrial arthropods with aquatic larvae, while their outer axils provide terraria for an assemblage of fully terrestrial arthropods. Many bromeliads are epiphytic.

Dominant terrestrial arthropods with aquatic larvae inhabiting bromeliad phytotelmata are typically larvae of Diptera, of which at least 16 families have been reported, but in some circumstances are Coleoptera, of which only three families have been reported. Other groups include crabs and the insect orders Odonata, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera, plus Hemiptera with adults active on the water surface. The hundreds of arthropod species are detritivores or predators and do not harm their host plants. Many of them are specialists to this habitat.

Terrestrial arthropods with terrestrial larvae inhabiting bromeliad terraria include many more arachnid and insect orders, but relatively few specialists to this habitat. They, too, are detritivores or predators.

Arthropod herbivores, especially Curculionidae (Coleoptera) and Lepidoptera, consume leaves, stems, flowers, pollen, and roots of bromeliads. Some herbivores consume nectar, and some of these and other arthropods provide pollination and even seed-dispersal.

Ants have complex relationships with bromeliads, a few being herbivores, some guarding the plants from herbivory, and some merely nesting in bromeliad terraria. A few serve as food for carnivorous bromeliads, which also consume other terrestrial insects.

Bromeliads are visited by far more species of arthropods than breed in them. This is especially notable during dry seasons, when bromeliads provide moist refugia.

Keywords: Phytotelmata, carnivory, herbivory, predation, pollination, ecology, ethology. Read more.