Mistletoe---a keystone resource in forests and woodlands worldwide

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Mistletoes are a diverse group of parasitic plants with a worldwide distribution. The hemiparasitic growth form is critical to understanding their biology, buffering variation in resource availability that constrains the distribution and growth of most plants. This is manifested in many aspects of mistletoe life history, including extended phenologies, abundant and high-quality fruits and nectar, and few chemical or structural defenses. Most mistletoe species rely on animals for both pollination and fruit dispersal, and this leads to a broad range of mistletoe-animal interactions. In this review, I summarize research on mistletoe biology and synthesize results from studies of mistletoe-animal interactions. I consolidate records of mistletoe-vertebrate interactions, incorporating species from 97 vertebrate families recorded as consuming mistletoe and from 50 using mistletoe as nesting sites. There is widespread support for regarding mistletoe as a keystone resource, and all quantitative data are consistent with mistletoe functioning as a determinant of alpha diversity. Manipulative experiments are highlighted as a key priority, and six explicit predictions are provided to guide future experimental research. The facts which kept me longest scientifically orthodox are those of adaptation'the pollen-masses in Asclepias'the misseltoe, with its pollen carried by insects and seed by Birds'the woodpecker, with its feet and tail, beak and tongue, to climb the tree and secure insects. To talk of climate or Lamarckian habit producing such adaptation to other organic beings is futile. This difficulty, I believe I have surmounted. From a letter to Asa Gray by Charles Darwin, 1857
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-249
Number of pages31
JournalAnnual Review of Ecology and Systematics
Issue number2001
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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