Whereas the biology, physiology and systematics of mistletoes have been explored in considerable detail, their ecology has received less attention and our understanding is highly fragmentary. A conspicuous exception is the dwarf mistletoes (Arceuthobium spp.) - a genus that exclusively parasitises coniferous trees, including many commercially valuable species in the forests of the western United States. Accordingly, these plants have been the subjects of intensive cross-disciplinary research for the past five decades, initially from a control and management perspective but extending into most aspects of their ecology and life history. This review summarises our understanding of dwarf mistletoes, focusing on recent developments in the areas of mistletoe-wildlife interactions, fire, ecosystem ecology and conservation biology. We also compare dwarf mistletoes with Australian mistletoes in the genus Amyema, a diverse suite of species found throughout the continent. Despite fundamental differences in their evolutionary origin and most aspects of their autecology and life history, the genera exhibit many similarities in terms of their ecological role in forests and woodlands, and their influence on stand- and forest-scale dynamics. In particular, both groups provide nesting resources for a range of birds and mammals, and nutritional resources for a diverse assemblage of species. Both also interact with fire, potentially leading to changes in successional dynamics at the stand scale. At an applied level, both groups are widely considered as pests but, as our understanding of these keystone species improves, they have the potential to serve as sensitive ecological indicators for their respective ecosystems. Key research priorities are identified for further research on both groups of mistletoes and more explicit comparative research, with Arceuthobium serving as a valuable template for future work on Amyema and Australian mistletoes in general.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Plant Science