Ecology and conservation of strangler figs in urban wall habitats

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Hong Kong's rugged topography demands creation of developable land by reclaiming the harbor and terracing hillslopes. The vertical faces between adjoining hillslope-platforms are often stabilized by stone retaining walls. Such artificial cliffs embedded in the urban matrix, as a habitat analogue of rocky cliffs, have been colonized by spontaneous-ruderal vegetation. Detailed field assessment of 289 walls with 793 trees permitted in-depth analysis of this unique tropical urban ecology to inform conservation. The 28 stonewall tree species, mainly native, are dominated by six keystone and companion Ficus (Moraceae) species. They can develop into large cliff hangers > 20 m height on the apparently precarious and inhospitable walls. The many joints between masonry blocks provide opportunities for lodging and germination of seeds brought by frugivorous birds and bats. The aft-soil behind walls provides catchment for normal root functions. Beginning as pioneers and persisting as climax members, they short-circuit the seral processes. Wall-gripping capability as large epilithic woody hemi-epiphytes is due to the strangler-fig habit, an evolutionary trait that originated in the tropical forest. The polymorphic roots with morphological plasticity and self-grafting ability, and their multiple modes of interactions with wall niches, account for firm attachment on the vertical habitat and exploration of proximal soils. A model of strangler-fig growth on stone walls serving as surrogate host tree is developed. The diverse and versatile rooting modes are the basis to sustain strangler-fig wall conditions to permit continuation of strangler-fig habit. Such unique nature-in-city and natural-cum-cultural gems deserve conservation as urban ecological heritage. Copyright © 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-426
JournalUrban Ecosystems
Issue number2
Early online date03 Jun 2013
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014


Jim, C. Y. (2014). Ecology and conservation of strangler figs in urban wall habitats. Urban Ecosystems, 17(2), 405-426. doi: 10.1007/s11252-013-0322-3


  • Artificial cliff
  • Ficus tree
  • Frugivore dispersal
  • Habitat analogue
  • Stone retaining wall
  • Strangler habit


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