Mistletoes in a changing world: a premonition of a non-analog future?
Mistletoes are a group of flowering plants that have developed a parasitic lifeform through complex eco-evolutionary processes. Despite being considered a pest, mistletoes represent a keystone forest resource and are involved in complex plant-plant and plant-animal interactions. Their parasitic lifeform and specialized ecological interactions make mistletoes an ideal model with which to understand the effects of anthropogenic disturbances in a changing world. The accelerated growth of the human population has altered all ecosystems on Earth, leading to biodiversity loss. Land-use changes (involving habitat loss, fragmentation, degradation, and transformation processes) can alter the ecological scenario for mistletoe by altering hosts, mutualists, and nutrient cycling. Those changes may have large consequences at the community level, changing the spatial structure of mistletoes, as well as interaction effectiveness, facilitation process, interaction disruption, and novel interactions with invasive species, leading to non-analog communities in the long run. Furthermore, climate change effects operate on a global scale, enhancing the effects of land-use changes. As temperatures increase, many species would alter their distribution and phenology, potentially causing spatial and temporal mismatches. But more critical is the fact that water stress is likely to disrupt key ecological interactions. Thus, mistletoes can provide valuable insights for what we can expect in the future, as a result of human disturbances.