Woody vines reduce tree growth and increase their mortality.
Vines are a threat to tropical forests.
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A study conducted by Smithsonian scientists suggests that woody vines or lianas have an enormous effect on trees. They reduce tree growth and cause premature death. This ultimately hampers a forest’s ability to store carbon in trees and to play their positive role in climate change.
Tropical forests store nearly 30% of global carbon. By affecting tree growth and survival, lianas can disturb their ability of locking carbon inside and accelerate climate changes.
"This study has far-reaching ramifications," said Stefan Schnitzer, a biology professor at Marquette University and a long-term research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute. "Lianas contribute only a small fraction of the biomass in tropical forests, but their effects on trees dramatically alter how carbon is accumulated and stored."
Lianas are thick, woody stems that are found throughout the tropical forests. They begin life from the forest floor but climbs upward on the tree to absorb sunlight which is necessary for their survival.
For the study, researcher cut in eight experimental plots in Panama's Barro Colorado Nature Monument and monitored the expansion of trees and lianas in the plot as well as the numbers of dead leaves falling from the forest canopy. After three years, researchers found that “lianas substantially reduce forest-level carbon uptake and storage.” They reduced biomass accumulation by 76% compared to the time when they were removed from the plots. The decrease was due to both low tree growth and an increase in tree mortality where lianas were present. The plot, where liana was found, was dominated by leaves while the productivity of woody stems decreased to great extent (28 percent compared to 43 percent in liana-free plot).
Lianas not only reduced biomass but shifted it from woods to leaves, which made them rot quickly and release carbon back to the atmosphere.
Researchers suggest that lianas could have a massive impact on tropical forests in longer terms and can reduce storage of carbon up to 35 percent.
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“Our results clearly demonstrate large differences in carbon cycling between forests with and without lianas. Combined with the recently reported increases in liana abundance, these results indicate that lianas are an important and increasing agent of change in the carbon dynamics of tropical forests.” Study concludes.