How the spread of woody vines is threatening fragmented rainforests

| 9th April 2018

A giant, bundled liana in western Brazil

Wikimedia Commons
An intense war is being fought between woody vines and native trees in fragmented rainforests, according to new research. The chopping down of rainforest is exacerbating the problem and could lead to significant changes in the ecology and dynamics of these tropical eco-systems, reports CATHERINE HARTE

Humans are quickly chopping up the world’s tropical forests - meaning the effective management of tropical forest fragments in many regions may become the only way to preserve some of the worlds’ most rare and endangered species

The destruction of our rainforests is leading to the rapid spread of  aggressive woody vines - lianas - which is threatening a number of rare and endangered trees, according to a new study.

The vines fight with trees for limited resources and can damage or even kill them as they use them for structural support to aid their ascent to the forest canopy.

Scientists say the problem is particularly prevalent in fragmented forests because they have more small-size trees which the lianas damage while using them as climbing trellises.

Fragmented forests

Dr Mason Campbell, from James Cook University in Australia, is lead author of the five year study. He said: "These findings are important as humans are quickly chopping up the world’s tropical forests meaning the effective management of tropical forest fragments in many regions may become the only way to preserve some of the worlds’ most rare and endangered species”.

The study also showed that this increase in liana abundance was the main cause of tree infestation in forest fragments. Other effects included reduced tree growth and fecundity, elevated tree mortality, alterations in tree-species composition and a substantial decline in forest carbon storage.

According to the study, the worlds’ tropical forests are already cut up into around 50 million fragments and an estimated 33 time increase on today’s levels is likely to occur over the next half-century.

Scientists argue that it's crucial to understand the ecological impact to ensure better forest management and preservation of species as closed-canopy forests are being rapidly fragmented across much of the tropical world.

This Author

Catherine Harte is a contributing editor of The Ecologist. This story is based on a news release from James Cook University, Australia.  

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