skip to main content

This content will become publicly available on December 1, 2023

Title: Climate and hydraulic traits interact to set thresholds for liana viability
Abstract Lianas, or woody vines, and trees dominate the canopy of tropical forests and comprise the majority of tropical aboveground carbon storage. These growth forms respond differently to contemporary variation in climate and resource availability, but their responses to future climate change are poorly understood because there are very few predictive ecosystem models representing lianas. We compile a database of liana functional traits (846 species) and use it to parameterize a mechanistic model of liana-tree competition. The substantial difference between liana and tree hydraulic conductivity represents a critical source of inter-growth form variation. Here, we show that lianas are many times more sensitive to drying atmospheric conditions than trees as a result of this trait difference. Further, we use our competition model and projections of tropical hydroclimate based on Representative Concentration Pathway 4.5 to show that lianas are more susceptible to reaching a hydraulic threshold for viability by 2100.
; ; ; ;
Award ID(s):
2017949 2003205
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Nature Communications
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Lianas are structural parasites of trees that cause a reduction in tree growth and an increase in tree mortality. Thereby, lianas negatively impact forest carbon storage as evidenced by liana removal experiments. In this proof-of-concept study, we calibrated the Ecosystem Demography model (ED2) using 3 years of observations of net aboveground biomass (AGB) changes in control and removal plots of a liana removal experiment on Gigante Peninsula, Panama. After calibration, the model could accurately reproduce the observations of net biomass changes, the discrepancies between treatments, as well as the observed components of those changes (mortality, productivity, and growth). Simulations revealed that the long-term total (i.e., above- and belowground) carbon storage was enhanced in liana removal plots (+1.2 kg C m –2 after 3 years, +1.8 kg C m –2 after 10 years, as compared to the control plots). This difference was driven by a sharp increase in biomass of early successional trees and the slow decomposition of liana woody tissues in the removal plots. Moreover, liana removal significantly reduced the simulated heterotrophic respiration (−24%), which resulted in an average increase in net ecosystem productivity (NEP) from 0.009 to 0.075 kg C m –2 yr –1 for 10 years after lianamore »removal. Based on the ED2 model outputs, lianas reduced gross and net primary productivity of trees by 40% and 53%, respectively, mainly through competition for light. Finally, model simulations suggested a profound impact of the liana removal on the soil carbon dynamics: the simulated metabolic litter carbon pool was systematically larger in control plots (+51% on average) as a result of higher mortality rates and faster leaf and root turnover rates. By overcoming the challenge of including lianas and depicting their effect on forest ecosystems, the calibrated version of the liana plant functional type (PFT) as incorporated in ED2 can predict the impact of liana removal at large-scale and its potential effect on long-term ecosystem carbon storage.« less
  2. African savannas are the last stronghold of diverse large-mammal communities, and a major focus of savanna ecology is to understand how these animals affect the relative abundance of trees and grasses. However, savannas support diverse plant life-forms, and human-induced changes in large-herbivore assemblages—declining wildlife populations and their displacement by livestock—may cause unexpected shifts in plant community composition. We investigated how herbivory affects the prevalence of lianas (woody vines) and their impact on trees in an East African savanna. Although scarce (<2% of tree canopy area) and defended by toxic latex, the dominant liana,Cynanchum viminale(Apocynaceae), was eaten by 15 wild large-herbivore species and was consumed in bulk by native browsers during experimental cafeteria trials. In contrast, domesticated ungulates rarely ate lianas. When we experimentally excluded all large herbivores for periods of 8 to 17 y (simulating extirpation), liana abundance increased dramatically, with up to 75% of trees infested. Piecewise exclusion of different-sized herbivores revealed functional complementarity among size classes in suppressing lianas. Liana infestation reduced tree growth and reproduction, but herbivores quickly cleared lianas from trees after the removal of 18-y-old exclosure fences (simulating rewilding). A simple model of liana contagion showed that, without herbivores, the long-term equilibrium could be eithermore »endemic (liana–tree coexistence) or an all-liana alternative stable state. We conclude that ongoing declines of wild large-herbivore populations will disrupt the structure and functioning of many African savannas in ways that have received little attention and that may not be mitigated by replacing wildlife with livestock.

    « less
  3. Abstract
    Excessive phosphorus (P) applications to croplands can contribute to eutrophication of surface waters through surface runoff and subsurface (leaching) losses. We analyzed leaching losses of total dissolved P (TDP) from no-till corn, hybrid poplar (Populus nigra X P. maximowiczii), switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), miscanthus (Miscanthus giganteus), native grasses, and restored prairie, all planted in 2008 on former cropland in Michigan, USA. All crops except corn (13 kg P ha−1 year−1) were grown without P fertilization. Biomass was harvested at the end of each growing season except for poplar. Soil water at 1.2 m depth was sampled weekly to biweekly for TDP determination during March–November 2009–2016 using tension lysimeters. Soil test P (0–25 cm depth) was measured every autumn. Soil water TDP concentrations were usually below levels where eutrophication of surface waters is frequently observed (&gt; 0.02 mg L−1) but often higher than in deep groundwater or nearby streams and lakes. Rates of P leaching, estimated from measured concentrations and modeled drainage, did not differ statistically among cropping systems across years; 7-year cropping system means ranged from 0.035 to 0.072 kg P ha−1 year−1 with large interannual variation. Leached P was positively related to STP, which decreased over the 7 years in all systems. These results indicate that both P-fertilized and unfertilized cropping systems mayMore>>
  4. Predicting drought responses of individual trees in tropical forests remains challenging, in part because trees experience drought differently depending on their position in spatially heterogeneous environments. Specifically, topography and the competitive environment can influence the severity of water stress experienced by individual trees, leading to individual-level variation in drought impacts. A drought in 2015 in Puerto Rico provided the opportunity to assess how drought response varies with topography and neighborhood crowding in a tropical forest. In this study, we integrated 3 years of annual census data from the El Yunque Chronosequence plots with measurements of functional traits and LiDAR-derived metrics of microsite topography. We fit hierarchical Bayesian models to examine how drought, microtopography, and neighborhood crowding influence individual tree growth and survival, and the role functional traits play in mediating species’ responses to these drivers. We found that while growth was lower during the drought year, drought had no effect on survival, suggesting that these forests are fairly resilient to a single-year drought. However, growth response to drought, as well as average growth and survival, varied with topography: tree growth in valley-like microsites was more negatively affected by drought, and survival was lower on steeper slopes while growth was highermore »in valleys. Neighborhood crowding reduced growth and increased survival, but these effects did not vary between drought/non-drought years. Functional traits provided some insight into mechanisms by which drought and topography affected growth and survival. For example, trees with high specific leaf area grew more slowly on steeper slopes, and high wood density trees were less sensitive to drought. However, the relationships between functional traits and response to drought and topography were weak overall. Species sorting across microtopography may drive observed relationships between average performance, drought response, and topography. Our results suggest that understanding species’ responses to drought requires consideration of the microenvironments in which they grow. Complex interactions between regional climate, topography, and traits underlie individual and species variation in drought response.« less
  5. Plant ecophysiological trade-offs between different strategies for tolerating stresses are widely theorized to shape forest functional diversity and vulnerability to climate change. However, trade-offs between hydraulic and stomatal regulation during natural droughts remain under-studied, especially in tropical forests. We investigated eleven mature forest canopy trees in central Amazonia during the strong 2015 El Niño. We found greater xylem embolism resistance (P50 = − 3.3 ± 0.8 MPa) and hydraulic safety margin (HSM = 2.12 ± 0.57 MPa) than previously observed in more precipitation-seasonal rainforests of eastern Amazonia and central America. We also discovered that taller trees exhibited lower embolism resistance and greater stomatal sensitivity, a height-structured trade-off between hydraulic resistance and active stomatal regulation. Such active regulation of tree water status, triggered by the onset of stem embolism, acted as a feedback to avoid further increases in embolism, and also explained declines in photosynthesis and transpiration. These results suggest that canopy trees exhibit a conservative hydraulic strategy to endure drought, with trade-offs between investment in xylem to reduce vulnerability to hydraulic failure, and active stomatal regulation to protect against low water potentials. These findings improve our understanding of strategies in tropical forest canopies and contribute to more accurate prediction of drought responses.