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Title: Lianas increase lightning‐caused disturbance severity in a tropical forest

Lightning is an important agent of plant mortality and disturbance in forests. Lightning‐caused disturbance is highly variable in terms of its area of effect and disturbance severity (i.e. tree damage and death), but we do not know how this variation is influenced by forest structure and plant composition.

We used a novel lightning detection system to quantify how lianas influenced the severity and spatial extent (i.e. area) of lightning disturbance using 78 lightning strikes in central Panama.

The local density of lianas (measured as liana basal area) was positively associated with the number of trees killed and damaged by lightning, and patterns of plant damage indicated that this occurred because lianas facilitated more electrical connections from large to small trees. Liana presence, however, did not increase the area of the disturbance. Thus, lianas increased the severity of lightning disturbance by facilitating damage to additional trees without influencing the footprint of the disturbance.

These findings indicate that lianas spread electricity to damage and kill understory trees that otherwise would survive a strike. As liana abundance increases in tropical forests, their negative effects on tree survival with respect to the severity of lightning‐related tree damage and death are likely to increase.

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Award ID(s):
2213245 2213246
Author(s) / Creator(s):
 ;  ;  ;  ;  ;  
Publisher / Repository:
Date Published:
Journal Name:
New Phytologist
Page Range / eLocation ID:
p. 1865-1875
Medium: X
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
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