Species composition and community structure in Neotropical forests have been severely affected by increases in climate change and disturbance. Among the most conspicuous changes is the proliferation of lianas. These increases have affected not only the carbon storage capacity of forests but also tree dynamics by reducing tree growth and increasing mortality. Despite the importance of lianas in Neotropical forests, most of the studies on lianas have focused on adult stages, ignoring dynamics at the seedlings stage. Here, we asked whether observed increases in liana abundance are associated with a demographic advantage that emerges early in liana ontogeny and with decreased precipitation and increased disturbance. To test this, we compared patterns of growth and survival between liana seedlings and tree seedlings using a long‐term data set of seedling plots from a subtropical wet forest in Puerto Rico, USA. Then, we examined the effect of precipitation and land use history on these demographic variables. We found evidence for liana seedling survival advantage over trees, but no growth advantages. This survival advantage exhibited significant temporal variation linked with patterns of rainfall, as well as differences associated with land‐use history in the study area. Furthermore, we found that neighborhood density has a negative effect on liana survival and growth. Our results indicate that liana proliferation is likely related to a survival advantage that emerges in early stages and is influenced by climatic conditions and past disturbance. Predicted climatic changes in rainfall patterns, including more frequent and severe droughts, together with increases in disturbance, could have a significant effect on seedling tropical communities by favoring lianas.
Over the past decades, tropical forests have experienced both compositional and structural changes. In the Neotropics, researchers at multiple sites have observed significant increases in the abundance and biomass of lianas (i.e. woody vines) relative to trees. However, the role of dynamics at early life stages in contributing to increasing liana abundance remains unclear. We took advantage of a unique dataset on seedling dynamics over 16 years in ~20 000 1‐m2plots in a tropical forest in Panama to examine temporal and spatial trends in liana and tree seedling abundance. We found that the relative abundance of liana seedlings increased across the study period, from 0.18 in 2001 to 0.24 in 2017. However, increases in liana seedling relative abundance appear to have levelled off in more recent years. The observed increases in liana relative abundance appear to be the result of both higher survival and higher recruitment rates of liana seedlings compared to tree seedlings. Increasing liana abundance in the seedling layer was not explained by annual variation in dry season length, total rainfall or the proportion of area occupied by canopy gaps. In addition, liana seedlings did not exhibit a demographic advantage (i.e. higher recruitment or survival) over tree seedlings in dry habitats.
Over the past decades, tropical forests have experienced both compositional and structural changes. In the Neotropics, researchers at multiple sites have observed significant increases in the abundance and biomass of lianas (i.e. woody vines) relative to trees. However, the role of dynamics at early life stages in contributing to increasing liana abundance remains unclear.
We took advantage of a unique dataset on seedling dynamics over 16 years in ~20 000 1‐m2plots in a tropical forest in Panama to examine temporal and spatial trends in liana and tree seedling abundance.
We found that the relative abundance of liana seedlings increased across the study period, from 0.18 in 2001 to 0.24 in 2017. However, increases in liana seedling relative abundance appear to have levelled off in more recent years. The observed increases in liana relative abundance appear to be the result of both higher survival and higher recruitment rates of liana seedlings compared to tree seedlings.
Increasing liana abundance in the seedling layer was not explained by annual variation in dry season length, total rainfall or the proportion of area occupied by canopy gaps. In addition, liana seedlings did not exhibit a demographic advantage (i.e. higher recruitment or survival) over tree seedlings in dry habitats.
- NSF-PAR ID:
- Publisher / Repository:
- Date Published:
- Journal Name:
- Journal of Ecology
- Page Range / eLocation ID:
- p. 460-469
- Medium: X
- Sponsoring Org:
- National Science Foundation
More Like this
Lianas are prevalent in Neotropical forests, where liana‐tree competition can be intense, resulting in reduced tree growth and survival. The ability of lianas to grow relative to trees during the dry season suggests that liana‐tree competition is also strongest in the dry season. If correct, the predicted intensification of the drying trend over large areas of the tropics in the future may therefore intensify liana‐tree competition resulting in a reduced carbon sink function of tropical forests. However, no study has established whether the liana effect on tree carbon accumulation is indeed stronger in the dry than in the wet season.
Using 6 years of data from a large‐scale liana removal experiment in Panama, we provide the first experimental test of whether liana effects on tree carbon accumulation differ between seasons. We monitored tree and liana diameter increments at the beginning of the dry and wet season each year to assess seasonal differences in forest‐level carbon accumulation between removal and control plots.
We found that median liana carbon accumulation was consistently higher in the dry (0.52 Mg C ha−1year−1) than the wet season (0.36 Mg C ha−1year−1) and significantly so in three of the years. Lianas reduced forest‐level median tree carbon accumulation more severely in the wet (1.45 Mg C ha−1year−1) than the dry (1.05 Mg C ha−1year−1) season in all years. However, the relative effect of lianas was similar between the seasons, with lianas reducing forest‐level tree carbon accumulation by 46.9% in the dry and 48.5% in the wet season.
Synthesis.Our results provide the first experimental demonstration that lianas do not have a stronger competitive effect on tree carbon accumulation during the dry season. Instead, lianas compete significantly with trees during both seasons, indicating a large negative effect of lianas on forest‐level tree biomass increment regardless of seasonal water stress. Longer dry seasons are unlikely to impact liana‐tree competition directly; however, the greater liana biomass increment during dry seasons may lead to further proliferation of liana biomass in tropical forests, with consequences for their ability to store and sequester carbon.
Many studies identify fungal and oomycete phytopathogens as natural enemies capable of influencing plant species composition and promoting diversity in plant communities. However, little is known about how plant‐pathogen interactions vary along regional abiotic gradients or with tree species characteristics, which limits our understanding of the causes of variation in tree species richness.
We surveyed 10,756 seedlings from 272 tree species for disease symptoms along a mean annual precipitation gradient in the tropical wet forests of Central Panama for 3 months in the early wet season (June–August) and 2 months in the following dry season (March–April). Over 99% of observed disease symptoms were caused by necrotrophic foliar pathogens, while less than 1% of symptoms were attributed to soilborne pathogens. Foliar disease incidence was inversely related to mean annual precipitation, a pattern which may be due to greater disease susceptibility among dry forest species.
Foliar disease incidence increased with conspecific seedling density but did not respond to the proximity of conspecific adults. Although foliar disease incidence decreased as mean annual precipitation increased, the strength of conspecific density‐ or distance‐dependence was independent of the precipitation gradient.
Seedlings of common tree species and species dispersed by non‐flying mammals had a higher risk of foliar pathogen incidence. Increased disease in common species may help reduce their dominance.
Synthesis. The increases in foliar pathogen incidence with conspecific seedling density, species abundance, and dispersal mechanism indicate that foliar disease incidence is non‐random and may contribute to the regulation of tropical plant communities and species coexistence. Furthermore, the relationships between foliar disease incidence, dispersal mechanism and precipitation suggest plant‐pathogen interactions could shift as a response to climate change and disruption of the disperser community.
Despite their low contribution to forest carbon stocks, lianas (woody vines) play an important role in the carbon dynamics of tropical forests. As structural parasites, they hinder tree survival, growth and fecundity; hence, they negatively impact net ecosystem productivity and long‐term carbon sequestration.
Competition (for water and light) drives various forest processes and depends on the local abundance of resources over time. However, evaluating the relative role of resource availability on the interactions between lianas and trees from empirical observations is particularly challenging. Previous approaches have used labour‐intensive and ecosystem‐scale manipulation experiments, which are infeasible in most situations.
We propose to circumvent this challenge by evaluating the uncertainty of water and light capture processes of a process‐based vegetation model (ED2) including the liana growth form. We further developed the liana plant functional type in ED2 to mechanistically simulate water uptake and transport from roots to leaves, and start the model from prescribed initial conditions. We then used the PEcAn bioinformatics platform to constrain liana parameters and run uncertainty analyses.
Baseline runs successfully reproduced ecosystem gas exchange fluxes (gross primary productivity and latent heat) and forest structural features (leaf area index, aboveground biomass) in two sites (Barro Colorado Island, Panama and Paracou, French Guiana) characterized by different rainfall regimes and levels of liana abundance.
Model uncertainty analyses revealed that water limitation was the factor driving the competition between trees and lianas at the drier site (BCI), and during the relatively short dry season of the wetter site (Paracou). In young patches, light competition dominated in Paracou but alternated with water competition between the wet and the dry season on BCI according to the model simulations.
The modelling workflow also identified key liana traits (photosynthetic quantum efficiency, stomatal regulation parameters, allometric relationships) and processes (water use, respiration, climbing) driving the model uncertainty. They should be considered as priorities for future data acquisition and model development to improve predictions of the carbon dynamics of liana‐infested forests.
Synthesis. Competition for water plays a larger role in the interaction between lianas and trees than previously hypothesized, as demonstrated by simulations from a process‐based vegetation model.
Yavitt, Joseph B. (Ed.)Conspecific negative density dependence (CNDD) promotes tree species diversity by reducing recruitment near conspecific adults due to biotic feedbacks from herbivores, pathogens, or competitors. While this process is well-described in tropical forests, tests of temperate tree species range from strong positive to strong negative density dependence. To explain this, several studies have suggested that tree species traits may help predict the strength and direction of density dependence: for example, ectomycorrhizal-associated tree species typically exhibit either positive or weaker negative conspecific density dependence. More generally, the strength of density dependence may be predictably related to other species-specific ecological attributes such as shade tolerance, or the relative local abundance of a species. To test the strength of density dependence and whether it affects seedling community diversity in a temperate forest, we tracked the survival of seedlings of three ectomycorrhizal-associated species experimentally planted beneath conspecific and heterospecific adults on the Prospect Hill tract of the Harvard Forest, in Massachusetts, USA. Experimental seedling survival was always lower under conspecific adults, which increased seedling community diversity in one of six treatments. We compared these results to evidence of CNDD from observed sapling survival patterns of 28 species over approximately 8 years in an adjacent 35-ha forest plot. We tested whether species-specific estimates of CNDD were associated with mycorrhizal association, shade tolerance, and local abundance. We found evidence of significant, negative conspecific density dependence (CNDD) in 23 of 28 species, and positive conspecific density dependence in two species. Contrary to our expectations, ectomycorrhizal-associated species generally exhibited stronger (e.g., more negative) CNDD than arbuscular mycorrhizal-associated species. CNDD was also stronger in more shade-tolerant species but was not associated with local abundance. Conspecific adult trees often have a negative influence on seedling survival in temperate forests, particularly for tree species with certain traits. Here we found strong experimental and observational evidence that ectomycorrhizal-associating species consistently exhibit CNDD. Moreover, similarities in the relative strength of density dependence from experiments and observations of sapling mortality suggest a mechanistic link between negative effects of conspecific adults on seedling and sapling survival and local tree species distributions.more » « less