Ecology and Evolution
The effects of lightning on trees range from catastrophic death to the absence of observable damage. Such differences may be predictable among tree species, and more generally among plant life history strategies and growth forms. We used field‐collected electrical resistivity data in temperate and tropical forests to model how the distribution of power from a lightning discharge varies with tree size and identity, and with the presence of lianas. Estimated heating density (heat generated per volume of tree tissue) and maximum power (maximum rate of heating) from a standardized lightning discharge differed 300% among tree species. Tree size and morphology also were important; the heating density of a hypothetical 10 m tall Alseis blackiana was 49 times greater than for a 30 m tall conspecific, and 127 times greater than for a 30 m tall Dipteryx panamensis. Lianas may protect trees from lightning by conducting electric current; estimated heating and maximum power were reduced by 60% (±7.1%) for trees with one liana and by 87% (±4.0%) for trees with three lianas. This study provides the first quantitative mechanism describing how differences among trees can influence lightning–tree interactions, and how lianas can serve as natural lightning rods for trees.