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John Wiley & Sons

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New Phytologist

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Lianas constitute a diverse polyphyletic plant group that is advancing our understanding of ecological theory. Specifically, lianas are providing new insights into the mechanisms that control plant distribution and diversity maintenance. For example, there is now evidence that a single, scalable mechanism may explain local, regional, and pan‐tropical distribution of lianas, as well as the maintenance of liana species diversity. The ability to outcompete trees under dry, stressful conditions in seasonal forests provides lianas a growth advantage that, over time, results in relatively high abundance in seasonal forests and low abundance in aseasonal forests. Lianas may also gain a similar growth advantage following disturbance, thus explaining why liana density and diversity peak following disturbance at the local, forest scale. The study of ecology, however, is more than the effect of the environment on organisms; it also includes the effects of organisms on the environment. Considerable empirical evidence now indicates that lianas substantially alter their environment by consuming resources, suppressing tree performance, and influencing emergent properties of forests, such as ecosystem functioning, plant and animal diversity, and community composition. These recent studies using lianas are transcending classical tropical ecology research and are now providing novel insights into fundamental ecological theory.


Accepted version. New Phytologist, Vol. 220, No. 2 (October 2018): 366-380. DOI. © 2018 John Wiley & Sons. Used with permission.

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