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Ecological Society of America

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Over the past two decades, liana density and basal area have been increasing in many tropical forests, which has profound consequences for forest diversity and functioning. One hypothesis to explain increasing lianas is elevated nutrient deposition in tropical forests resulting from fossil fuels, agricultural fertilizer, and biomass burning. We tested this hypothesis by surveying all lianas ≥1 cm in diameter (n = 3,967) in 32 plots in a fully factorial nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) addition experiment in a mature tropical forest in central Panama. We conducted the nutrient-addition experiment from 1998 until present and we first censused lianas in 2013 and then again in 2018. After 20 yr of nutrient addition (1998–2018), liana density, basal area, and rarefied species richness did not differ significantly among any of the nutrient-addition and control treatments. Moreover, nutrient addition in the most recent 5 yr of the experiment did not affect liana relative growth, recruitment, or mortality rates. From 2013 until 2018, liana density, basal area, and species richness increased annually by 1.6%, 1.4%, and 2.4%, respectively. Nutrient addition did not influence these increases. Our findings indicate that nutrient deposition does not explain increasing lianas in this tropical forest. Instead, increases in tree mortality and disturbance, atmospheric carbon dioxide, drought frequency and severity, and hunting pressure may be more likely explanations for the increase in lianas in tropical forests.


Published version. Ecology, Vol. 101, No. 12 (December 2020): e03190. DOI. © 2020 Ecological Society of America. Used with permission.

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