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Young successional tropical forests are crucial in the global carbon cycle because they can quickly sequester large quantities of atmospheric carbon. However, lianas (woody vines) can significantly decrease biomass accumulation in young regenerating forests. Lianas are abundant in tropical dry forests, and thus we hypothesized that lianas reduce biomass accretion in dry forests. Lianas may be particularly detrimental to the growth of young trees, which are vulnerable to competition from lianas. Alternatively, lianas may have a stronger negative effect on the largest trees because lianas seek the high-light environment at the top of the forest canopy. We tested these hypotheses using a liana-removal experiment in 13 dry forest stands that ranged from 1 to 70 years in southwestern Panama. We measured biomass accumulation annually for more than 10,000 stems from 2013 to 2017. Contrary to our expectations, liana removal had no effect on tree biomass accumulation across our successional forests and throughout our study period. Liana removal did not benefit smaller trees or larger trees. Lianas did not increase biomass accumulation on recruits, and did not increase biomass loss due to mortality. Surprisingly, removing lianas had a negative effect on three out of 41 tree species. Lianas had no effect on biomass accumulation and loss, possibly because: (1) trees allocated resources to roots instead of stems, (2) trees and lianas partitioned water, (3) higher irradiance after liana removal reduced soil moisture, or (4) low water availability might have been such a strong stressor that it reduced plant–plant competition.


Accepted version. Oecologia, Vol. 195, No. 4 (April 2021): 1019-1029. DOI. © 2021 Springer. Used with permission.

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