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Ecology Letters

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Canopy disturbance explains liana abundance and distribution within tropical forests and thus may also explain the widespread pattern of increasing liana abundance; however, this hypothesis remains untested. We used a 10-year study (2007–2017) of 117,100 rooted lianas in an old-growth Panamanian forest to test whether local canopy disturbance explains increasing liana abundance. We found that liana density increased 29.2% and basal area 12.5%. The vast majority of these increases were associated with clonal stem proliferation following canopy disturbance, particularly in liana-dense, low-canopy gaps, which had far greater liana increases than did undisturbed forest. Lianas may be ecological niche constructors, arresting tree regeneration in gaps and thus creating a high-light environment that favours sustained liana proliferation. Our findings demonstrate that liana abundance is increasing rapidly and their ability to proliferate via copious clonal stem production in canopy gaps explains much of their increase in this and possibly other tropical forests.


Accepted version. Ecology Letters, Vol. 24, No. 12 (December 2021): 2635-2647. DOI. © 2021 Wiley. Used with permission.

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