Colonization Strategies of Two Liana Species in a Tropical Dry Forest Canopy

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Lianas impose intense resource competition for light in the upper forest canopy by displaying dense foliage on top of tree crowns. Using repeated access with a construction crane, we studied the patterns of canopy colonization of the lianas Combretum fruticosum and Bonamia trichantha in a Neotropical dry forest in Panama. Combretum fruticosum flushed leaves just before the rainy season, and its standing leaf area quickly reached a peak in the early rainy season (May-June). In contrast, B. trichantha built up foliage area continuously throughout the rainy season and reached a peak in the late rainy season (November). Both species displayed the majority of leaves in full sun on the canopy surface, but C. fruticosum displayed a greater proportion of leaves (26%) in more shaded microsites than B. trichantha (12%). Self-shading within patches of liana leaves within the uppermost 40-50 cm of the canopy reduced light levels measured with photodiodes placed directly on leaves to 4-9 percent of light levels received by sun leaves. Many leaves of C. fruticosum acclimated to shade within a month following the strongly synchronized leaf flushing and persisted in deep shade. In contrast, B. trichantha produced short-lived leaves opportunistically in the sunniest locations. Species differences in degree of shade acclimation were also evident in terms of structural (leaf mass per area, and leaf toughness) and physiological characters (nitrogen content, leaf life span, and light compensation point). Contrasting leaf phenologies reflect differences in light exploitation and canopy colonization strategies of these two liana species.