Large lianas as hyperdynamic elements of the tropical forest canopy

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Lianas (woody vines) are an important component of lowland tropical forests. We report large liana and tree inventory and dynamics data from Amazonia over periods of up to 24 years, making this the longest geographically extensive study of liana ecology to date. We use these results to address basic questions about the ecology of large lianas in mature forests and their interactions with trees. In one intensively studied site we find that large lianas (10 cm diameter) represent <5% of liana stems, but 80% of biomass of well-lit upper canopy lianas. Across sites, large lianas and large trees are both most successful in terms of structural importance in richer soil forests, but large liana success may be controlled more by the availability of large tree supports rather than directly by soil conditions. Long-term annual turnover rates of large lianas are 5–8%, three times those of trees. Lianas are implicated in large tree mortality: liana-infested large trees are three times more likely to die than liana-free large trees, and large lianas are involved in the death of at least 30% of tree basal area. Thus large lianas are a much more dynamic component of Amazon forests than are canopy trees, and they play a much more significant functional role than their structural contribution suggests.