Lianas suppress tree regeneration and diversity in treefall gaps

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Ecology letters


Abstract: Treefall gaps are hypothesized to maintain diversity by creating resource-rich, heterogeneous habitats necessary for species coexistence. This hypothesis, however, is not supported empirically for shade-tolerant trees, the dominant plant group in tropical forests. The failure of gaps to maintain shade-tolerant trees remains puzzling, and the hypothesis implicated to date is dispersal limitation. In central Panama, we tested an alternative “biotic interference” hypothesis: that competition between growth-forms (lianas versus trees) constrains shade-tolerant tree recruitment, survival, and diversity in gaps. We experimentally removed lianas from eight gaps and monitored them for eight years, while also monitoring nine un-manipulated control gaps. Removing lianas increased tree growth, recruitment, and richness by 55% 46%, and 65%, respectively. Lianas were particularly harmful to shade-tolerant species, but not pioneers. Our findings demonstrate that competition between plant growth-forms constrains diversity in a species-rich tropical forest. Because lianas are abundant in many tropical systems, our findings may apply broadly.

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