Effects of lianas and Hurricane Wilma on tree damage in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

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Journal of Tropical Ecology


Climate change may increase the intensity of hurricanes (Emanuel 1987, 2003), and thus the size of disturbance in tropical forests. As a consequence, disturbance-specialist plants, such as lianas, may increase in abundance there (Phillips & Gentry 1994). Putz (1984) hypothesized that lianas create larger treefall gaps by connecting trees together and pulling down multiple trees during storms. This positive-feedback cycle may increase the prevalence of lianas in disturbed tropical forests (Schnitzer & Bongers 2002, Schnitzer & Carson 2001). Alternatively, Putz (1984) proposed that lianas tie and stabilize canopies together, resulting in less disturbance. Forest age may determine the role of lianas during disturbance because liana abundance and composition vary through secondary succession (De Walt et al. 2000, Schnitzer et al. 2000). To test the two hypotheses of Putz (1984), we evaluated the effect of liana cutting between forests of different successional ages on tree damage by hurricane Wilma.