Lianas may be favoured by low rainfall: evidence from Ghana


M Swaine
J Grace

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Plant Ecology


We review the evidence in support of the hypotheses that (i) lianas are now increasing in tropical forests and (ii) lianas are more abundant in the drier tropical forests. There is good evidence to support both hypotheses, including a new analysis of data from Ghana. In this dataset, there is a linear increase in the percentage of species that are lianas, from 30% at a mean annual rainfall of 2,000 mm year‚à í1 to 43% at a mean annual rainfall of 1,000 mm year‚à í1. Both trends in lianas, one temporal, the other spatial, may be related to water availability, though parallel changes in canopy density (disturbance) may be contributory. It is also clear that most liana species in West Africa show restricted distribution along the rainfall gradient implying adaptation to different water availability. The reasons for the high sensitivity to rainfall may be that lianas have an especially effective water-transport system, with deep roots, large xylem vessels and a mechanism to avoid cavitation of water. As the climate of much of the tropics is becoming drier, we may expect increases in both liana abundance and their proportion in the flora over the future decades.