Woody vines are strangling carbon storage in tropical trees, which could cause a huge impact on our planet’s ability to naturally fight against global warming.
- Lianas grow around 25% of species in lowland tropical forests
- Researchers studied 16 different forest plots in Panama, half with vines and half without
- The vines decrease the intake of carbon above ground by 75%, and discourage tree growth
- In long term effects, lianas can dampen the ability of tropical trees to store carbon by 35%
Earth’s expansive oceans create the most efficient system at storing carbon, and preventing it from rising up into our atmosphere where it would linger and increase worldwide temperatures. Our second best champion, however, is the system created by forests near the waters, meaning tropical forests.
Through photosynthesis, this collective of forests essentially fixes a third of the harmful carbon emissions that could increase global warming. However, this highly important contributor is reportedly being throttled by wooden vines (or lianas) that naturally grow up the tropical trees. They virtually dampen growth, add to the scattered ground leaves, and may cause premature death for their hosts.
Lianas require trees for support, slowly growing up their length to the sunlight summits. They develop around 25% of the species in lowland tropical forests.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research monitored the growth of trees among sixteen different plots at the Barro Colorado Nature Monument, in Panama. Half of them were covered by wooden vines, while the rest were free of liana growth. For three years, their progress was observed, along with their efficiency in accumulating biomass or storing carbon.
For one, lianas were found to stunt the tree growth and decrease net biomass accumulations. This causes both premature tree death and the intake of carbon above the ground to decrease by a whopping 75%. They constrict nature’s ability to store it, and thus decelerates the crucial capabilities of tropical forests to help us battle global warming.
This is largely due to the fact that it affects both the amount of fallen leaves and the productivity of wooden stems. The speed at which carbon is released varies greatly between the two due to the duration of their lifespan. For example, leaves rot much quicker than wood, so the carbon is discharged much earlier.
In sites with tropical trees that were free of the vines, leaves were 16% less productive and woody stems were 65% more efficient. Meaning that those unhindered by lianas were permitted to grow more wood to better store the carbon.
According to lead author of the study and professor of biology, Stefan Schnitzer, while lianas contribute very little to the accumulation of biomass, they have a huge impact on the tree’s ability to hold in the carbon, which further affects global warming. In fact, it was found that the long-lasting effect could see to a 35% decrease in efficiency.
However, Schnitzer made sure to mention that they also play an important role for local fauna. Lianas are often used as a means of transportation among arboreal animals, so the study should be considered carefully. They are a detriment to carbon storage, but they are highly significant for many creatures among the tropical forests.
Image source: pinstopin.com