Vine infestations reduce forests’ carbon storage

Vines that choke tropical trees have cut some forests’ carbon storage by more than half, according to a study in Biology Letters.

Lianas are parasitic woody vines that prey on trees. In infested forests, trees don’t grow as big and are more likely to die. As tropical forests become fragmented, lianas have flourished and can account for about a quarter of the woody plants.

The researchers studied 145 tropical forests around the world and found that big trees held most of the forests’ carbon. But the more common lianas were, the less carbon those trees stored. Heavily-infested forests had less than 50 percent as much carbon as forests without many lianas.

The vines appear to reduce carbon storage by making the trees skinnier, the team says. The lianas’ profusion of leaves allows them “to aggressively compete with trees by deploying leaves on the canopy and covering tree crowns,” the authors note.  Roberta Kwok | 18 June 2013

Source: Duran, S.M. and E. Gianoli. 2013. Carbon stocks in tropical forests decrease with liana density. Biology Letters doi: 10.1038/rsbl.2013.0301.

Image © Jukree Boonprasit | Shutterstock.com

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