Lianas reduce community-level canopy tree reproduction in a Panamanian forest
Leon MM; Izquierdo LM; Mello F; Powers JS; Schnitzer SA
Journal of Ecology
1. Lianas are a key component of tropical forests where they compete intensely with trees reducing tree recruitment growth and survival. One of the most important potential outcomes of liana competition is the reduction of tree reproduction; however no previous study has experimentally determined the effects of lianas on tree reproduction beyond a single tree species.\r\n2. We used a large-scale liana removal experiment to quantify the effect of lianas on community-level canopy and understorey tree and palm reproduction. In 2011 we removed lianas from eight 6400-m2 plots (eight plots served as controls) and surveyed understorey tree reproduction in 2012 canopy tree and palm reproduction in 2013 and a second census of all plants in 2016.\r\n3. We found that lianas significantly reduced canopy tree community flowering and fruiting after liana removal. Two years after liana removal the number of canopy trees with fruits was 173% higher fruiting individuals had 50% more of their canopy covered by fruits and the number of tree species with fruits was 169% higher than in control plots where lianas were present. Five years after liana removal the number of canopy trees with fruits was 150% higher fruiting individuals had 31% more of their canopy covered by fruits and the number of tree species with fruits was 109% higher than in unmanipulated control plots.\r\n4. Liana removal had only a slight positive effect on palms and on understorey tree flower and fruit production even though understorey light levels had increased 20% following liana cutting.\r\n5. Synthesis. Our findings provide the first experimental demonstration that competition from lianas significantly reduces community-level canopy tree reproduction. Reduced reproduction increases canopy tree seed and dispersal limitations and may interfere with deterministic mechanisms thought to maintain tropical canopy tree species diversity as well as reduce food availability to many animal species. Because lianas are increasing in abundance in many neotropical forests the effects of lianas on tree reproduction will likely increase and if the effects of lianas on tree reproduction vary with tree species identity lianas ultimately could have a destabilizing effect on both tree and animal population dynamics.