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Conceptualising the Global Forest Response to Liana Proliferation

Article

Marshall, AR; Platts, PJ; Chazdon, RL; Seki, H; Campbell, MJ; Phillips, OL; Gereau, RE; Marchant, R; Liang, JL; Herbohn, J; Malhi, Y; Pfeifer, M

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2020

FRONTIERS IN FORESTS AND GLOBAL CHANGE

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Lianas are woody vines, rooted in the soil, and supported physically by trees. Lianas contribute to forest ecosystem functioning globally, but especially in the tropics and subtropics. However, prolific liana growth following heavy disturbance frequently affects subsequent recovery of forest tree diversity, biomass, structure, and function. Understanding this forest liana dynamic, and its sensitivity to climate and anthropogenic forces, is essential for worldwide forest restoration and climate change mitigation. Here, we synthesise the evidence for both positive and negative effects of lianas on forests and propose a framework that outlines the expected global response of forests to disturbance-induced liana proliferation. Emerging evidence suggests that lianas play a major role in both facilitating and delaying forest recovery following disturbance. At low levels of disturbance and/or where environmental conditions favour tree growth, lianas can facilitate forest recovery by protecting trees from extreme weather, fire, weed invasion and herbivory. However, under conditions where lianas proliferate beyond critical thresholds, positive feedbacks are expected to induce and sustain liana-dominated forest states that can endure for decades or even longer. We conceptualise alternative classes of forest recovery response to disturbance and describe measurement and modelling of liana thresholds. We identify four essential challenges for global change science relating to lianas: (1) incorporation of lianas and sapling stems into forest monitoring and tree stand measurements worldwide; (2) long-term experiments to determine variation in liana-tree competition, and potential drivers across forest successional gradients; (3) identification and prediction of liana thresholds and other alternative forest recovery response classes; and (4) dynamic mechanistic modelling of forest recovery to determine regional and global variation within and among different recovery response classes, in relation to variation in potential drivers, liana feedbacks and their interactions. Addressing these challenges will determine the importance of lianas in shaping regional and global forest composition, recovery and dynamics.

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