February 21, 2011

Lianas Taking Over American Rainforests

An important change in the structure of American tropical forests has been identified by researchers.

The type of rainforest vine that might evoke images of Tarzan swinging from tree to tree, could have an adverse affect on jungle wildlife as it becomes more prolific.

Research data from eight different sites in the American tropics confirms that lianas wood vines are now more common, prompting theories that they are able to survive extreme weather conditions better than trees and possibly respond rapidly to CO2 levels in the atmosphere, growing more quickly. The growth rates were first noticed in the Amazon by Professor Phillips of Leeds University but have been confirmed by a recent US National Science Foundation funded project.

The problem is that while trees possess a lot of wood containing carbon, they take a long time to grow. Lianas, on the other hand, are much thinner plants which grow quickly, covering up the trees which they use to support themselves as they stretch upwards to the forest canopy.

If the structure of the forest starts to lose trees in favour of faster growing vines, this will have implications for long term business models relating to climate change mitigation schemes. In some places vines increased 60% faster than trees between 1992 and 2002.

Similar studies in Africa have not discovered changes in liana growth.


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