Lianas reduce carbon accumulation and storage in tropical forests

Geertje M.F. Van Der Heijden, Jennifer S. Powers, Stefan A. Schnitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Scopus citations


Tropical forests store vast quantities of carbon, account for onethird of the carbon fixed by photosynthesis, and are a major sink in the global carbon cycle. Recent evidence suggests that competition between lianas (woody vines) and trees may reduce forest-wide carbon uptake; however, estimates of the impact of lianas on carbon dynamics of tropical forests are crucially lacking. Here we used a large-scale liana removal experiment and found that, at 3 y after liana removal, lianas reduced net above-ground carbon uptake (growth and recruitmentminus mortality) by ∼76%per year, mostly by reducing tree growth. The loss of carbon uptake due to lianainduced mortality was four times greater in the control plots in which lianas were present, but high variation among plots prevented a significant difference among the treatments. Lianas altered how aboveground carbon was stored. In forests where lianas were present, the partitioning of forest aboveground net primary production was dominated by leaves (53.2%, compared with 39.2% in liana-free forests) at the expense of woody stems (from 28.9%, compared with 43.9%), resulting in a more rapid return of fixed carbon to the atmosphere. After 3 y of experimental liana removal, our results clearly demonstrate large differences in carbon cycling between forests with and without lianas. Combined with the recently reported increases in liana abundance, these results indicate that lianas are an important and increasing agent of change in the carbon dynamics of tropical forests.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)13267-13271
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number43
StatePublished - Oct 27 2015

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2015 PNAS.


  • Carbon balance
  • Carbon sequestration
  • Carbon storage
  • Lianas
  • Tropical forests

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