1. Lianas are prevalent in Neotropical forests, where liana-tree competition can be intense, resulting in reduced tree growth and survival. The ability of lianas to grow relative to trees during the dry season suggests that liana-tree competition is also strongest in the dry season. If correct, the predicted intensification of the drying trend over large areas of the tropics in the future may therefore intensify liana-tree competition, resulting in a reduced carbon sink function of tropical forests. However, no study has established whether the liana effect on tree carbon accumulation is indeed stronger in the dry than in the wet season.
2. Using six years of data from a large-scale liana removal experiment in Panama, we provide the first experimental test of whether liana effects on tree carbon accumulation differ between seasons. We monitored tree and liana diameter increments at the beginning of the dry and wet season each year to assess seasonal differences in forest-level carbon accumulation between removal and control plots.
3. We found that median liana carbon accumulation was consistently higher in the dry (0.52 Mg C ha-1 yr-1) than the wet season (0.36 Mg C ha-1 yr-1), and significantly so in three of the years. Lianas reduced forest-level median tree carbon accumulation more severely in the wet (1.45 Mg C ha-1 yr-1) than the dry (1.05 Mg C ha-1 yr-1) season in all years. However, the relative effect of lianas was similar between the seasons, with lianas reducing forest-level tree carbon accumulation by 46.9% in the dry and 48.5% in the wet season.
4. Synthesis: Our results provide the first experimental demonstration that lianas do not have a stronger competitive effect on tree carbon accumulation during the dry season. Instead, lianas compete significantly with trees during both seasons, indicating a large negative effect of lianas on forest-level tree biomass increment regardless of seasonal water stress. Longer dry seasons are unlikely to impact liana-tree competition directly; however, the greater liana biomass increment during dry seasons may lead to further proliferation of liana biomass in tropical forests, with consequences for their ability to store and sequester carbon.
van der Heijden, G. M., Powers, J. S., & Schnitzer, S. A. (2019). Effect of lianas on forest-level tree carbon accumulation does not differ between seasons: Results from a liana removal experiment in Panama. Journal of Ecology, 107(4), 1890-1900. https://doi.org/10.1111/1365-2745.13155