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Making (remote) sense of lianas

van der Heijden, Geertje M.F.; Proctor, Ashley D.C.; Calders, Kim; Chandler, Christopher; Field, Richard; Foody, Giles M.; Krishna Moorthy, Sruthi M.; Schnitzer, Stefan; Waite, Catherine; Boyd, Doreen S.

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Ashley D.C. Proctor

Kim Calders

Christopher Chandler

Professor of Geographical Information

Sruthi M. Krishna Moorthy

Stefan Schnitzer

Catherine Waite

Professor of Earth Observation


Lianas (woody vines) are abundant and diverse, particularly in tropical ecosystems. Lianas use trees for structural support to reach the forest canopy, often putting leaves above their host tree. Thus they are major parts of many forest canopies. Yet, relatively little is known about distributions of lianas in tropical forest canopies, because studying those canopies is challenging. This knowledge gap is urgent to address because lianas compete strongly with trees, reduce forest carbon uptake and are thought to be increasing, at least in the Neotropics. Lianas can be difficult to study using traditional field methods. Their pliable stems often twist and loop through the understorey, making it difficult to assess their structure and biomass, and the sizes and locations of their crowns. Furthermore, liana stems are commonly omitted from standard field surveys. Remote sensing of lianas can help overcome some of these obstacles and can provide critical insights into liana ecology, but to date there has been no systematic assessment of that contribution. We review progress in studying liana ecology using ground-based, airborne and space-borne remote sensing in four key areas: (i) spatial and temporal distributions, (ii) structure and biomass, (iii) responses to environmental conditions and (iv) diversity. This demonstrates the great potential of remote sensing for rapid advances in our knowledge and understanding of liana ecology. We then look ahead, to the possibilities offered by new and future advances. We specifically consider the data requirements, the role of technological advances and the types of methods and experimental designs that should be prioritised. Synthesis. The particular characteristics of the liana growth form make lianas difficult to study by ground-based field methods. However, remote sensing is well suited to collecting data on lianas. Our review shows that remote sensing is an emerging tool for the study of lianas, and will continue to improve with recent developments in sensor and platform technology. It is surprising, therefore, how little liana ecology research has utilised remote sensing to date—this should rapidly change if urgent knowledge gaps are to be addressed. In short, liana ecology needs remote sensing.


van der Heijden, G. M., Proctor, A. D., Calders, K., Chandler, C., Field, R., Foody, G. M., …Boyd, D. S. (2022). Making (remote) sense of lianas. Journal of Ecology, 110(3), 498-513.

Journal Article Type Review
Acceptance Date Jan 10, 2022
Online Publication Date Jan 22, 2022
Publication Date Mar 1, 2022
Deposit Date Jan 10, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jan 23, 2023
Journal Journal of Ecology
Print ISSN 0022-0477
Electronic ISSN 1365-2745
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 110
Issue 3
Pages 498-513
Keywords Plant Science; Ecology; Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Public URL
Publisher URL


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