Tropical forests are taking longer than expected to recover from felling and other forms of deforestation. The temporary removal of lianas, or woody climbing vines, in selected areas could help tropical forests grow back, advocated scientists from the University of York and Flamingo Land zoo.
The research team revealed for the first time outside of commercial forestry or plantation studies, how lianas are preventing the growth of trees in an African forest. This observation was not a huge surprise based on previous work elsewhere in the tropics and its established use in forestry.
‘The temporary removal of lianas, or woody climbing vines, in selected areas could help tropical forests grow back.’
However, the scientists also reviewed previous scattered studies and have revealed that the impact on tree growth rates is approximately equivalent across the tropics, on average nearly halving the rate of growth. More sparse data even suggests a net seven-fold decrease in the overall rate of biomass accumulation (accounting for tree mortality and the growth of new trees).
"The implications for the global carbon sink are profound," said Dr Andrew Marshall adding, "No-one has until now compiled data from all over the world to see what the general trend is. What this study suggests is a trend; that lianas are impacting on the tropics but not just in selected sites."
However, Marshall said that the lianas also help to promote biodiversity and help sustain an abundance of plants and animals creating "bridges" across the trees, food for monkeys and other animals, and generally adding to the overall function of forests. He noted, "Lianas are an important part of the ecology. If we temporarily cut them back the trees start growing more, with new trees sprouting and less mortality, resulting in more and more biomass in the forest," adding, "We don't have enough data yet to know which species respond well to clearing out lianas, that is the next stage in the research."
The study is published in the African Journal of Ecology.