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Forests Getting Tangled Up in Vines

Forests Getting Tangled Up in Vines


Written by Keith Goetzman, Utne Reader’s senior editor

Beware the vine creep. That’s the name given to the widespread profusion of lianas—woody, tree-climbing vines—across the tropical forests of North, South, and Central America.

The phenomenon has previously been documented in the Amazon, but now ecologists have confirmed that vines are on the march in Panama, Brazil, and French Guiana, reports Conservation magazine.

“We are witnessing a fundamental structural change in the physical makeup of forests that will have a profound impact on the animals, human communities, and businesses that depend on them for their livelihoods,” Stefan Schnitzer of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Wisconsin tells Conservation.

The lianas, Schnitzer explains, don’t just climb their host tree: They compete with it, stealing its sunlight from above and its groundwater and nutrients from below. But researchers don’t know exactly why they’re thriving. Writes Smithsonian Science:

There is still no consensus as to why lianas are gaining the upper hand. They may survive seasonal droughts that are becoming more common as climate becomes more variable. They may recover more quickly from natural disturbances such as hurricanes and El Niño events and from human disturbances like logging, clearing land for agriculture and road building. Lianas respond quickly to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide—growing faster than associated tree species in several experiments.

This post was originally published by the Utne Reader and is republished with permission.

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Photo from D.Eickhoff via flickr creative commons

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11:21PM PDT on Apr 21, 2013

Could it be protective armor???

6:36PM PDT on Sep 3, 2011

A new source of fuel maybe? Or the Earth putting out a fast growing plant that can absorb carbon?
Can we feed Republicans to it?

7:42AM PDT on Aug 29, 2011


4:48AM PDT on Aug 29, 2011

Personally, I consider this an act preparation for protecting the current forest system from high winds and water; compare to building muscle principle.

2:03PM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

We are all constantly mutating - from pollution, and from natural changes which would occur, anyway. This lianas sound a lot like Kudzu - known as "the vine that ate the South." It was introduced to the U.S. in the 1800s to control erosion ( and it does exactly the same thing as this lianas appears to be doing. Perhaps people should be finding out if lianas has any redeeming qualities; Kudzu can be used for jellies and a variety of other things. Anything as hearty as these seem to be something we might need to rely upon one day in the future.

8:05AM PDT on Aug 27, 2011’s another fine mess we created...

1:35AM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

Thanks for the interesting article......!!!

12:00AM PDT on Aug 27, 2011

Are lianas native?

9:34PM PDT on Aug 26, 2011

Interesting, thank you.

8:54PM PDT on Aug 26, 2011

I think I remember reading that poison ivy benefited more than other more desirable plants from the up tick in C02. I suspect they are considering such factors.

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