Lianas in Forest Ecosystems

Authored by: Stefan A. Schnitzer

Routledge Handbook of Forest Ecology

Print publication date:  October  2015
Online publication date:  October  2015

Print ISBN: 9780415735452
eBook ISBN: 9781315818290
Adobe ISBN: 9781317816447


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Lianas are found in forests worldwide where they can have a wide range of effects on community and ecosystem dynamics and functioning. Lianas are woody climbing plants that remain rooted in the ground throughout their lifetime (as opposed to hemi-epiphytes and many epiphytes) and take advantage of the architecture of other plants, typically trees, to ascend to the top of the forest canopy (Schnitzer and Bongers 2002). The characteristics of lianas are readily identifiable; they have specialized organs for climbing (e.g., tendrils, hooks, twining, adhesive roots), thin stems relative to the trees that they climb, and often a large number of leaves that convert sunlight into carbohydrates (Schnitzer and Bongers 2002). Lianas are a polyphyletic group with nearly 40 percent of the dicot plant families having at least one climbing species (including herbaceous climbers), and more than 75 percent of all dicot orders containing at least one climbing species (Gianoli 2015). Lianas are particularly abundant in forests, especially in the lowland tropics (Figure 13.1), where they can commonly comprise more than one-third of the woody species (lianas, shrubs, and trees; e.g., Schnitzer et al. 2012, Thomas et al. 2015).

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