Lianas play a crucial role in tropical forests carbon dynamics, according to a pioneering study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Lianas, also known as woody vines or vines are part and parcel of tropical forests. While they offer a host of perks to the ecosystem, they are detrimental to the carbon storage capacity of these forests. However, while it is known that lianas hamper tree growth and often hurry their death, there have been no studies on how the woody vines impact carbon storage, thus acting as a climate change enhancing factor.
The study was conducted over a three-year timeframe in the Barro Colorado Nature Monument. Here, some forested areas have been cleared of lianas, while other areas have been observed with the presence of lianas.
Tropical forests are a great carbon sink, accounting to 40 percent of the global terrestrial carbon storage capacity. Overall, they are estimated to capture and store 30 percent of the global terrestrial carbon. By hampering tree growth, lianas play a crucial role in tropical forests carbon dynamics. More specifically, they reduce tropical forests carbon uptake capacity and significantly impact carbon storage.
Over the three-year timeframe, the scientific team has found substantial differences between the forests from which the woody vines were removed and the rest. Where lianas were left undisturbed, the biomass accumulated was 76 percent less yearly than in the areas where the lianas were removed. Moreover, these areas stored carbon mostly in the leaves. This type of storage is rather unstable, as carbon is released in the atmosphere quicker than carbon stored in the stem.
In areas where liana presence was abundant, 53.2 percent of the carbon was stored in the leaves. The other areas had a 39.2 percent storage in the leaves. As for the woody stems, the percentages were found to be 28.9 in the liana-rich areas, and 43.9 where the woody vines were removed.
As such, lianas were found to reduce net carbon uptake above ground also by approximately 76 percent annually. When carbon release due to liana-induced mortality was taken into account, the research team found that it was for times as high as that in areas where the climbing plants had been removed.
The pioneering study on the carbon cycle in tropical forests and the impact lianas play in the carbon dynamics of the largest global terrestrial carbon sink.
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