News / Americas

Vines Overwhelming Trees in Rain Forests

Multimedia

TEXT SIZE - +
Zulima Palacio

Tropical rain forests in the American Hemisphere and other regions of the world are changing rapidly.  Studies conducted over recent decades indicate that increasingly, most of the trees in South and Central American rain forests must compete for light and nutrients with "lianas" or woody vines.  Studies also show that lianas are growing so abundant as a result of climate change and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that they are overwhelming their host trees, and in some cases, killing them.

Deep in the tropical forest of Panama, on the island known as Barro Colorado, scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute have been studying the flora and fauna for nearly 100 years.

Stefan Schnitzer is one of those scientists. He studies "lianas" or woody vines, structural parasites that require trees for support.  He found out that vines growing on tree crowns have more than doubled over the last four decades.

"What we found is that probably about 80 percent of the trees that are around us now have some competition with vines," Schnitzer noted.  "Vines are affecting nearly all of the trees. So most of their growth rate is being reduced because of vines."

Not only growth.  Lianas compete for nutrients in the soil, deprive trees of light, and can choke and kill them.

"You can call them natural born killers," Schnitzer added.  "What's very interesting about these lianas is they climb up a tree, that tree falls, the liana falls with it, but the tree dies and the liana stays alive."  

Schnitzer estimates that some lianas are hundreds of years old, cover dozens of trees at one time and stretch for nearly a kilometer over tree tops.  

Although some lianas produce fruits and habitat for animals, they are devastating for most trees.  One liana we found had more than 10 different rooting points within a few square meters.

"This is an enormous liana and it's rooted right there next to the tree; it's competing for all sorts of resources," Schnitzer explained.  "And then, to add insult to injury, it's sending this giant stem up into the canopy where is competing for light as well."  

Schnitzer says he believes lianas are growing faster because of drought and warmer temperatures. He says these woody vines prevent trees from growing and capturing carbon dioxide.  

In another clearing we saw, there were no trees, the vines had completely taken over.

"What you get is tree gaps that never recover or take them 20-30 years to recover back to full canopy, because there are so many lianas preventing trees from growing," Schnitzer said.

Schnitzer and his team are also working on the nearby peninsula of Gigante in another protected area.  Here, hundreds of tree seedlings from 14 native species are ready to be planted.  

Schnitzer's team will plant these seedlings in 16 plots, half with lianas and half without them.

"We will measure mortality or survival every 2-3 months, and then we measure growth every 6 to 12 months. And after two or three years we'll know which tree species are going to regenerate better when lianas are present versus when lianas are absent," Schnitzer explained.

At the end of 20 years, Schnitzer says they will know how the tropical forest is changing and how to restore and conserve it.

"The forests are changing and moving in a direction that may result in more liana- dominated forest and forests dominated by trees that can tolerate lianas," Schnitzer said.

Why should we care? Because, Schnitzer says, tropical forests contain about one third of all global terrestrial carbon.  Without trees to capture that carbon dioxide, global climate change would be an even greater threat.

You May Like

Abuja Blast Impacts Lives, Livelihoods

Officials say they are looking at ways to help bombing victims and boosting security More

Cambodia Technology Adviser Criticizes Cybercrime Draft Law

Phu Leewood says current criminal code can be used to prosecute offenders and that there is no need for a separate law More

Photogallery A Year Later, Boston Remembers Deadly Marathon Bombings

City pauses to honor victims and salute emergency workers who came to their assistance in frantic moments after blasts More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid

More Americas News

As Fires Die Down, Chileans Return to Ravaged Valparaiso

Many of victims in the city, part gritty port and part colorful retreat, were poor people in houses perched high on the city's remote hills
More

Kidnapped Venezuelan Journalist Freed

Globovision television journalist Nairobi Pinto was freed in city of Cua, 8 days after being kidnapped near her home in Caracas
More

Canada Taxpayer Data Stolen in Heartbleed Breach

Private information of about 900 people stolen from nation's computer systems as result of vulnerabilities
More

Photogallery At Least 12 Killed in Chile Fire

President declares state of emergency as firefighters battle blaze in port city of Valparaiso
More

36 Killed in Fiery Mexico Bus Crash

Four people reportedly injured in fire which erupted after the vehicle crashed into a broken down truck
More

Huge Fire Burns in Chile's Historic Port City

Firefighters struggle to contain blaze in Valparaiso, which so far has killed 16 people and destroyed 500 homes
More