Lianas suppress seedling growth and survival of 14 tree species in a Panamanian tropical forest

Laura Martínez-Izquierdo, María M. García, Jennifer S. Powers, Stefan A. Schnitzer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Lianas are a common plant growth form in tropical forests, where they compete intensely with trees, decreasing tree recruitment, growth, and survival. If the detrimental effects of lianas vary significantly with tree species identity, as is often assumed, then lianas may influence tree species diversity and community composition. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that liana abundance and biomass are increasing relative to trees in neotropical forests, which will likely magnify the detrimental effects of lianas and may ultimately alter tree species diversity, relative abundances, and community composition. Few studies, however, have tested the responses of multiple tree species to the presence of lianas in robust, well- replicated experiments. We tested the hypotheses that lianas reduce tree seedling growth and survival, and that the effect of lianas varies with tree species identity. We used a large- scale liana removal experiment in Central Panama in which we planted 14 replicate seedlings of 14 different tree species that varied in shade tolerance in each of 16 80 × 80 m plots (eight liana- removal and eight unmanipulated controls; 3136 total seedlings). Over a nearly two- yr period, we found that tree seedlings survived 75% more, grew 300% taller, and had twice the aboveground biomass in liana- removal plots than seedlings in control plots, consistent with strong competition between lianas and tree seedlings. There were no significant differences in the response of tree species to liana competition (i.e., there was no species by treatment interaction), indicating that lianas had a similar negative effect on all 14 tree species. Furthermore, the effect of lianas did not vary with tree species shade tolerance classification, suggesting that the liana effect was not solely based on light. Based on these findings, recently observed increases in liana abundance in neotropical forests will substantially reduce tree regeneration, but will not significantly alter tropical tree species diversity, relative abundance, or community composition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-224
Number of pages10
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 by the Ecological Society of America.


  • Barro Colorado Island
  • Community ecology
  • Gigante Peninsula
  • Liana cutting
  • Panama
  • Tropical plant competition


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