Background As proposed by Darwin, climbers have been assumed to allocate a smaller fraction of biomass to support organs in comparison with self-supporting plants. They have also been hypothesized to possess a set of traits associated with fast growth, resource uptake and high productivity. Scope In this review, these hypotheses are evaluated by assembling and synthesizing published and unpublished data sets from across the globe concerning resource allocation, growth rates and traits of leaves, stems and roots of climbers and self-supporting species. Conclusions The majority of studies offer little support for the smaller allocation of biomass to stems or greater relative growth rates in climbers; however, these results are based on small sized (,1 kg) plants. Simulations based on allometric biomass equations demonstrate, however, that larger lianas allocate a greater fraction of above-ground biomass to leaves (and therefore less biomass to stems) compared with similar sized trees. A survey of leaf traits of lianas revealed their lower average leaf mass per area (LMA), higher N and P concentration and a slightly higher mass-based photosynthetic rate, as well as a lower concentration of phenolic-based compounds than in woody self-supporting species, consistent with the specialization of lianas towards the fast metabolism/ rapid turnover end of the global trait spectra. Liana stems have an efficient hydraulic design and unique mechanical features, while roots appear to penetrate deeper soil levels than in trees and are often able to generate hydraulic pressure. Much remains to be learned, however, about these and other functional specializations of their axial organs and the associated trade-offs. Developmental switches between self-supporting, searcher and climbing shoots within the same individual are a promising field of comparative studies on trait association in lianas. Finally, some of the vast trait variability within lianas may be reduced when species with different climbing mechanisms are considered separately, and when phylogenetic conservatism is accounted for.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Science Center (Poland) grant 2011/03/B/NZ8/02190 to T.P.W. The authors thank M. Zadworny for pointing out references on roots and two anonymous reviewers for insightful and helpful comments.
- Ecological strategy.
- Growth forms
- Plant functional types