Spatial and temporal patterns of gap dominance by low-canopy lianas detected using EO-1 Hyperion and Landsat Thematic Mapper

Jane R. Foster, Philip A. Townsend, Chris E. Zganjar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


Woody lianas are critical to tropical forest dynamics because of their strong influence on forest regeneration, disturbance ecology, and biodiversity. Recent studies synthesizing plot data from the tropics indicate that lianas are increasing in both abundance and importance in tropical forests. Moreover, lianas exhibit competitive advantages over trees in elevated CO2 environments and under strong seasonal droughts, suggesting that lianas may be poised to increase not only in abundance but also in spatial distribution in response to changing climate. We used a combination of high-resolution color-infrared videography and hyperspectral imagery from EO-1 Hyperion to map low-lying lianas in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park (NKMNP) in the Bolivian Amazon. Evergreen liana forests comprise as much as 14% of the NKMNP landscape, and low-stature liana patches occupy 1.5% of these forests. We used change vector analysis (CVA) of dry season Landsat TM and ETM+ imagery from 1986 and 2000 to determine changes in liana-dominated patches over time and to assess whether those patches were regenerating to canopy forest. The spatial distribution of liana patches showed that patches were spatially aggregated and were preferentially located in proximity to waterways. The CVA results showed that most of the dense liana patches increased in brightness and greenness and decreased in wetness over the 14 years of the change analysis, while non-liana forest patches changed less and in more random directions. Persistent liana patches increased in area by an average of 59% over the time period. In comparison, large burned areas appeared to recover completely to canopy forest in the same time period. This suggests that the dense liana patches of NKMNP represent an alternative successional pathway characterized not by tree regeneration but rather by a stalled state of low-canopy liana dominance. This research supports hypotheses that liana forests can be a persistent rather than transitional component of tropical forests, and may remain so due to competitive advantages that lianas enjoy under changing climatic conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2104-2117
Number of pages14
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 15 2008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was funded in part by NASA EO-1 Science Validation Team grant NCC5-493 and The Nature Conservancy. This research was conducted in part while J. R. Foster and P. A. Townsend were at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science — Appalachian Laboratory. Critical logistical support was provided by Gonzolo Peña, former Park Director of NKMNP, Servicio Nacional de Areas Protegidas (SERNAP), Fundacion Amigos de la Naturaleza (FAN), and Winrock International. Earl Saxon, Lupita Sanchez Torke, and Ben Torke participated in field work and pilot project planning and activities. Important base data, advice and guidance were provided by Tim Killeen and the Museo de Historia Natural Noel Kempff Mercado.


  • Bolivia
  • Canopy gaps
  • Change detection
  • Change vector analysis
  • EO-1 Hyperion
  • Hyperspectral
  • Landsat
  • Lianas
  • Noel Kempff Mercado National Park
  • Succession
  • Tropical forests, Forest dynamics
  • Woody vines


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