Lianas are woody vines that climb other plants to ascend forest canopies. The non-self-supporting life form of lianas has been considered as an evolutionary adaptation driven by competition for light and allows lianas to invest more in transportation and photosynthetic organs, principally leaves. They are a principal physiognomic component of tropical and subtropical forests.
Although the importance of lianas in forests has been widely accepted, the possibility that trees might benefit from the presence of lianas has been overlooked. By reviewing published research, Dr. TANG Yong of Xishuangbanna Tropical Botanical Garden (XTBG) and his colleagues demonstrated that lianas may play important roles in nutrient dynamics by producing a large amount of nutritious and easily decomposed leaf litter and can benefit their host trees via nutrient transportation.
Lianas produce a larger quantity of leaves than trees, and their leaves are structurally and nutritionally different from those of trees. These differences have profound impacts on the litter decomposition process in rainforests. Lianas contribute not only nutrient- rich and easily-decomposed leaf litter, but are also able to relocate nutrients within the rainforest.
The researchers hypothesized that lianas are key elements in maintaining the productivity in highly dynamics rainforests. Lack of understanding of the roles that lianas play in rainforest dynamics may lead to inappropriate practices in rainforest conservation and management. The researchers thus proposed that a comprehensive reevaluation of the interaction of lianas and trees is necessary. The proposed new liana-tree association needs to be tested by further investigation and long-term studies.
The study entitled “Lianas as structural parasites: A re-evaluation” has been published online in Chinese Science Bulletin, doi: 10.1007/s11434-011-4690-x