Deanna Csomo McCool | December 4, 2019
Tropical forests absorb more carbon than any other system, and therefore help regulate the earth’s climate. Lianas — woody vines — that surround trees in these forests have been shown to slow rates of tree growth, but their role hasn’t been fully studied.
Tarzan may find lianas in the jungle useful, but David Medvigy, associate professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, intends to find out what they add or take away from these ecosystems.
“They’re an evolutionary success story,” Medvigy said. “They could have a competitive advantage, because they use trees for structural support and don’t have to invest a lot of their resources into building woody trunks.
“So lianas have traditionally been thought of as structural parasites.”
Medvigy is the lead researcher on a nearly $1 million, three-year experiment funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) that will study the role of lianas in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. To study the effect of the plants on tropical rainforests, the project has three different components.
For the observational component, a team from the University of Minnesota, led by Jennifer Powers, is excavating approximately 50 mature trees and 50 mature vines from a young, experimental forest to see what the roots and systems look like underground. They want to know the weight and structure of the roots – how far they extend laterally and how deep they are. This should help discern whether lianas are competing with the trees for water, Medvigy said.
Read more here.