Woody Infestation

Elongated fingers creep
from forest floors,
searching for support
to climb
and sheave
and choke;
structural parasites
that crisscross
the canopies
in concurrent plans
of stifling ease.
Carried between crowns,
these sylvan squatters
the smallest of trees,
stunting growth
and space
and breath.

A photo taken above the treetops showing sunset in Danum Valley in Malaysia during study (Image Credit: Dr Catherine Waite; University of Nottingham).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that lianas are more likely to infest smaller trees in Southeast Asian forests.

Lianas (also known as vines, climbing plants, or climbers) are plants with long, flexible, climbing stems that are rooted in the ground, and that usually have long dangling branches. To climb, they have developed a wide range of strategies to affix themselves to the supporting structures. Lianas are commonly found in rainforests, where they compete intensely with trees for light, nutrients, and water and previous research has found that this can slow tree growth, and even kill trees. As a result, lianas can dramatically reduce carbon uptake and storage in tropical forests, thereby having a potentially significant impact on climate change. Such research has also focussed mostly on Neotropical forests (i.e. those located in Central America, the Caribbean, and South America), where taller trees have been found to be more often and more heavily infested by lianas than shorter trees.

In this new study, researchers have instead looked at forests in Southeast Asia, forests that tend to be home to much larger trees, with significantly higher aboveground biomass than Neotropical forests. By focussing on the Danum Valley in Malaysia and using ground surveys, combined with a drone and laser scanner to create a 3D model of the area, the researchers found that taller trees in this forest were less often and less heavily infested by lianas than shorter trees, which is opposite to the well-established Neotropical finding. This research thereby highlights the need for additional studies in other regions to clarify potential differences in the behaviour of lianas, enabling us to better understand their impacts on tropical forest ecology, carbon storage, and sequestration.

Leave a Comment