Vines choke a forest's ability to capture carbon, scientists report

27 May 2014

Tropical forests are a sometimes-underappreciated asset in the battle against climate change. They cover seven percent of land surface yet hold more than 30 percent of Earth's terrestrial carbon. As abandoned agricultural land in the tropics is taken over by forests, scientists expect these new forests to mop up industrial quantities of atmospheric carbon. New research by Smithsonian scientists shows increasingly abundant vines could hamper this potential and may even cause tropical forests to lose carbon.

In the first study to experimentally demonstrate that competition between plants can result in ecosystem-wide losses of forest carbon, scientists working in Panama showed that lianas, or woody vines, can reduce net forest biomass accumulation by nearly 20 percent. Researchers called this estimate "conservative" in findings published this month in Ecology.

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