Literature Review: Vines

by Carl Strang

Here’s a word for you: liana. It’s ecologist-speak for “vine.” Hey, why limit yourself to one syllable when you can use three? Still, I think it’s a beautiful word. This week I want to highlight a study of temperate zone lianas published last year (Ladwig, Laura M., and Scott J. Meiners. 2010. Spatiotemporal dynamics of lianas during 50 years of succession to temperate forest. Ecology 91:671-680).

Poison ivy is a vine, though it doesn’t always look like it. Sometimes it grows along the ground, sending up shoots that look like separate plants.

Ecologists associate lianas mainly with tropical forests, where they are an important component of the plant community. They climb the tree trunks and occupy a significant place in the canopy. Lots of species. Lots. So, it was refreshing to see a study of vines in the temperate zone, specifically, New Jersey.

These researchers looked at data from a long-established study area, asking how vines fared at different times as abandoned fields succeeded to mature forests. In addition to poison ivy, dominant vine species were Virginia creeper, grapes, and Japanese honeysuckle. The combined liana cover peaked mid-succession (20-30 years post-abandonment). At that point the area was in an herbaceous stage with the vines climbing scattered trees and shrubs or growing over the ground. As the trees grew, became dominant, and closed the canopy, the liana cover decreased but the number of vine plants continued to increase so that small suppressed individuals were well placed to take advantage of openings. At least, that was the strategy taken by most species.

Grapes were the exceptional lianas in this study.

Grapes were exceptional, increasing their coverage more as canopies closed. Living successfully up in the canopy, the grape tops made them late successional while the other 3 dominant species were early successional. Thus, grapes were the closest lianas to the classic tropical idea for this group.



  1. January 28, 2011 at 10:04 am

    […] Lianas […]

  2. Mary said,

    January 29, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I was also surprised to read of a study of lianas in temperate forests. (A liana is not just any old vine, it’s a woody vine, as opposed to an herbaceous vine. Tarzan’s swing was a liana.) I’m not very familiar with tropical liana literature, but the concept of forest succession in the tropics seems focused on “light gaps” created by fallen large trees. Tropical liana strategies therefore seem to be different from temperate liana strategies, as summarized in this article. Interesting.

    Nice find.

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