Posted: 6/1/2020 | Print Friendly Version

Date: Monday, June 1

Contact: Missouri Botanical Garden Public Relations Dept.

Phone: (314) 577-0286 (media use only)

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For Immediate Release



Some species help forests, while others kill trees, showing the importance of species identification in conservation


Home to 80% of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity, forests are vital to life on Earth. But they are at risk. As the recent Australian wildfires and onset of the novel coronavirus show, helping forests recover is increasingly important as they face more threats from extreme weather events and human-related factors.

Recent research findings from fieldwork in Australia and Tanzania and a review of global research highlight the important role of species identification in that conservation work. The study, co-authored by Roy Gereau, assistant curator in the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Africa and Madagascar Department, looked at the ecological role of lianas, long-stemmed woody vines that climb in trees, especially in tropical rainforests.

Forests do not always recover from heavy disturbance, such as over-logging by humans or extensive damage by windstorms. To date, this has perplexed scientists across the world. The new study draws together previous research to see forests in a whole new light, with lianas at the heart. Where conditions allow, lianas control the entire process of forest recovery. Lianas can protect forests, but can also harm individual trees.

 “Knowing exactly which liana species are involved is essential for understanding these dynamic relations between species, which requires accurate plant identification,” Gereau explained.

Lianas are an important, yet often neglected, feature of forests, and the study shows that they should be considered in all conservation management programs to determine whether they are in balance with the forest or may require control.

“There is still much to understand about forests, and studies like ours, which depend on accurate plant identification, provide a great example of the importance of this work,” Gereau said.

By proposing various recovery responses to forest disturbance, the research also presents a pioneering new outlook on how lianas and trees interact, and it makes a first attempt to estimate the impact of lianas on the global carbon sink. The annual carbon deficit caused by canopy loss in forests with high density of lianas could be up to five times greater than annual global human carbon dioxide emissions, making the potential impact of lianas on global climate change very large. Collaborative forest experiments by scientists from around the world are now attempting to determine the extent to which lianas are preventing recovery of this deficit.

The article was produced as part of the FoRCE experiment, led by Andrew R. Marshall from the University of the Sunshine Coast (Australia) and University of York (UK) and coauthored by Philip J. Platts, Robin L. Chazdon, Hamidu Seki, Mason J. Campbell, Oliver L. Phillips, Roy E. Gereau, Robert Marchant, Jingjing Liang, John Herbohn, Yadvinder Malhi and Marion Pfeifer.

You can read the full article here and watch an online seminar at this Ask the Author presentation.


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The Missouri Botanical Garden’s mission is “to discover and share knowledge about plants and their environment in order to preserve and enrich life.” Today, 161 years after opening, the Missouri Botanical Garden is a National Historic Landmark and a center for science, conservation, education and horticultural display.