Liana abundance and functional diversity along an altitudinal gradient in northern Ecuador

Camille Meeussen
De voorbije decennia is er een toename in densiteit en biomassa van lianen waargenomen in tropische bossen in de Neotropen. Dit heeft een impact op onder andere boom mortaliteit, groei en diversiteit en zal ook de koolstofbalans en dynamiek worden beïnvloeden. Daarom deze studie van veranderingen in het voorkomen en in de functionele identiteit van lianen langsheen een hoogtegradiënt in Ecuador. Zo kunnen wijzigingen in de vegetatie worden gelinkt met veranderende biotische en abiotische factoren langsheen de gradiënt.

Lianen: planten met een pittige persoonlijkheid.

U kent het allemaal wel, klimop kruipend langs traliewerk, krinkelend rond bomen of klimmend langs onze gevels. Minder bekend zijn echter hun grote broertjes, houtige lianen, groeiend in de tropische bossen rond de evenaar. Nog raadselachtiger is echter waarom deze plots in aantallen blijken toe te nemen.

Lianen zijn onlosmakelijk verbonden met de filmheld Tarzan maar daar stopt dan vaak ook onze kennis over deze magische groep planten. Begrijpelijk want lianen groeien niet goed in onze contreien. Ze zijn namelijk niet bestand tegen vriestemperaturen en gedijen dus beter onder een tropische warmte. Hoe meer we richting evenaar trekken, hoe talrijker lianen voorkomen. Een natuurlijk fenomeen, echter is in de laatste decennia een sterke toename in biomassa en het aantal lianen geconstateerd in Midden- en Zuid-Amerika. Lianen profiteren van de stijgende temperatuur en zijn ook beter bestand tegen de toenemende droogte. De klimaatverandering is dus hun ultieme kans om aan aandeel te winnen in tropische bossen. Daarnaast zijn ze ook niet vies van wat verstoring en kunnen ze zich dus gemakkelijker voortplanten in open plekken in het bos ontstaan na stormen of de kap van bomen of stukken bos. Het is dus niet onwaarschijnlijk dat deze stijging in aantal lianen en lianen biomassa zich verderzet in de toekomst en dat de lianen ook hun verspreidingsareaal zullen uitbreiden. Een fenomeen met grootschalige gevolgen dat van dichtbij moet worden opgevolgd.

“Om te groeien maken lianen namelijk gebruik van de aanwezige bomen, via hun stam en takken klimmen ze omhoog om boven in de kruinen hun bladeren te laten groeien in veel lichtrijkere omstandigheden. Hierdoor treden ze in competitie met de bomen in het bos, waarvan de bladeren dan weer in de schaduw van deze van de lianen groeien. Naast competitie voor zonlicht strijden ze ook voor hetzelfde water en dezelfde voedingstoffen in de grond. Deze rivaliteit leidt uiteindelijk tot een verminderde groei of zelfs het afsterven van bomen” zegt Hans Verbeeck, professor aan de Universiteit van Gent. “Een toename aan lianen zal dus enkel de competitie met bomen verhogen en als gevolg zal er ook een verlaagde koolstofopname zijn in deze bossen. Hoe minder koolstof er wordt opgeslagen, hoe hoger de CO2 concentratie in de atmosfeer wat weer een positieve feedback zal veroorzaken op de opwarming van onze planeet. Uiteindelijk komen we in een vicieuze cirkel terecht waarbij klimaatopwarming de wedloop tussen liaan en boom versterkt en deze dan weer de klimaatopwarming.”

Om de groei en de opkomst van lianen verder te monitoren, bestudeerde Camille, masterstudente aan de Universiteit van Gent het voorbije jaar lianen langsheen een hoogtegradiënt in tropische bossen in Ecuador, Zuid-Amerika. In het Andesgebergte werden het aantal lianen en hun biomassa onderzocht, startend in bossen op 400 meter boven de zeespiegel tot 3200 meter hoog in de bergen, waar het een stuk koeler is. Via zo’n hoogtegradiënt kan op een korte afstand dus vrij efficiënt het effect van een met de hoogte dalende temperatuur op het voorkomen van lianen bestudeerd worden. “Bij de start van het onderzoek verwachtten we dus eigenlijk een daling van het aantal lianen waar te nemen als we ons hoger in de bergen bevonden, aangezien lianen niet zo goed bestand zijn tegen koudere temperaturen”, aldus Camille. “Deze hypothese bleek echter niet te kloppen. We vonden geen duidelijke daling in het aantal lianen langsheen de hoogtegradiënt en ook de verhouding lianen ten opzichte van bomen veranderde niet. Zowel lianen als bomen blijken het dus eigenlijk goed te doen op alle hoogtes langsheen de gradiënt. Naast de temperatuur spelen uiteraard ook andere factoren een rol; zoals de beschikbare hoeveelheid water en nutriënten in de bodem of de verstoring in het bos op de plaats van het onderzoek. Dit maakt het extra moeilijk om te achterhalen waarom het aantal lianen niet afneemt met een dalende temperatuur of dus toenemende hoogte. Een trend die dus wel wordt waargenomen indien je van de tropen naar de polen trekt.”

“Kortom, blijken lianen dus net iets sterker te zijn.”

 

Verder werd ook onderzocht of de lianen zich aanpasten aan de moeilijkere groeiomstandigheden; een lagere temperatuur in combinatie met een verminderde beschikbaarheid aan water en voedingsstoffen op hogere hoogtes. Camille: “Er was een duidelijke daling in de stikstof en fosfor concentratie in lianen bladeren te vinden hoger in de bergen. Deze twee nutriënten zijn noodzakelijk voor het aanmaken van suikers, voeding voor de plant, en dus het goed functioneren van de plant. Verder steeg ook het gewicht van het blad per oppervlakte-eenheid of werden de bladeren dus dikker. Dit zijn duidelijke tekens van aanpassingsmechanismen van de plant aan de lastigere groeiomstandigheden. Meer specifiek wijzen ze erop dat de lianen eerder conservatief en defensief gaan leven hoger in de bergen in de plaats van volop te investeren in hun groei. Ook bomen volgen dezelfde strategie langsheen de gradiënt. Echter lagen gemiddeld de waarden van de nutriënten, stikstof en fosfor, hoger in de bladeren van lianen in vergelijking met die van de bomen en waren hun bladeren ook iets minder dik. De lianen hebben, in vergelijking met de bomen, zich dus minder drastisch moeten aanpassen aan de veranderende groeiomstandigheden. Als gevolg kunnen ze dus iets efficiënter groeien terwijl de bomen het moeilijker hebben en meer energie zullen steken in het voortbestaan en de verdediging van hun weefsels. Kortom, blijken lianen dus net iets sterker te zijn.”

Lianen hoeven met hun sterk karakter dus zeker niet onder te doen voor bomen. Integendeel, ze profiteren van verstoring in de bossen en groeien goed bij warme temperaturen zonder in te boeten als de temperatuur daalt. Daarnaast blijken ze ook nog eens sterker in hun schoenen te staan in minder geschikte groeiomstandigheden. Hoewel lianen een belangrijk deel uitmaken van tropische bossen en bijdragen aan de biodiversiteit is de trend van een stijgende lianen biomassa en aantallen dus op zijn minst verontrustend te noemen. In de natuur geldt namelijk nog steeds de wet van de sterkste. 

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Universiteit of Hogeschool
Master in de bio-ingenieurswetenschappen: bos- en natuurbeheer
Publicatiejaar
2017
Promotor(en)
Prof. dr. ir. Hans Verbeeck
Kernwoorden