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Neotropical Tree, Shrub and Liana Species Richness
van der Heijden, G.M.F. and Phillips, O.L. 2009. Environmental effects on Neotropical liana species richness. Journal of Biogeography 36: 1561-1572.

What was done
In the words of the authors, they "quantified the contributions of environmental variables and liana and tree-and-shrub abundance to the species richness of lianas, trees and shrubs >= 2.5 cm in diameter using a subset of 65 standardized (0.1 ha) plots from 57 Neotropical sites from a global dataset collected by the late Alwyn Gentry," employing "regression and structural equation modeling to account for the effects of environmental variables (climate, soil and disturbance) and liana density on liana species richness," after which they compared the results they obtained for lianas with those they obtained for trees and shrubs.

What was learned
After all the details were finally sorted out, van der Heijden and Phillips were able to demonstrate that "the diversity patterns of lianas and of trees and shrubs were congruent: wetter forests had a greater species richness of all woody plants."

What it means
The two UK researchers conclude that "the primary association of both liana and tree-and-shrub species richness with water availability suggests that, if parts of the Neotropics become drier as a result of climate change, substantial declines in the species richness of woody plants at the stand level may be anticipated." The only thing that might possibly act to negate this consequence, would be a continuation of the ongoing rise in the air's CO2 concentration, which is known to significantly enhance the water use efficiency of woody plants (see Water Use Efficiency (Trees) in our Subject Index). Hence, we would be wise to not be rushed into implementing draconian measures to reduce anthropogenic CO2 emissions, which could well turn out to be the salvation of Neotropical forests as we have known them.

Reviewed 28 October 2009