Increasing dominance of lianas in many tropical forests is considered a fingerprint of global environmental change. Despite the key role they play in ecosystem functioning, lianas remain one of the least studied life forms in tropical environments. This paper contrasts leaf traits and spectral properties (400-1100 nm) of liana and tree communities from a tropical dry forest and a tropical rainforest in Panama, Central America. Differences between lianas and tree leaf traits were analyzed using spectroscopy, leaf histology and pigment extractions. Results from this study indicate that many of the biochemical, structural, and optical properties of lianas and trees are different in the dry forest site but not in rainforest sites. In the dry forest site, liana leaves exhibited significantly lower chlorophyll and carotenoid contents and were thinner than the leaves of their host trees. Specific leaf area, dry to fresh mass ratio, and mean water content of liana leaves were significantly higher when compared with tree leaves. The differences observed in the tropical dry forest site indicate that lianas may have a higher rate of resource acquisition and usage, whereas trees tend to conserve acquired resources. We suggest that our results may be indicative of the presence of a liana syndrome related to water availability and thus best exhibited in tropical dry forests. Our findings have important implications for using remote sensing to accurately map the distribution of liana communities at regional scales and for the continued expansion of lianas in tropical environments as a result of global change. © 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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