Study: Selective Vine Removal Boosts Forests and Carbon Sequestration

New study: Removing woody vines from 5-10 trees/hectare increases timber yields and carbon absorption

Sun 07 May 23


Research, set to be published in the international peer-reviewed journal Forest Ecology and Management in July, reveals that controlling vines can enhance tree health in forests and boost carbon uptake.

In a special interview with the ABC, Jack Putz, a biology professor at the University of Sunshine Coast, spoke of the importance of vines in combating climate change effects.

” We could both increase timber yields from forests that are managed for timber and increase rates of carbon uptake from the atmosphere, which is a goal of people all over the world, to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Professor Putz said.

A young Professor Jack Putz studied liana vines’ effects on Panama’s rainforests.(Photo credit: Supplied to the ABC)

The study, which was a collaboration with researchers from the University of Florida, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, Eastwood Forests in the US, and the Science for Sustainability in Central America, revealed that removing woody vines, or lianas, from five to ten trees per hectare is cost-effective for increasing timber yields and boosting carbon absorption by the freed trees.

“It’s only a partial solution, and we have to stop burning so much fossil fuel,” Professor Putz told the ABC.

“But in the meantime, we need to depend on nature to help us to solve this massive global problem. And it needs to be done in an environmentally friendly, socially acceptable and financially feasible manner.”

The Urban Heat Cooling Effect

According to experts who warn of an urban “heat island” effect, tree coverage in Australian cities vanishes, making them concrete jungles.

In September 2021, Wood Central’s Southeast Asia Reporter Ken Hickson interviewed Associate Professor Winston Chow, a contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who spoke out on the “cooling qualities” of timber, the importance of “embodied carbon” and advocated the greater use of timber in buildings.

Footage courtesy of @protiotypedesignscience6912

The researchers estimated that implementing liana-cutting treatment in areas with abundant vines would cost about $1.50 per hectare.

“It takes a minute or two to cut the lianas on a tree and costs only about 25 cents, but the benefits to the liberated tree accrue for decades afterwards,” Professor Putz said.

“When a tree is liana infested, its crown is often covered, so it’s not getting a lot of sunshine, which slows photosynthesis.

“These climbing plants have thin stems but lots of roots, so they’re taking a lot of water and nutrients from the soil.”

Vines play a crucial role in forest ecosystems

The study showed the importance of liana removal, it needed to be done in a controlled way, as the vines played crucial roles in forest ecosystems.

“They provide pathways between tree crowns for animals that don’t fly, they produce a lot of leaf litter, flowers and fruits, and they have their own contributions to biological diversity,” he said.

“But if the treatment is restricted to five or 10 medium-sized trees per hectare, I don’t think the biodiversity impacts are measurable,” he said.

Professor Putz recommends cutting vine stems twice: once near the ground and again as high as possible.

“Virtually all cut lianas will send up sucker shoots, and if there are recently cut lianas hanging from the canopy, the sprouts will use them as trellises to climb back up to the canopy, which is best to avoid,” he said.

Simple and achievable

Ecologist Claudia Romero, another University of the Sunshine Coast author of the study, said the most thrilling aspect of the research was the ease of implementation.

“The simplicity and beauty of this intervention are that it is considered legal and achievable by many forestry concessions in various tropical countries,” Dr. Romero said.

“The fact that it can be easily implemented and deliver such benefits is marvelous.”

According to Dr. Romero, this intervention’s simplicity and beauty is part of the practices considered legal and doable by many forestry concessions in various countries in the tropics.

The next planned phase of the research is for industrial-scale pilot programs in managed forests in Suriname, South America, and Gabon, Africa, where increasing forest carbon stocks and sustaining timber yields are both goals.

  • The story uses supporting extracts from an ABC Interview. Click here to read the full interview with Dr. Jack Putz.


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