"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us. There is grandeur in this view of life... from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have seen, and are being evolved"
Charles Darwin, 1959.
Lianas (woody vines) are a quintessential feature of tropical forests. Lianas compete with trees for light and water, and decrease tree growth and biomass accumulation. Despite high liana richness and abundance in the tropics, we are only starting to elucidate how strong is the effect of lianas on trees, if the effect is consistent across habitats, and what are the consequences of this interaction in forest structure, composition and functioning. My research has shown that lianas exert a strong competitive effect on forest biomass accretion. I am currently testing how lianas can affect community composition during forest succession.
Animal seed dispersal
Seed dispersal by animals is crucial in tropical forests, where more than 65% of plant species depend on animals for dispersing their seeds. Our understanding of seed dispersal by animals has advanced greatly in the last decade, but we still lack conceptual frameworks that link seed dispersal by animals and niche-based models of forest succession. My recent work proposes new ways to establish such links by rethinking ecological succession as the joint limitation of seed sources and dispersers. I am currently testing this new framework in different environments, and its relevance in tropical forest restoration.
Estrada-Villegas, S., S. S. Pedraza Narvaez, A. Sanchez, and S. A. Schnitzer. 2022. Lianas significantly reduce tree performance and biomass accumulation across tropical forests: A Global Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 4.
Estrada-Villegas et al. 2021. Lianas do not reduce tree biomass accumulation in young successional tropical dry forests. Oecologia
Estrada-Villegas, S., J. S. Hall, M. van Breugel, and S. A. Schnitzer. 2020. Lianas reduce biomass accumulation in early successional tropical forests. Ecology 101:e02989.
Estrada-Villegas, S., P. R. Stevenson, O. López, S. J. DeWalt, L. S. Comita & D. H. Dent. In press. Seed dispersal by animals recovers quickly during passive restoration. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B.
Dent, D. H., and S. Estrada-Villegas. 2021. Uniting niche differentiation and dispersal limitation predicts tropical forest succession. Trends in Ecology & Evolution.
Estrada-Villegas et al. 2020. Review of the Symposium Determinism and Stochasticity in Ecological Succession in ESA-Louisville, 2019. Bulletin of the Ecological Society of America