Invasive lianas are drivers of and passengers to altered soil nutrient availability in urban forests

  • Elisabeth B. WardEmail author
  • Clara C. Pregitzer
  • Sara E. Kuebbing
  • Mark A. Bradford
Original Paper


Lianas (woody vines) are a leading concern in urban forest management given their ability to reduce the growth rate and survival of trees. Efforts to control invasive lianas are widespread, yet forests are often reinvaded following management. Changes in soil nutrient availability could help explain why some forests are susceptible to reinvasion. Specifically, invasive lianas could be “drivers” of altered nutrient dynamics that persist in the soil and favor their re-establishment, or they could be “passengers” of conditions created by prior site disturbances. We test these alternative models by analyzing soils across gradients of liana cover and forest disturbance in mature hardwood forests in New York City. Overall, total non-native liana cover was linked to elevated soil pH, reduced labile carbon, and altered net potential nitrification—three conditions indicative of increased soil nutrient availability. However, the effects of lianas varied substantially by species. Non-native lianas had a positive, negative, neutral, or non-linear effect on a single soil variable depending on the species. Aggregation of total non-native liana cover can therefore obscure the direction and magnitude of species-level effects. We also found positive relationships between forest disturbance, non-native liana cover, and soil pH, but we found no relationships between disturbance and net nitrification or labile carbon. These results suggest that non-native lianas are passengers to elevated levels of disturbance and soil pH but drivers of altered carbon and nitrogen dynamics. As such, management efforts aimed at reducing soil nutrient availability and removing invasive lianas may be required to limit reinvasion and promote ecosystem recovery.


Aboveground-belowground interactions Disturbance Forest ecology Nitrogen Plant-soil feedbacks Restoration 



Funding was provided by the Hixon Center for Urban Ecology at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and by the Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies. This work was made possible by the employees at the Natural Areas Conservancy who designed and implemented the 2013–2014 ecological assessment. Thanks also to Abigail Lyss, Hannah Schwartz, Ashton Hanna, Danica Doroski, and Eli Gunther for field assistance, the U.S. Forest Service, the New York City Urban Field Station, and the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation for providing logistical support, and Mark Ashton, the Bradford Lab, the Research, Communications, and Analysis lab, Dr. Myla Aronson, and two anonymous reviewers for providing feedback on the paper.

Author contributions

EBW, MAB and CCP designed the study. CCP designed and implemented the 2013–2014 citywide ecological assessment. EBW conducted the 2017 field and lab measurements. EBW, MAB, and SEK carried out the statistical analyses and contributed to data interpretation. EBW wrote the original manuscript, with contributions from all authors.

Supplementary material

10530_2019_2134_MOESM1_ESM.docx (49 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 49 kb)


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forestry and Environmental StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Natural Areas ConservancyNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of PittsburghPittsburghUSA

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