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Oct 13, 2015 02:32 PM EDT

Climbing vines are proving to be a nuisance in tropical forests, as new research indicates they are throwing off the balance of carbon.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new study found lianas, also known as climbing plants, cut short the amount of carbon rainforests absorb from the atmosphere.

"This study has far-reaching ramifications," study co-author Stefan Schnitzer, a biology professor at Marquette University and a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, said in a press release. "Lianas contribute only a small fraction of the biomass in tropical forests, but their effects on trees dramatically alter how carbon is accumulated and stored."

Of the forests where climbing plants were present that the researchers observed, carbon storage was down about 76 percent, which contributed to less growth and more death among the trees.

"Essentially lianas are reducing the amount of carbon being taken in by the forest and increasing the amount that's going out," study lead author Geertje van der Heijden, of The University of Nottingham's School of Geograohy, said in a press release. "To our knowledge, this is the first time that these liana effects have been experimentally tested on a whole forest level. It proves the important role of lianas in tropical forests, particularly in relation to carbon.

"Lianas are increasing in numbers and size (at least) in the tropical forests in Central and South American and so our findings have a great relevance when looking at the future fate of the tropical carbon balance, as well as for global levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide," he said. "Now we have evidence to prove the important role of lianas in the carbon balance of these forests, I would hope that this will be taken into account in climate and vegetation models to improve future predictions."

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