Journal Article

The behavioural ecology of climbing plants

Ernesto Gianoli


Published on behalf of Annals of Botany Company

Volume 7, issue
Published online March 2015 | e-ISSN: 2041-2851 | DOI:

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  • Ecology and Conservation
  • Plant Physiology
  • Plant Evolution
  • Plant Sciences and Forestry


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Climbing plants require an external support to grow vertically and enhance light acquisition. Vines that find a suitable support have greater performance and fitness than those that remain prostrate. Therefore, the location of a suitable support is a key process in the life history of climbing plants. Numerous studies on climbing plant behaviour have elucidated mechanistic details of support searching and attachment. Far fewer studies have addressed the ecological significance of support-finding behaviour and the factors that affect it. Without this knowledge, little progress can be made in the understanding of the evolution of support-finding behaviour in climbers. Here I review studies addressing ecological causes and consequences of support finding and use by climbing plants. I also propose the use of behavioural ecology theoretical frameworks to study climbing plant behaviour. I show how host tree attributes may determine the probability of successful colonization for the different types of climbers, and examine the evidence of environmental and genetic control of circumnutation behaviour and phenotypic responses to support availability. Cases of oriented vine growth towards supports are highlighted. I discuss functional responses of vines to the interplay between herbivory and support availability under different abiotic environments, illustrating with one study case how results comply with a theoretical framework of behavioural ecology originally conceived for animals. I conclude stressing that climbing plants are suitable study subjects for the application of behavioural–ecological theory. Further research under this framework should aim at characterizing the different stages of the support-finding process in terms of their fit with the different climbing modes and environmental settings. In particular, cost–benefit analysis of climbing plant behaviour should be helpful to infer the selective pressures that have operated to shape current climber ecological communities.

Keywords: Behavioural ecology; circumnutation; climbing plants; lianas; optimal foraging; support-searching; vines

Journal Article.  7959 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ecology and Conservation ; Plant Physiology ; Plant Evolution ; Plant Sciences and Forestry

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