In tropical forests, trees compete not only with other trees, but also with lianas, which may limit tree growth and regeneration. Liana effects may depend on the availability of above- and below-ground resources and differ between tree species. We conducted a shade house experiment to test the effect of light (4% and 35% full sun, using neutral-density screen) on the competitive interactions between seedlings of one liana (Byttneria grandifolia) and three tree species (two shade-tolerant trees, Litsea dilleniifolia and Pometia tomentosa, and one light-demanding tree, Bauhinia variegata) and to evaluate the contribution of both above- and below-ground competition. Trees were grown in four competition treatments with the liana: no competition, root competition, shoot competition and root and shoot competition. Light strongly affected leaf photosynthetic capacity (light-saturated photosynthetic rate, Pn), growth and most morphological traits of the tree species. Liana-induced competition resulted in reduced Pn, total leaf areas and relative growth rates (RGR) of the three tree species. The relative importance of above- and below-ground competition differed between the two light levels. In low light, RGR of the three tree species was reduced more strongly by shoot competition (23.1–28.7% reduction) than by root competition (5.3–26.4%). In high light, in contrast, root competition rather than shoot competition greatly reduced RGR. Liana competition affected most morphological traits (except for specific leaf area and leaf area ratio of Litsea and Pometia), and differentially altered patterns of biomass allocation in the tree seedlings. These findings suggest that competition from liana seedlings can greatly suppress growth in tree seedlings of both light-demanding and shade-tolerant species and those effects differ with competition type (below- and above-ground) and with irradiance.