Four centuries of vegetation change in the mid-elevation Andean forests of Ecuador

TitleFour centuries of vegetation change in the mid-elevation Andean forests of Ecuador
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsHuisman, SN, Bush, MB, McMichael, CNH
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Pagination679 - 689
Date PublishedJan-11-2019

Mid-elevation Andean ecosystems have immense species richness and endemism. Taxonomic composition is known to change through time on the eastern slopes of the Andes as a result of climatic change and disturbance events, both natural and by human actions. Fossil phytoliths can capture local scale vegetation changes, especially among monocotyledonous plants. Phytolith production is high in grasses and palms, plant groups that are particularly sensitive to climatic changes and disturbance events in Andean ecosystems. Here, we reconstruct four centuries of local-scale vegetation change and the corresponding fire history from lake sediment records retrieved from Lagunas Cormorán and Chimerella, located at ca. 1,700 m a.s.l. in the mid-elevation Andean forests of eastern Ecuador. The charcoal analysis of the lake sediments showed no sign of past fires, and no evidence of cultivation was found at either lake. The phytolith assemblages indicated changes in the relative abundances of palms, grasses and trees over the last few centuries, suggesting that mid-elevation Andean phytolith assemblages are sensitive to local scale vegetation dynamics. The largest change in vegetation occurred at the end of the Little Ice Age, at which point the diversity of palm phytoliths decreases. These phytolith assemblages are probably responding to changes in the cloud base position through time, which strongly influences the distributions of many plants and animals.