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High altitude C4 grasslands in the northern Andes: relicts from glacial conditions?

By A. Boom, G. Mora, A. M. Cleef and H. Hooghiemstra


The altitudinal vegetation distribution in the northern Andes during glacial time differed from the present-day conditions as a result of temperature and precipitation change. New evidence indicate that as a response to a reduced atmospheric partial CO2 pressure (pCO2), the competitive balance between C3 and C4 plants have changed. Effects may have remained virtually undetected in pollen records, but can be observed using a stable carbon isotope analysis. Vegetation dominated by C4 taxa, belonging to the families Cyperaceae (e.g. Bulbostylis and Cyperus) and Poaceae (e.g. Muhlenbergia, Paspalum and Sporobolus), may have been able to replace for a significant part the modern type C3 taxa (e.g. species belonging to Carex, Rhynchospora, Aciachne, Agrostis, Calamagrostis, and Chusquea). Impact of reduced glacial atmospheric pCO2 levels and lower glacial temperatures on the composition and the elevational distribution of the vegetation types is discussed. The present high Andean vegetation communities may differ from the glacial equivalents (non-modern analogue situation). We identified dry Sporobolus lasiophyllus tussock grassland and Arcytophyllum nitidum dwarfshrub paramo as the possible relict communities from glacial time. The effect on previous estimates of paleo-temperatures is estimated to be small

Year: 2001
DOI identifier: 10.1016/S0034-6667(01)00056-2
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