Vegetation trends over eleven years on mountain summits in NW Argentina

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  • Fecha de creación febrero 2, 2021

As global climate change leads to warmer and dryer conditions in the central Andes, alpine plant communities are forced to upward displacements following their climatic niche. Species range shifts are predicted to have major impacts on alpine communities by reshuffling species composition and abundances. Using a standardized proto‐col, we surveyed alpine plant communities in permanent plots on four high Andean summits in NW Argentina, which range from 4040 to 4740 m asl. After a baseline survey in 2006–2008, we resurvey the same plots in 2012, and again in 2017. We found a significant decrease in plant cover, species richness, and diversity across the elevation gradient in the three censuses and a strong decrease in soil temperature along the elevation gradient. We found a high plant community turnover (37% - 49%) among censuses, differentiating according to summits and aspects; major changes of community turnover were observed in the lowest summit (49%) and on the northern (47%) and western (46%) aspects. Temporal patterns in community changes were represented by increases in plant cover in the highest summit, in species richness in the lower summit, and in diversity (Shannon index) in the four summits, over time, together with increase in small herbs and non‐tussock grasses. We suggest that the observed trend in plant community dynamics responds to short‐term temperature and precipitation variability, which is influenced by El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and due to time lags in plant community response, it may take much longer than one decade for the observed trends to become stables and statistically signifi‐cant. Our study provides an important foundation for documenting more profound changes in these subtropical alpine plant communities as global climate change continues.