Ecological Resilience and Resistance in the Hyper Diverse Forests on the Eastern Andean Flank (Mera, Ecuador)

Monday, 15 December 2014
Hayley F Keen1, William D Gosling2,3, Encarni Montoya3, Sarah Sherlock3 and Patricia A Mothes4, (1)Open University, Milton Keynes, MK7, United Kingdom, (2)University of Amsterdam, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics, Amsterdam, Netherlands, (3)Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom, (4)Instituto Geofisico, Quito, Ecuador
Today the Neotropics contain some of the world’s most biodiverse and threatened ecosystems. Sediments obtained from two radiocarbon infinite (>48,000 years) stratigraphic sections on the eastern Andean flank, provide new insight into the relationship between biodiversity and disturbance during the Pleistocene (~200,000 years). Pollen analysis of modern and fossil material indicates that hyper diverse forest vegetation has been a feature of the Andean flank landscape for 100,000 years (pollen richness: modern = 44, fossil = 48). Correlation of past vegetation with disturbance events (volcanic and fluvial) indicates the response of hyper-diverse forest to past landscape scale change.

Pollen records from near Mera (01°27 S, 78°06 W; 1117 m asl) indicate two major changes in the pollen assemblage, with forest communities dominated by: i) Hedyosmum-Alnus-Ilex, and ii) Combretaceae-Melastomataceae-Myrtaceae. These two pollen assemblages most closely resemble modern vegetation cloud forest (2500-3400m asl) and lower montane rain forest (700-2499 m asl) respectively. Sedimentary evidence suggests that at least 21 volcanic events and three changes in the local fluvial regime perturbed the regional landscape during the period of deposition. However, there is no evidence for volcanic or fluvial disturbance events causing a persistent change in vegetation community.

Volcanic events (tephra deposits) are associated with increased fire (charcoal particles), and changes in vegetation (pollen grains); however, within ~50cm of sediment accumulation above each tephra, pollen assemblages revert to pre-deposition compositions. Increased fluvial influence (gravel deposits) is associated with elevated input of pollen from taxa today found at higher elevations (Podocarpus-Celtis). The input of high elevation taxa concomitant with fluvial deposits is most likely indicative of an increase in long-distance transport of pollen along water courses originating in the Andes. Our data indicate that the closed-canopy forest vegetation of the eastern Andean flank was resilient and resistant to landscape scale changes in the past, providing insight into how it may respond in the future.