Espeletia giant rosette plants are reliable biological indicators of time since fire in Andean grasslands
MetadataShow full item record
© 2017 Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature Páramo grasslands in the tropical Andes are fire-prone ecosystems and an understanding of their fire ecology is fundamental to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem management. Fire registers are normally impractical in these remote, cloud-covered landscapes, but Espeletia giant rosette plants have been proposed as biological indicators of time since fire in páramos. Espeletia giant stem rosettes tolerate fire well, protecting apical buds in at the heart of their leaf rosettes, and for some species, germination is known to be enhanced by fire. As the plant grows, its dead leaves remain attached to the stem, but fire removes these and resets the “leaf clock”. This study uses a unique register of fires in one Ecuadorian páramo to assess the robustness of this biological indicator. Dead leaf cover on Espeletia pycnophylla giant rosette plants was measured in fifteen different sites with known fire dates from 2000 to 2014. The growth rates of plants at four different elevations were measured over a 2-year period and used to estimate time since fire based on dead leaf cover in the known sites. Estimates were accurate to ± 2 year. Thus, where fire records are missing, relatively easy measurements of growth rates and dead leaf cover of Espeletia giant rosette plants can provide reliable estimates across a wide range of times since fire. This approach has value for direct investigations into fire ecology but also for studies in which controlling for fire dynamics is necessary to reveal underlying patterns. Therefore, this approach also offers a means to obtain better information on other landscape-scale processes such as the impact of climate change on biodiversity or the provision of ecosystem services.
The following license files are associated with this item: