Climatic refugia in the coldest neotropical hotspot, the Andean páramo

The Andean páramo is the most biodiverse high-mountain region on Earth and past glaciation dynamics during the Quaternary are greatly responsible for its plant diversification. Here, we aim at identifying potential climatic refugia since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) in the páramo, according to plant family, biogeographic origin, and life-form.

We built species distribution models for 664 plant species to generate range maps under current and LGM conditions, using five General Circulation Models (GCMs). For each species and GCM, we identified potential (suitable) and potential active (likely still occupied) refugia where both current and LGM range maps overlap. We stacked and averaged the resulting refugia maps across species and GCMs to generate consensus maps for all species, plant families, biogeographic origins and life-forms. All maps were corrected for potential confounding effect due to species richness.

We found refugia to be chiefly located in the southern and central páramos of Ecuador and Peru, especially towards the páramo ecotone with lower-elevation forests. However, we found additional specific patterns according to plant family, biogeographic origin and life-form. For instance, endemics showed refugia concentrated in the northern páramos. Our findings suggest that large and connected páramo areas, but also the transitional Amotape-Huancabamba zone with the Central Andes, are primordial areas for plant species refugia since the LGM. This study therefore enriches our understanding on páramo evolution and calls for future research on plant responses to future climate change.

About Gwendolyn

Gwendolyn Peyre holds a BSc in Biology and a MSc in Ecology from the University Paul Sabatier (Toulouse, France), a MSc in Biodiversity from the University of Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain) and a double degree PhD from the University of Barcelona and Aarhus University (Aarhus, Denmark). She currently works as an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of the Andes (Bogotá, Colombia).

Gwendolyn is a plant ecologist and biogeographer, with a focus on tropical mountains. Her current research is mostly centred on global change science and in that context, she pursues three main research lines:

  1. How do environmental threats, such as plant invasions, progress in mountain environments and how do they impact local ecological structures and functions?
  2. To what extent can plants efficiently respond to global change?
  3. How can we promote sustainable development in vulnerable mountain environments?

Gwendolyn also advocates for better socio-ecological conditions in tropical mountains and to this end, she actively participates on global politico-environmental platforms such as the IUCN and IPBES. 

Gwendolyn is currently on sabbatical in Canberra (Aug 2022 - Jan 2023), hosted by Adrienne Nicotra (ANU) and Ben Kefford (UC), supported by CBA Visiting Scientist funding. Please get in touch with Gwendolyn if you would like to meet her during her visit.