Plant invasions in the northern Andes: a socio-ecological perspective

Tropical mountains harbour unique ecosystems that are highly vulnerable to environmental threats, yet remain understudied. Invasive species for example are often underestimated, even though they can cause severe ecological impacts on the structure and functions of tropical mountain ecosystems. In that context, providing monitored data on the expansion of invasive plant species and assessing their role within native vegetation is key to promote better management strategies.

Here, we explored the taxonomic and functional diversities of invaded plant communities following roads along the forest-páramo elevation gradient in the Chingaza mountain range (Colombia). We followed the Mountain Invasion Research Network (MIREN) protocol to establish the first monitoring site for invasives species in Colombian mountains. We sampled three roads, sixty vegetation plots in total, recording for every invasive species, its relative cover and 11 functional traits. Then, we calculated the total invasive richness and cover as metrics of taxonomic diversity, as well as the total functional richness, evenness, divergence and dispersion as metrics of functional diversity. Each metric was correlated with elevation, environmental and disturbance factors using Generalized Linear Models.

We observed a significant increase in the functional diversity of invaded communities with elevation but no clear gradient in taxonomic diversity. Moreover, vegetation structure and soil factors were identified as predominant drivers for both taxonomic and functional diversity metrics. Therefore, we shed new light on the behaviour of invasive species in forest and páramo vegetation, as our results inform that taxonomic and functional diversities of invaded plant communities are highest in fertile grasslands under intermediate levels of human disturbance. To conclude, this exploratory study helps understanding the ecological impact of invasive species in tropical mountain environments. We hope it can further contribute to establishing efficient management initiatives of invasive species in the Andes.

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 sabatical 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.

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