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Caldasia

Print version ISSN 0366-5232

Abstract

GARCIA-MENESES, PAOLA M.  and  RAMSAY, PAUL M.. PUYA HAMATA DEMOGRAPHY AS AN INDICATOR OF RECENT FIRE HISTORY IN THE PÁRAMO OF EL ÁNGEL AND VOLCÁN CHILES, ECUADOR-COLOMBIA. Caldasia [online]. 2014, vol.36, n.1, pp.53-69. ISSN 0366-5232.  http://dx.doi.org/10.15446/caldasia.v36n1.43891.

High-altitude páramo grasslands are important for their biodiversity and the ecosystem services that they provide to Andean people, but they are sensitive to disturbances, such as fire. Understanding the ecological impacts of disturbance is critical for the effective management of páramos. Indicator species studies can provide a relatively efficient way to gain such understanding. Puya hamata is a flagship giant rosette plant and has potential as an indicator of recent páramo fire history. To determine population size structure, mortality, recruitment and growth rates of Puya hamata rosettes, all Puya plants in 400 m2 plots were surveyed in 2008 and again one year later. Sixteen plots were recorded in both years, containing exactly 1000 plants. Mortality was very low during this period (0.6%). Only 27 new plants were recruited. Three different size distribution patterns were observed in the plots: (1) low plant numbers across all size ranges; (2) a single dominant peak in numbers at a particular size; (3) two dominant peaks in numbers at distinct sizes. Estimated life span of Puya hamata was 28 years based on growth rates, and growth rate declined beyond the size at which most rosettes reproduce. To investigate the impact of different fire intensities on Puya hamata mortality, 400 m2 plots within a mosaic of unburned and burned patches of different fire intensities were surveyed one month after the fire. Fire mortality was low in the medium and high intensity plots, and fires selectively killed smaller plants rather than larger ones. No mortality was observed in the unburned and low intensity fire plots. It is proposed that Puya responds to burning with pulses of seedling recruitment during periods of open vegetation after fires and very little recruitment at other times. Therefore, surveys of Puya plants can reveal past fire events in their population size structure. The combination of sensitivity to fire at recruitment, low fire mortality rates afterwards, and a 28-year lifespan makes Puya hamata an ideal indicator species of recent fire history in páramos.

Keywords : Bromeliaceae; burning; Ecuador; giant puya; mortality; páramo; population dynamics; seedling recruitment; semelparity.

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