New insights into the functional ecology of paramo plants: what growth
forms can tell us about plant functional types
Paramos are a unique type of tropical alpine ecosystem. To understand
how biodiversity, ecosystem services and community resilience in the
paramo will be affected by ongoing environmental change we need to start
identifying groups of species with shared characteristics (i.e.
functional types or PFTs). This task is particularly challenging as
paramos host the highest plant diversity of alpine ecosystems. We
measured 22 traits on 42 species belonging to different growth forms in
the Colombian Andes. Hierarchical Clustering on Principal Components
performed in a Factor analysis of mixed data was used to identify
species with similar functional traits and the number of PFTs present.
We identified three PFTs; one composed of forbs and shrubs with tender
leaves, one composed of only rosettes, and a third group composed by
shrubs with tough leaves. If PFTs represent a group of plants that play
similar roles in the ecosystem, and have similar responses to
perturbation, our results imply that paramos might have limited
physiological response and may be highly vulnerable to environmental
changes. On the other hand, the presence of multiple species sharing
functional traits could provide some resilience, if one species
disappears, others may fill the same role and maintain the functionality
of the paramo.