Plant functional traits along an old-field succession in the high tropical Andes

Published in Acta Oecologica

Rada F, Sarmiento L, Garcia-Varela S

Publication year 2021

Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Ecológicas (ICAE), Facultad de Ciencias, Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, 5101, Venezuela

IAI Program

CRN 1 

IAI Project CRN040


•Long fallow agriculture in the high tropical Andes and ecological succession.

•Plant traits associated to resource acquisition-conservation gradients.

•Plant traits linked to rapid growth dominate early succession.

•Specific leaf area decreases along secondary succession in the páramo.

•CO2 assimilation rates decrease along successional gradient in the páramo.


The páramo, a high tropical Andean ecosystem, presents very distinct climatic, floristic and ecological features. Paramo plants have adapted to pronounced daily temperature fluctuations, freezing temperatures any night of the year, high incoming radiation and seasonal unfavorable water availability conditions. Long fallow agricultural systems are common in the páramo, permitting partial recuperation of the vegetation through a secondary succession. Different hypothesis related to plant traits (water relations and gas exchange characteristics or biomass allocation patterns) during succession have been proposed. Particular traits have been associated to the stages along successional gradients from early species (traits related to high resource acquisition abilities) to late species (traits linked to internal conservation of resources). Our purpose was to study plant functional responses of different herbaceous species in an old-field succession in the high tropical Andes. Plant traits (specific leaf area (SLA), maximum CO2 assimilation rates (Amax), leaf nitrogen content (Nleaf), leaf water relations and biomass allocation) were studied in grasses and forbs along different successional stages. Clear trends in SLA, Amax on a mass basis, Nleaf and aboveground/belowground biomass allocation were found along the successional gradient for grasses, while patterns were not as well-defined for forbs in the latter two traits. No patterns in leaf water relations characteristics were observed for either plant-growth forms. Strategies associated to plant traits significantly influence plant species dominance and community assembly during secondary succession in tropical alpine open environments like the páramos. Plant traits linked to rapid growth (SLA, Amax and Nleaf) dominate during early succession. In contrast to previous studies, drought resistance traits were not found to dominate in late succession stages for either grasses or forbs.