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Strong upslope shifts in Chimborazo’s vegetation over two centuries since Humboldt

OPEN Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America | 16 Sep 2015

N Morueta-Holme, K Engemann, P Sandoval-Acuña, JD Jonas, RM Segnitz and JC Svenning
Abstract
Global climate change is driving species poleward and upward in high-latitude regions, but the extent to which the biodiverse tropics are similarly affected is poorly known due to a scarcity of historical records. In 1802, Alexander von Humboldt ascended the Chimborazo volcano in Ecuador. He recorded the distribution of plant species and vegetation zones along its slopes and in surrounding parts of the Andes. We revisited Chimborazo in 2012, precisely 210 y after Humboldt’s expedition. We documented upward shifts in the distribution of vegetation zones as well as increases in maximum elevation limits of individual plant taxa of >500 m on average. These range shifts are consistent with increased temperatures and glacier retreat on Chimborazo since Humboldt’s study. Our findings provide evidence that global warming is strongly reshaping tropical plant distributions, consistent with Humboldt’s proposal that climate is the primary control on the altitudinal distribution of vegetation.
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Concepts
Chimborazo, Glacier mass balance, Earth, Solar variation, Andes, Alexander von Humboldt, Global warming, Climate change
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