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Patterns and origin of intraspecific functional variability in a tropical alpine species along an altitudinal gradient

Almeida J.P., Montúfar R., Anthelme F.. 2013. Plant Ecology and Diversity, 6 (3-4) : p. 423-433.

DOI: 10.1080/17550874.2012.702137

Background : Intraspecific functional variability (IFV) along altitudinal gradients is a powerful proxy to infer the responses of plants to abrupt environmental changes. We envisage that IFV shows distinctive patterns in tropical and extratropical alpine regions. Aims : To characterise the patterns and explore the origin of IFV in a tropical alpine species in a context of upward range extension. Methods : We examined variations in a series of plant functional traits in Lasiocephalus ovatus, inside and outside a nurse plant along a 600 m altitudinal gradient in the Ecuadorian Andes, and we studied its genetic variability. Results : More conservative traits were developed at higher elevation, in contrast to extratropical alpine plants, which commonly develop opportunistic traits in response to late snowmelt close to their upper altitudinal limit. The presence of nurse cushions did not alter this trend. Increasing genetic distance along the gradient suggested that IFV might be partly genetically induced. Conclusions : Our data combined with existing literature in tropical alpine environments lead the way to a stimulating scientific challenge: determining if patterns of plant altitudinal distribution in tropical alpine areas in response to climate change are predictable from patterns described in extratropical alpine areas.

Mots-clés : Équateur; région andine

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