Altitudinal analysis of carbon stocks in the Antisana páramo, Ecuadorian Andes

Minaya, Verónica; Corzo, Gerald; Romero-Saltos, Hugo; Kwast, J. van der; Lantinga, E.A.; Galärraga-Sánchez, Remigio; Mynett, Arthur


Aims The importance of quantifying carbon stocks in terrestrial ecosystems is crucial for determining climate change dynamics. However, the present regional assessments of carbon stocks in tropical grasslands are extrapolated to unsampled areas with a high degree of uncertainty and without considering the carbon and nitrogen composition of vegetation and soil along altitudinal ranges. This study aims to assess carbon and nitrogen concentrations in soil and vegetation, aboveground carbon stocks distribution and soil organic carbon stocks along an altitudinal range in the páramo region in the Ecuadorian Andes.

Methods The vegetation inventory was conducted using 15×15 m sampling plots distributed in three altitudinal ranges. Based on the patterns exhibited by the dominant vegetation growth forms, biomass and soil were sampled to quantify the corresponding carbon and nitrogen concentrations. Subsequently, the aboveground live biomass along the páramo altitudinal range was estimated using allometric equations. Finally, soil and vegetation carbon stocks were estimated for the entire basin.

Important Findings Altitudinal analysis supported a potential distribution of carbon and nitrogen concentrations in soil, litter and live tissues, where higher concentrations were found in the low altitudinal range mainly for tussocks and acaulescent rosettes. Cellulose in litter showed higher concentrations at low altitudinal ranges for acaulescent rosettes and cushions only. For the same growth forms, lignin patterns in litter were higher in high altitudinal ranges. Soil texture provided complementary information: high percentage of silt was highly correlated to high soil nitrogen and carbon concentration. Tussocks were found to be responsive to altitude with their, highest aboveground carbon stocks occurring at the low altitudinal range, but cushions and acaulescent rosettes responded differently. The established relationships among soil, vegetation and altitude shown in this study must be taken into account to estimate both aboveground and soil organic carbon stocks in páramo regions—such estimates will be considerably inaccurate if these relationships are ignored.