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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER)
Cycle 4 (2015 Deadline)

Tropical montane forests and climate change in the Peruvian Andes: Micro-environmental, biotic and human impacts at tree line

PI: Norma Salinas (, Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru
U.S. Partner: Miles Silman, Wake Forest University
Project Dates: October 2015 - September 2019

Project Overview

Q4 2016 SalinasPatch of cloud forest of mixed species composition at 3500 m
Patch of cloud forest of mixed species at 3500 m in the Tres area  

Cloud forest environments respond strongly even to small changes in temperature and a large fraction of the species assessed is vulnerable to extinction due to climate change. Species distributions can be strongly influenced by many factors, one is geographic and another is the existence of potential ecological barriers to forces driving altitudinal migrations of tree species. Dr. Salinas and her team contend that there are several important human actions that can have a significant impact on species migration along the treeline. A better understanding of the factors involved should greatly improve our ability to predict if, and also where and how, species will migrate. This project aims to contribute to current knowledge of the complex dynamics of treeline ecotones by reevaluating the question of tree species migration into highland grasslands in light of microenvironmental and microbiotic information. The researchers on this PEER project propose that it is possible to control and manage the factors, both environmental and human, that inhibit species migration through activities similar to those undertaken in other, less extreme, environments such as Central American or Afromontane forests (Strobl et al., 2011).

There have been few studies that have evaluated the importance of human impact in the tree line migrations into grassland. A better understanding of how species distribution and survival are likely to be affected can provide better guidance to conservation strategies and their integration into socially effective programs in the face of climate change. The project will be conducted in areas located at the border of the Cuzco and Madre de Dios regions in southeastern Peru, within and surrounding the Manu National Park. Planned project activities are designed to help strengthen environmental governance through a mitigation-oriented management program of the treeline in the park in collaboration with park personnel and local communities. The project team will work with NGOs currently involved in forest management initiatives in the area to help local communities develop forestry-based alternative revenue sources along the treeline. The goal is reducing the pressure of livestock grazing within park boundaries through alternative stakeholder revenue-earning strategies for communities that presently use national park land for their livestock. Overall, the project should help preserve biodiversity, ecological services, and food and water security for the Kosñipata basin.

4-116 Salinas_Location of vegetation inventory plots, along the elevation grad4-116_Q42016
Location of vegetation inventory plots, along the elevation gradient  Regeneration zone of monospecific forest (Clusia sp.) in area ​​Cocha Zondor  

Summary of Recent Activities

During January-March 2018, the team carried lab-based work focusing on chemical and data analysis. The team explored the correlation between the climatic variables observed in our area of work and growth and establishing of trees, both in the natural subsequent process involving saplings and for transplanted trees. Water and humidity regimes define species' distribution and  changes in precipitation and duration of the dry season and of freezing events constrain species richness, independent of species identities. The harsh climatic conditions generated in the central Andes during the El Niño event of 2016 are the most important environmental factor explaining differences in floral compositions in the monitored plots. The precipitation levels and type (rain or fog condensate) are strongly correlated to survival rates of our naturally recruited plantlets and transplanted treelets. When the PEER team compared  precipitation figures of the last 5 years, from their 2012-2014 data and 2015-2017 data obtained in Wake Forest from our partner, the dry season of 2016 was found to be the most dry and longest in relation to the previous years. This information was also confirmed through radiation measurements, showing that the radiation followed similar patterns.

When exploring the links between climate variables and recruited and transplanted plant in all  plots, the Trocha Union plots showed the highest rates of survival. The team is estimating  that this is due to higher average temperatures, lower soil humidity (below soil saturation), and higher radiation (incl. PAR). Soil parameters will play an important role in the upcoming six months of the project. The team will start with a detailed soil characterization, involving, texture, nutrients, and micro-biota for all three sites and the transition in each between forest and grassland.
4-116_Q2 2017 Salinas 24-116_Q2 2017 Salinas 1
Field assistants and PI transplanting tree seedlings in the upper Manu National Park 

Future activities
The visit of Dr. Heidy Asbjornsen, University of New Hampshire in May of this year (2018) to assess the dendrochronology of trees in Manu National Park will be extremely useful help   time the succession  process at the timberline. During the months of June to September  the team will  work with soil characterization, involving, texture, chemistry, enzymatic condition, nutrients and microbiota for the six plots and the transition in each between forest and grassland. During the next field trip monitoring of saplings and transplanted trees will continue.

4-116 Data Collection4-116 HumidityTemp Sensor
A team member collects environmental data  A modified PET plastic water bottle is used as hood for temperature/relative humidity sensors  
4-116_Q2 2017 Salinas 44-116_Q2 2017 Salinas 3
All photos courtesy of Dr. Salinas 


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