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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 2018

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

Contract with the tree nursery in Pilco Grande was completed and saplings were transplanted to field plots for evaluation of survival. The community will use the knowledge acquired during this project for commercial reforestation projects. Selection and set-up of experimental plots to monitor nursery- grown sapling survival in the field continued. Six plots were selected adjacent to the already existing plots for the follow-up of seedling survival in the field. With six plots for “natural” timberline monitoring, the new plots raise the total number of field plots to twelve. The new plots will be monitored at least four times over two years during both dry and rainy season.  Survival rates and tree growth will be recorded.  The evaluation of seedling and sapling development in the original natural succession plots show a similar high survival rate. A 10% increase was recorded in recruitment of seedlings under natural nursery shrubs, which was probably due to the absence of cattle in the area. Plots at Cocha Sondor (CLU-01, CLU-02) showed the highest survival of seedlings and saplings, but the least percentage of new recruits. These plots are some 600 m above a monospecific patch of forest composed exclusively by Clusia trees. This is a highly unusual patch of forest which the research team is monitoring to assess the environmental and cattle grazing derived successional drivers. 

Environmental monitoring over the past year is now showing the main characteristics of the plots established. The plots TRU01 and TRU02 in Trocha Union are the ones showing the greatest amount of year round moisture and higher temperatures. These plots directly face the amazon side of the mountain range and have higher cloud cover. We expect during this year to be able to perform a better correlation between environmental variables and seedling survival a consolidation.  The team plan to make a complete evaluation of pioneer species throughout this coming year to compile reliable information. 
4-116_Q2 2017 Salinas 24-116_Q2 2017 Salinas 1
Field assistants and PI transplanting tree seedlings in the upper Manu National Park 

The Frankfurt Zoological Society (FZS), the partner NGO, installed protective wire fences in the 12 plots to prevent not only cattle but also natural grazing by returning herbivores (primarily deer) which can be observed with higher frequency in the area. Puma has also been reported in the area which may be an indicator of a trend towards restoration of the natural habitat in the absence of human pressure. However, it is still too early to state this as current observations, suggest that natural herbivory is still too low for the control biomass accumulation in the highland grasses. 
Additional funding was secured from Peruvian government sources to help continue the project for the next two years which allows the team to carry out more detailed observations over a more extended period of time.  In terms of personal development, Dr. Salinas received  L´Oreal award to women in Science 2016, Peruvian chapter
Potential Development Impacts
The project has similar long-term objectives as those of a project by the Francfort Zoological Society (FZS) regarding the evaluation of impacts of removing cattle grazing in the upper Manu National Park through a policy of economic incentives to local communities. The FZS has dealt with the social aspects and this project provided the scientific background and data to support the effectiveness of the policy on landscape management in this area of the park. FZS is aiming at expanding funding for the initiative in the long term and there is close communication with the Park Director´s office and park rangers. Financial compensation for stakeholders abstaining from grazing rights is an initiative that also addresses open questions regarding forest migration into highland grasslands in the Andes and which have been a frequent topic in International ecology meetings. The questions have been whether the Andean timberline natural or anthropogenic, and whether the timberline migrates upwards in altitude in response to climate change. Contrary to previously published information, this project provides preliminary evidence for a man-made timber line and for a quick response in the grassland to forest succession once anthropogenic inputs are removed. Still open is the timeframe at which this process takes place and whether successional rates can match climate change. A policy paper together with the Parks Service is expected as a result from the combined work of FZS and PEER project.
The project and associated work by FZS is expected to provide a proof of concept and policy guideline for financial compensation and participatory management with stakeholders for the elimination of cattle grazing/grassland fires in the upper reaches of the Manu National Park for long-term monitoring of tree-line and fauna in the absence of these anthropogenic inputs.
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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