, Volume 149, Issue 2, pp 181-193

Elevational gradients in species richness and endemism of selected plant groups in the central Bolivian Andes

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Abstract

I analyzed the distribution of Acanthaceae, Araceae, Bromeliaceae, Cactaceae, Melastomataceae, and Pteridophyta in 62 vegetation plots of 400 m2 along an elevational transect between 500 m and 2450 m, and at a nearby lowland site in western Santa Cruz department, Bolivia. These groups were selected because they are physiognomically distinctive, have high species numbers, are comparatively easy to identify, adequately reflect overall floristic relationships, include a wide range of life forms, and are small. The transect was located in the Tucumano-Boliviano biogeographic zone and included drought-deciduous (<850–1000 m), mixed evergreen (850–1000 m to 1800 m), and evergreen Podocarpus-dominated (>1800 m) forests. Elevational patterns of species richness were group-specific and probably related to the ecophysiological properties of each group. Species richness in Pteridophyta and Melastomataceae was correlated with moss cover (i.e., humidity), with elevation (i.e., temperatures) in Acanthaceae and epiphytic Bromeliaceae, with potential evapotranspiration (i.e., ecosystem productivity) in Araceae, and with light availability at ground level in terrestrial Bromeliaceae and Cactaceae. Community endemism generally increased with elevation, but showed a maximum at 1700 m for terrestrial Pteridophyta, and a nonsignificant decline for epiphytic Bromeliaceae and Cactaceae. Endemism was higher for terrestrial than for epiphytic taxa, and was lower among Pteridophyta compared to all other groups, reflecting different dispersal ability among taxonomic and ecological groups. Elevational zonation, tested against a null-model of random distribution of elevational limits, revealed a significant accumulation of upper and lower elevational range boundaries at 900–1050 m and at 1500–1850 m, corresponding to the elevational limits of the main physiognomic vegetation types.