New land in the Neotropics: a review of biotic community, ecosystem, and landscape transformations in the face of climate and glacier change

  • Francisco CuestaEmail author
  • Luis D. LlambíEmail author
  • Christian Huggel
  • Fabian Drenkhan
  • William D. Gosling
  • Priscilla Muriel
  • Ricardo Jaramillo
  • Carolina Tovar


The high tropical Andes are rapidly changing due to climate change, leading to strong biotic community, ecosystem, and landscape transformations. While a wealth of glacier, water resource, and ecosystem-related research exists, an integrated perspective on the drivers and processes of glacier, landscape, and biota dynamics is currently missing. Here, we address this gap by presenting an interdisciplinary review that analyzes past, current, and potential future evidence on climate and glacier driven changes in landscape, ecosystem and biota at different spatial scales. We first review documented glacier changes and landscape evolution over past decades to millennia and analyze projected future glacier shrinkage until 2100 for two case studies in the tropical Andes. The effects of climate and glacier change on high Andean biota are then examined from paleoecological research and comparative gradient analyses to chronosequence and diachronic studies of vegetation dynamics. Our analysis indicates major twenty-first century landscape transformations with important socioecological implications which can be grouped into (i) formation of new lakes and drying of existing lakes as glaciers recede, (ii) alteration of hydrological dynamics in glacier-fed streams and high Andean wetlands, resulting in community composition changes, (iii) upward shifts of species and formation of new communities in deglaciated forefronts,(iv) potential loss of wetland ecosystems, and (v) eventual loss of alpine biota. We advocate strengthening an interdisciplinary research agenda with a strong policy formulation link that enables enhanced cross-sectorial cooperation and knowledge sharing, capacity building of relevant stakeholders, and a more active participation of both government agencies and social organizations.


Tropical mountains Deglaciation Colonization High-Andean wetlands Primary succession Vegetation dynamics 



This study was developed in the framework of and supported by the Sustainable Mountain Development for Global Change (SMD4GC) Programme of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Further support is acknowledged from the Proyecto Glaciares+, funded by SDC and implemented in collaboration with CARE Peru, and the project AguaFuturo funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation (project no. 205121L_166272). We furthermore thank Simone Schauwecker from University of Geneva, Andreas Linsbauer from University of Zurich, and the Unidad de Glaciología y Recursos Hídricos (UGRH) of the Autoridad Nacional de Agua (ANA), and the Instituto Nacional de Investigación en Glaciología y Ecosistemas de Montaña (INAIGEM) for data and information exchange. FC has also received additional funding to complete this study from the EcoAndes Project conducted by CONDESAN and UN-Environment, funded by the Global Environmental Fund (GEF) and from the Andean Forest Program funded by SDC. We thank the GLORIA-Andes network for the baseline data provided and all of their PIs: Rosa Isela Meneses, Julieta Carilla, Stephan Halloy, Karina Yager, Jorge Jácome, and Stephan Beck.

Supplementary material

10113_2019_1499_MOESM1_ESM.docx (96 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 96 kb)


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Biodiversity DepartmentConsorcio para el Desarrollo Sostenible de la Ecorregión Andina (CONDESAN)QuitoEcuador
  2. 2.Department of Ecosystem and Landscape Dynamics, Institute for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics (IBED)University of AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Grupo de Investigación en Biodiversidad, Medio Ambiente y Salud –BIOMASUniversidad de Las Américas (UDLA)QuitoEcuador
  4. 4.Instituto de Ciencias Ambientales y Ecológicas, Facultad de CienciasUniversidad de los AndesMéridaVenezuela
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  6. 6.Departamento de HumanidadesPontificia Universidad Católica del PerúLimaPeru
  7. 7.Laboratorio de Ecofisiología, Escuela de Ciencias BiológicasPontificia Universidad Católica del EcuadorQuitoEcuador
  8. 8.Biodiversity Informatics and Spatial Analysis, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, The Jodrell LaboratoryKewUK

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