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

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Abstract

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.

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Acknowledgments

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.

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Correspondence to Francisco Cuesta or Luis D. Llambí.

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Cuesta, F., Llambí, L.D., Huggel, C. et al. New land in the Neotropics: a review of biotic community, ecosystem, and landscape transformations in the face of climate and glacier change. Reg Environ Change 19, 1623–1642 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-019-01499-3

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