The Open UniversitySkip to content

Polylepis woodland dynamics during the last 20,000 years

Valencia, Bryan G.; Bush, Mark B.; Coe, Angela L.; Orren, Elizabeth and Gosling, William D. (2018). Polylepis woodland dynamics during the last 20,000 years. Journal of Biogeography, 45 pp. 1019–1030.

Full text available as:
PDF (Accepted Manuscript) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (4MB) | Preview
PDF (Version of Record) - Requires a PDF viewer such as GSview, Xpdf or Adobe Acrobat Reader
Download (2MB) | Preview
DOI (Digital Object Identifier) Link:
Google Scholar: Look up in Google Scholar



To determine the palaeoecological influences of climate change and human land use on the spatial distribution patterns of Polylepis woodlands in the Andes.


Tropical Andes above 2,900 m between 2°S and 18°S of latitude.


Pollen and charcoal data were gathered from 13 Andean lake sediment records and were rescaled by the maximum value in each site. The rescaled pollen data were used to estimate a mean abundance and coefficient of variation to show woodland expansions/contractions and woodland fragmentation over the last 20,000 years. The rescaled charcoal was displayed as a 200‐year moving median using 500‐year bins to infer the influence of fire on woodland dynamics at landscape scale. Pollen and charcoal were compared with speleothem, clastic flux and archaeological data to assess the influence of moisture balance, glacial activity and human impact on the spatial distribution of Polylepis woodlands.


Woodland expansion and fire were correlated with precipitation changes and glacier dynamics from c. 20 to 6 kcal BP (thousands of calibrated years before present). Charcoal abundances between 20 and 12 kcal BP were less common than from 12 kcal BP to modern. However, human‐induced fires were unlikely to be the main cause of a woodland decline centred at 11 kcal BP, as woodlands recovered from 10.5 to 9.5 kcal BP (about twofold increase). Charcoal peaks analogous to those that induced the woodland decline at 11 kcal BP were commonplace post‐9.5 kcal BP but did not trigger an equivalent woodland contraction. An increase in the coefficient of variation after c. 5.5 kcal BP suggests enhanced fragmentation and coincided with the shift from logistic to exponential growth of human populations. Over the last 1,000 years, Polylepis became hyper‐fragmented with over half of sites losing Polylepis from the record and with coefficients of variation paralleling those of glacial times.

Main conclusions

Polylepis woodlands formed naturally patchy woodlands, rather than a continuous vegetation belt, prior to human occupation in the Andes. The main factors controlling pre‐human woodland dynamics were precipitation and landscape heterogeneity. Human activity led to hyper‐fragmentation during the last c. 1,000 years.

Item Type: Journal Item
Copyright Holders: 2018 The Author(s)
ISSN: 0305-0270
Keywords: Ecology, Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Academic Unit/School: Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) > Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences
Faculty of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)
Item ID: 54045
SWORD Depositor: Jisc Publications-Router
Depositing User: Angela Coe
Date Deposited: 29 Mar 2018 14:30
Last Modified: 06 Jul 2020 18:09
Share this page:


Altmetrics from Altmetric

Citations from Dimensions

Download history for this item

These details should be considered as only a guide to the number of downloads performed manually. Algorithmic methods have been applied in an attempt to remove automated downloads from the displayed statistics but no guarantee can be made as to the accuracy of the figures.

Actions (login may be required)

Policies | Disclaimer

© The Open University   contact the OU