Identifying temporal and spatial patterns of diatom community change in the tropical Andes over the last c. 150 years

Xavier Benito, Melina G. Feitl, Sherilyn C. Fritz, Pablo V. Mosquera, Tobias Schneider, Henrietta Hampel, Luis Quevedo, Miriam Steinitz-Kannan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Aim: Lakes in the Ecuadorean Andes span different altitudinal and climatic regions, from inter Andean plateau to the high-elevation páramo, which differ in their historical evolution in the several centuries since the pioneering Humboldt expeditions. Here, we evaluate temporal and spatial patterns of change in diatom assemblages between historical (palaeolimnological) and modern times. Location: Ecuadorean Andes. Methods: We compared historical (pre-1850) and modern (2017) diatom assemblages from 21 lakes and determined the relative role of environmental (water chemistry and climate) and spatial factors (distance-based Moran's eigenvectors maps) on both assemblages using non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMDS) with environmental fitting. In addition, we used redundancy analysis (RDA) with variance partitioning to estimate the historical (measured using downcore assemblage composition) effects on modern diatom assemblages and identified diatom species that contributed most to dissimilarity between the two times. Results: Diatom changes between the two time points were limited across the group of lakes, as indicated by the NMDS ordination. Variance partitioning indicated that modern diatom assemblages were affected by environmental and spatial effects, but with non-significant effects of past diatom species composition. Ordination results showed that variables related to elevation and water chemistry affected both modern and historical diatom assemblages. Diatom species with the best fit on NMDS axes (i.e. >70%) were influenced by elevation and climatic variables. The most distinctive change between the two time periods was the higher relative abundance of planktic diatom species in top-core assemblages of some lakes, but in a highly variable fashion across gradients of increased elevation and water depth. Main conclusions: Landscape palaeolimnological analyses of varied Ecuadorean Andean lakes demonstrate both environmental and spatial controls on diatom metacommunities. The multi-faceted ecological control of the altitudinal gradient on both historic and contemporary diatom assemblages suggests species sorting and dispersal constraints operating at centennial time-scale. Although a few individual lakes show substantive change between the 1850s and today, the majority of lakes do not, and the analysis suggests the resilience of lakes at a regional scale. We emphasize the potential of diatom palaeolimnological approaches in biogeography to test ecologically relevant hypotheses of the mechanisms driving recent limnological change in high-elevation tropical lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1889-1900
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Biogeography
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Andes
  • Humboldt
  • altitudinal gradient
  • diatoms
  • metacommunity
  • resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Ecology


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