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The breathing of the Andean highlands: Net ecosystem exchange and evapotranspiration over the páramo of southern Ecuador

Carrillo-Rojas, Galo, Silva, Brenner, Rollenbeck, Rütger, Célleri, Rolando, Bendix, Jörg
Agricultural and forest meteorology 2019 v.265 pp. 30-47
alpine grasslands, altitude, breathing, carbon, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, cities, climatic factors, crop coefficient, decision making, ecosystem services, ecosystems, eddy covariance, evapotranspiration, grasses, highlands, latitude, models, net ecosystem exchange, primary productivity, rain, tundra, Andes region, Ecuador
Atmospheric carbon (CO2) exchange, evapotranspiration (ET) processes, and their interactions with climatic drivers across tropical alpine grasslands are poorly understood. This lack of understanding is particularly evident for the páramo, the highest vegetated frontier in the northern Andes, the main source of water for inter-Andean cities, and a large carbon storage area. Studies of CO2 and ET fluxes via the standard Eddy Covariance (EC) technique have never been applied to this region, limiting the understanding of diurnal / nocturnal exchanges and budget estimations. In this paper, we report the first EC analysis conducted on the Andean páramo (3765 m a.s.l.); this analysis measured CO2, ET, and micrometeorological variables over two years (2016–2018) to understand their interactions with climatic / biophysical controls. The páramo was found to be a source of CO2 and exhibited a net positive exchange (mean = +99 ± 30 gC m−2 per year). The light-responses of net CO2 exchange and the primary productivity were correlated and model-parameterized. Evapotranspiration was 635 ± 9 mm per year (51% of the annual rainfall total), and we obtained crop coefficients for the dominant vegetation (Tussock grass) based on reference-ET models FAO56 and ASCE-ERWI (0.90 and 0.78, respectively). We also compared our results to those from other high-altitude (alpine) and high-latitude grasslands (tundra). Finally, we demonstrate that our measurement period is representative of the páramo’s longer-term climate dynamics. Our investigation contributes to the body of knowledge on the land surface-atmosphere processes of the tropical Andes and supports decision-making about ecosystem services management and the preservation of this vulnerable biome.