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Northwestern University

Publication Date

Fall 2021

Program Name

Ecuador: Comparative Ecology and Conservation


This study hopes to reveal the mechanisms behind camelid-plant interactions in the Chimborazo province of Ecuador, which is known for having a large population of domesticated alpacas (Vicugna pacos), along with wild vicuñas (Vicugna vicugna) that were reintroduced into the area 30 years ago. These camelid species, especially vicuñas, are understudied within Ecuador in regards to their effects on plant composition, diversity, and spatial phenology. To gain a better insight into this topic, three sites were chosen: a site inhabited by only vicuña, a site inhabited by only alpaca, and a site inhabited by both species. The vicuña site sat at the highest elevation, and the alpaca site at the lowest. Three circular quadrats with a ten-meter radius were set up in each site, and the main plant species were counted and recorded for total population and the presence of and number of senescing leaves, flowers, fruits, and dying leaves. Both the vicuña and alpaca site followed the patterns expected with increasing altitude. This includes a higher percentage of senescing, flowering, and fruiting plants at lower altitudes and higher proportions of plants with dying leaves at higher altitudes. The combined site, however, did not follow these patterns. It not only had the lowest species evenness, but the species here that were found in all three sits also had a number of phenological differences that did not fall under any kind of altitudinal or microclimatic explanation. This disruption in the expected phenological gradient is possibly due to high grazing pressures and trampling done by both the large populations of alpaca and vicuña that graze in the area. Consequences include disruption in pollination and the reproductive success of páramo flora.


Ecology and Evolutionary Biology | Environmental Indicators and Impact Assessment | Environmental Studies | Latin American Studies | Plant Sciences | Research Methods in Life Sciences | Zoology


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