Plant community variation across a puna landscape in the Chilean Andes

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We describe patterns of plant species and growth form abundance in the puna vegetation of Parque Nacional Lauca, Chile. At more than 4,300 m, the extreme habitat of the study site supported relatively few species. These few species, however, represented a diverse array of growth forms that were organized with respect to distinct environmental gradients. Both species richness and growth form diversity increased with the degree of habitat rockiness and on more xeric north and east facing slopes. These xeric, rocky sites supported the greatest overall abundance of cushion forms. Less rocky sites with more soil development supported a greater abundance of tussock grass and shrub forms. Congeneric species occupied distinct microhabitats and were often markedly divergent in growth form. These patterns suggest that water and thermal stress are critical forces shaping functional form as well as community organization in the high Andean puna. © 2006 Sociedad de Biología de Chile.

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