Vegetation structure and temperature regimes of tropical alpine treelines

M. Bader, M. Rietkerk, A.K. Bregt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

80 Citations (Scopus)


Alpine treeline ecotones can be gradual transitions, abrupt boundaries, or patchy mosaics, and these different patterns may indicate important processes and dynamic properties. We present observed spatial patterns of a wide range of tropical treelines and try to explain these patterns. Treelines were studied at seven sites in the tropical and subtropical Andes (Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Venezuela) and on a Hawaiian volcano (Haleakala, Maui). Treeline vegetation structure was described using transects perpendicular to the treeline, and air and soil temperatures were measured above and below the forest boundary. Temperature fluctuations were much larger and the average temperature was higher in alpine vegetation than in forest. Most treelines were abrupt, with surprisingly similar patterns across a wide geographical range. This abruptness could result from positive feedback processes mediated by the differences in microclimate between forest and páramo. Our data is not conclusive about the relative importance of microclimate as opposed to fire in mediating such feedbacks. However, our extensive set of comparable data from different sites in a large geographical region is an important step toward a better understanding of the nature and dynamics of tropical alpine treelines.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)353-364
JournalArctic, Antarctic and Alpine Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • climate-change
  • tree-line
  • northern ecuador
  • positive feedback
  • venezuelan andes
  • new-zealand
  • timberline
  • ecotones
  • limits
  • gradients


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