The lakes of the Cajas National Park, located at elevations ranging from 3,000 to 4,600 meters in Ecuador’s Azuay province, are the scene of fieldwork carried out by the research project ECUAFLUX, an initiative to analyze the carbon cycle in the Andean basins of Ecuador and predict the impact of climate change on natural ecosystems.
ECUAFLUX, a pioneering project in the Andean country, will study carbon flux and its relationship with vegetation, sun and water bodies in three experimental basins of Andean mountains. It will provide valuable information to improve water management in headwater catchments that supply the city of Cuenca, a city of 550,000
and the third largest city in the country, after Guayaquil and Quito.
The project will explore the role that different elements of the natural ecosystem play in the carbon cycle in three basins of Andean mountains with some common features: They do not receive external water supplies (except for rain) and present different concentrations of dissolved and particulate organic carbon in lakes. Stands of Polylepis reticulata —an Andean tree which lives in extreme conditions and is one of the main agents involved in carbon fixation— make up the characteristic vegetation of the basins studied in El Cajas National Park, which has a rich lake ecosystem in a surface of 29,000 hectares.
Carles Gràcia, professor in the Department of Ecology of the UB and member of the Centre for Ecological Research and Forestry Applications (CREAF), explains that “the species Polylepis reticulata lives at 4,000 metres high, in an environment of permanent changing extreme conditions due to the effects of the climate change; therefore, this species is a very sensitive indicator to the climate change.”
It is important to remember that in 2013, the UB and the University of Cuenca signed a collaboration agreement to enhance scientific research on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in Ecuador. This agreement has led to an expert collaboration programme coordinated by Carles Gràcia and Henrietta Hample. Moreover, a research group on ecophysiology and forest modelling, coordinated by Professor Gràcia, was created in 2014.
Credit: PhysOrg, http://phys.org