This study aimed at investigating the vegetation pattern associated with the transition from upper northern Andean cloud forest to páramo grassland in a relatively unmodified area in Ecuador's Eastern Cordillera. Single 20 × 10 m plots were randomly placed in representative sites along an altitudinal gradient from continuously wet Andean montane cloud forest at 3400–3700 m to páramo grassland at 3900–4000 m. Also sampled was a disjunct stand of the stem-rosette Espeletia pycnophylla var. llanganatensis, some 200 km south of the limit of the otherwise continuous distribution of this genus. Several physical and chemical soil factors, including temperature at -30 cm, were determined. Visual estimates of cover in four life-form classes (trees, shrubs, herbs, ground cover) at each site revealed similarities related to their relative proximity along an elevation gradient. Stands with a tree cover were more species-rich than those without, due largely to the differential distribution of the woody flora. No abrupt discontinuity occurred in the mix of species along this gradient. Soil temperature and altitude were the most important factors of those measured to explain the variability in plant community structure and composition. There was no clear zonation evident along the altitudinal gradient, with vegetation structure and floristics displaying continuous variation. No clear upper forest limit was differentiated. The isolated presence of Espeletia in the area is discussed, but the theory about its origin remains speculative.
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