The paramo

15 Jan 2017

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Raul Trejos of the Universidad of Caldas sinks into the peat with a smile. The water temperature was about 9 degrees C (~50 degrees F).

After breakfast at the hotel, which included fresh fruit, eggs, rice, and soup, we loaded up into two cars and drove up the winding road from Manizales toward the paramo to a site located just below Nevado del Ruiz National Park. Several other scientists, including Natalia Hoyos of the Universidad del Norte, and Felipe Vallejo, Raul Trejos, and Andres Pardo of the Universidad of Caldas, joined us. We ascended over 1000 meters in about an hour, and the driving experience was just as thrilling as it was in Bogota. Cars and motorcycles would pass other vehicles even on the very windy sections of this road. Even a public bus passed around a blind curve! The double yellow line on the road is clearly just a suggestion, and taken no more seriously than the posted speed limit is in much of the US.

As we ascended, the views of the rainforest and mountains were breathtaking, with the forest vegetation clearly changing as we progressed higher. Somewhere over about 3000 meters the trees disappeared and were replaced with tussock grasses and frailejón (pronounced fry-lay-hon-nez), which are some of the most characteristic plants of the paramo. Frailejón (Espeletia sp.) is in the Asteraceae family, which includes species with composite flowers like sunflowers, daises, and dandelions. However, other than the recognizable composite flower on the plant it is quite unique, with a thick trunk, hairy leaves, and old dead leaves that remain attached to the plant, presumably to protect it from the cold. The roots don’t apparently penetrate very deep in the soil, because it was not uncommon to see individuals toppled over.

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Frailejon (Espeletia sp.) growing in the paramo near Nevada del Ruiz National Park.

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Triunfo peatland.

Our goal for the day was to visit and collect surface samples from a peatland that was previously cored by Jaime and others.  At Lehigh University we are currently analyzing testate amoebae in this core. Testate amoebae are a subgroup of amoeba that produce a decay-resistant and morphologically distinct shell. These organisms have been used estimate past changes in the hydrology of peatlands, because different species are found in dry versus wet habitats. A major goal of this new collaboration will be to assess the potential of using testate amoebae along with other indicators to reconstruct past hydrological and ecological changes within the paramo. However, currently nothing is known about the ecology of testate amoebae in peatlands of the paramo, so we are collecting surface samples to better understand the distribution of testate amoebae today, and we will use this  information to interpret the changes that we are document in the peat core.

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Ash cloud from Nevada del Ruiz volcano.

On our short hike to the peatland we were lucky enough to observe the Nevado del Ruiz volcano venting gas and ash. Although I have seen lava flows in Hawaii, an eruption like this was a first for me. The Nevada del Ruiz has been experiencing small eruptions like this over the past several years. However, the last major eruption was in 1985 and it caused the deadliest mud and debris flows in recorded history, killing over 25,000 people and burying an entire town.

The peatland was spectacular, and we spent a productive day collecting surface samples. Jaime almost didn’t make it out, but with a little effort he managed to avoid becoming the first known bog body of the paramo.

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Jaime Escobar of the Universidad del Norte sinks into the peatland during our hike out.

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Posted on January 19, 2017, in Colombia 2016, Conservation & Biodiversity (EES-28), Research, Wetland ecology (EES-386) and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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