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Cuban Journal of Agricultural Science

Print version ISSN 0864-0408On-line version ISSN 2079-3480

Cuban J. Agric. Sci. vol.49 no.3 Mayabeque July.-Sept. 2015




Flora diversity in the Ecuadorian Páramo grassland ecosystem


Diversidad de la flora en el ecosistema de páramo ecuatoriano



L. Fiallos,I R. S. Herrera,II R. Velázquez,III

IEscuela Superior Politécnica de Chimborazo, Docente Facultad de Ciencias Pecuarias, Riobamba, Ecuador.
IIInstituto de Ciencia Animal, Apartado Postal 24, San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque, Cuba.
IIIUniversidad de Granma, Bayamo, Cuba.




This research was carried out in the Ecuadorian Páramo grasslands, between 2900 and 4200 m o.s.l, in Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, Azuay, Cañar, Chimborazo, Bolívar, Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Imbabura and Carchi provinces. For the identification and taxonomical classification of species there were taken herborized samples and identified by agrostologists. The Hitchcock, Gould, Lombardo and Tovar taxonomic keys were used for the identification. From the grasses family, in the eight study places, 90 species were identified, including 37 genus, being the mains, with higher number of species: Festuca (14), Paspalum (10), Agrostis (7), Calamagrostis (7), Bromus (6), Stipa (5), Poa (5), Agropirum (3), Arrhenatherum (2), Brisa (2) and Andropogon (2).The species that prevailed in the study places were: Agrostis breviculmis, Agrostis exigua, Bromus lanatus, Calamagrostis tarmensis, Festuca humilior, Festuca ortophylla, Festuca weberbaueri and Paspalum bomplandianum. The diversity indexes of the existent meadow species showed values from mean (0.72) to high (0.90), as for their uniformity. This allowed determining that the biodiversity is variable, according to the environmental conditions of the studied Páramo grassland ecosystems. Similar performance was obtained for trees grasses species.

Key words: Páramo grasslands, Ecuador, grasses, diversity.


El estudio se realizó en los páramos ecuatorianos, entre los 2900 y 4200 msnm de altitud, en las provincias de Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, Azuay, Cañar, Chimborazo, Bolívar, Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Imbabura y Carchi. Para la identificación y clasificación taxonómica de especies se tomaron muestras herborizadas e identificadas por agrostólogos. Para la identificación se utilizaron las claves taxonómicas de Hitchcock, Gould, Lombardo y Tovar. De la familia de las gramíneas, en los ocho sitios de estudio, se identificaron 90 especies, comprendidas en 37 géneros, siendo los principales, con mayor número de especies: Festuca (14), Paspalum (10), Agrostis (7), Calamagrostis  (7), Bromus (6), Stipa (5), Poa (5), Agropirum (3), Arrhenatherum (2), Brisa (2) y Andropogon (2). Las especies que predominaron en los sitios de estudio fueron: Agrostis breviculmis, Agrostis exigua, Bromus lanatus, Calamagrostis tarmensis, Festuca humilior, Festuca ortophylla, Festuca weberbaueri y Paspalum bomplandianum. Los índices de diversidad de especies pratenses existentes mostraron valores de medios (0.72) a altos (0.90), en cuanto a su uniformidad. Esto permitió determinar que la biodiversidad es variable, según las condiciones ambientales de los ecosistemas de páramo estudiados. Similar comportamiento se obtuvo para especies de gramíneas forrajeras.

Palabras clave: páramos, Ecuador, gramíneas, diversidad.




Currently, the biodiversity conservation is a topic that it has progressively relevance. However, the biodiversity, as natural valuable resource, is not used in the best way, which has caused the genetic erosion of native and naturalized species. As consequence, the many species survival is in danger (Bravo 2014).

The Páramo grasslands are almost permanently humid and of great cloudiness, with annual precipitations higher to 1000 mm and up to 3000 mm or more. They exit, mainly, in Colombia and Ecuador. The grasses are dominants in these areas, in tufts from Calamagrostis, Festuca, Stipa and Agrostis genus (Chaparro 2012).These scrubland extensions (promissory grasses community) become the natural main forage, with higher limitations for their use by the cattle (Becker 2006).

At present, 10 % of the Páramo grassland surface is dedicated to grazing and corresponds to natural meadows. This can be one of the causes that in Ecuador seeds of native or naturalized species do not been produced, identified as promissory, which forces to the germplasm import that have nothing in common to our ecosystems conditions, and increase the price of grasslands establishment (De la Cruz et al. 2009).

This research was carried out to identify grasses species with productive interest, as grasses and forages, by means of the use of prospecting, characterization and in situ selection in the Ecuadorians Páramo grasslands ecosystems.



The research was carried out in the Ecuadorian Páramo grasslands, at 2900 m o.s.l in Loja, Zamora Chinchipe, Azuay, Cañar, Chimborazo, Bolívar, Tungurahua, Cotopaxi, Pichincha, Imbabura and Carchi provinces. To identify a specie and to determine their taxonomical classification, there were taken 50 samples of each and of the place where they coming from during three consecutive four – month period. The species were herborized and identified by agrostologists. The Hitchcock (1927), Gould (1975), Lombardo (1984) and Tovar (1988) taxonomic keys were used for the identification. The biodiversity was evaluated by means of the specialized statistical package for biological diversity calculations (Franja 1993).It was determined the species richness, uniformity, community coefficient and high importance indexes: Shannon, Margalef and Simpson, indicators that were evaluated to determine the diversity of existent species in the study areas.



The census, by regions and places, of the identified species that  are of interest for animal feeding allowed finding 169 species of plants with trees importance (table 1).Of  these,90 belongs to grasses family, 14 are legumes, 28 compounds, and 37 between  Equitaceas, Oxalidaceas, Liliaceas, Scrophulariaceas, Rosaceas, Ciperaceas, Poligonaceas, Plantaginaceas, Arbustivas, Orchideaceas, Ranunculaceas and Gentianaceas. This shows higher prevalence of forage grasses, which corresponds to that informed by different authors in other countries that share the Andean Páramo grasslands (Cañadas 1993, Aguirre 2002 and Beck 2008).

Doumenge (2005) and Bravo (2014) showed that grasses, even without being the family with higher number of species in nature, are ecologically the most dominant, and this dominance usually is associated to low relative levels of biodiversity.

In the eight study places, a total of 90 species from the grasses family were identified, that included 37 genus, being the mains with higher number of species: Festuca (14), Paspalum (10), Agrostis (7), Calamagrostis (7), Bromus (6), Stipa (5), Poa (5), Agropirum (3), Arrhenatherum (2), Brisa (2), Andropogon (2) and Lolium (2).Other genus with lower number of species were: Polipogon, Anthonxanthum, Trisetun, Mulembergia, Bouteloua, Distichlis, Eragrostis, Dactylis, Holcus, Cortaderia, Sporobolus, Botriochloa, Setaria, Digitaria, Axonopus, Pennisetum, Panicum, Danhonia, Arundo, Melinis, Pharapholis, Aira, Alopecurus, Avena and Euchlaena. This shows that the grasses, besides of being the most abundant family, is the most varied, which can be due to, maybe, to that the most promissory constitute the plant community that has adapted to the adverse temperature conditions, soil humidity and available water for plants in the Páramo grasslands ecosystem, among other aspects (Crespo 2012).

Regarding to the studied places, the highest richness of meadow species was found in the ecological reserve “Cotacachi Cayapas”, with a total of 62 species, probably associated to the quantity of annual precipitation (1200 mm), organic matter content (8 %), 12h light and relative humidity higher than 90%.The biodiversity of the ecological reserve “Cotacachi Cayapas” is considered the richest in the Ecuador natives grasslands ecosystem (Bravo 2014).

In the humid Páramo grasslands of this reserve, between 3000 and 4500 m o.s.l, there are extensions of Espeletia genus, which members are commonly known as frailejón and grasslands, which constitutes places of extensive grazing, mainly of cattle. Of the 62 identified species, 34 are grasses. Between them are the Festuca genus, with eight species; Stipa and Bromus, with four; Calamagrostis, with three; Agrostis, with four, and Paspalum, with one. The Poa, Vulpia, Parapholis, Anthonxanthum, Agropirum, Andropogon, Cortaderia, Bouteloua and Distichlis genus were registered with only one species. Cyperaceas was with three species. In legumes family, the Lupinos, Vicea, Trifolium, Astragalus and Omnix genus prevailed with one species each. The lower number of legumes is due to that this family requires soils of deep tilled layer, well drained, fertile, with neuter pH to slightly alkaline and resistant to drought, with characteristics contrary to the Páramo grassland conditions, with clayey soil, poorly drained, with pH between 4.5 and 6.5 and temperatures lower than 4 °C. These regions support frosts that affect the crops; conditions to those legumes have not adapted (CONDENSAN 2013 and Cuesta et al. 2014).

The lower species richness was in the Experimental Station Tunshi, with 21meadow species. This could be related with the man anthropic action, which has desolated the natural meadow to implant agricultural crops and to introduce improved species, in detriment of the natural and naturalized.

Everything means that in this place the ecosystem is simplified and, therefore, there is loss of biodiversity, because as Galván and Escobedo (2005) said, in grass area, the high intervention and escalation in its use, with the purpose of obtaining high productions, it always takes implicit loss of the biodiversity. Just to point out that the uncontrolled man intervention in nature is one of the main causes of the biodiversity loss and of the ecosystem sustenance. Some authors consider that, at the moment, by the human action on the natural ecosystems, the annual extinction rate of the species is of 17000, between 100 and 1000 times higher to the normal (García 2005).

Calculation of the biodiversity indexes for the different study places. The different biodiversity indexes (tables 2 and 3) show uniformity in time and space, from mean to high, of meadow species (0.72-0.90) and of grasses (0.68-0.93) independently, in accordance with the Franja (1993) statistical model. This shows the favorable tendency in the species maintenance in the ecosystems in those that the man does not intervene.

With regard to the places, the higher uniformity of meadow species was in Tunshi Experimental Station, due to man intervention, which has affected the biodiversity. Specifically, in this place there have been incorporated species of introduced grasses as perennial Rygrass. To this respect, Crissman (2013) showed that the main threats to the diversity in some Páramo grassland places are the non sustainable practices of the land use, particularly in agriculture, in the use of grazing and livestock lands and in the forest technique.

In the ecological reserve “El Ángel” (Hondon Colorado) there was lower uniformity and higher diversity, probably because in this area the climatological conditions (precipitations and relative humidity) favor the species permanence (Ruiz and Tapia 2002).

In correspondence with the uniformity and diversity, the community coefficient (Cc) of meadow species linked to animal grazing did not exceed 50%, which shows prevalence of other plant communities in the studied places. The lower value was recorded in “Tunshi”, with 16.8 % and the higher in “Aña Moyocancha” (40.3 %).

Specifically, for the grasses, regarding the total of existent species dedicated to grazing, the lower value was also in “Tunshi” (5.5 %) and the higher, in “El Boliche” with 31.7 %.

The rest of places showed values that fluctuate among the referred ends, which demonstrates that the dominance of the forage meadow species is, in high proportion, in “Aña Moyocancha”. Regarding to the forage grasses, are dominant in “El Boliche” and it is lower, for both cases, in “Tunshi”.

The Margalef index showed that the higher richness in the meadow species diversity was in the place Cotacachi Loma, with 62, for 11.73.The lower value of this indicator was in “Aña Moyocancha” (9.16), with 44 species, and in Tunshi (3.60) with 21.Similar values regarding to the diversity richness there were obtained by means of Shannon index, with 3.41 for “Cotacachi Loma” and in “Hondón Colorado” and “Tunshi”, with 2.78 and 2.75, respectively.

The highest richness of grasses species, according to Margalef index, was in “Cotacachi Loma”, with 34 grasses and biodiversity index of 7.15. The lowest diversity was in the “Hondon Colarado” and “Tunshi” places, with 16 species value of 3.15, with 6 and 1.14, respectively.

The Shannon index, the same as of Margalef, values the species richness, for what the tendency in the values was similar. For all cases, the higher value of indexes was in “Cotacachi Loma” (3.01) and the lower, in “Tunshi” (1.56) and “Hondón Colorado” (1.88).

The values observed in the Shannon (H) index showed, in general way, that the meadow species biodiversity existing in the Ecuadorian Páramo grassland is not neither it lower neither very high, because the fluctuating values takes an intermediate position in the scale proposed by Ferrer (2001).These date are lower to those showed by Premauer and Vargas (2004), when evaluating the diversity of Chingazo Páramo grassland in Colombia, in grazed and burned vegetation. These authors showed values of H= 7.7 near to those referred by Rodríguez (2006) in meadows grazed in mountainous areas of Spain (3.47- 3.65) and to the informed by Ruiz and Tapia (2002) on subalpine soil of Pirineo (3.0 - 3.5).

The values of Margalef index, consider for meadow species in their group, exceed those showed by Premauer and Vargas (2004) under the mentioned conditions, while for the independent grasses is lower.

The Simpson index is a measure of the dominance between species. As this one increase, the existent diversity is lower, for what this index overvalues the most abundant species in detriment of the total richness of species. In this study, the higher dominance was in “Hondon Colorado”, with 0.1284, and the lower, in “El Boliche”, with 0.0056.

The Simpson index, for grasses species, was higher again in its diversity in “El Boliche”, with value of 0.008. The lower diversity was in “Hondón Colorado” and “Tunshi”, with 0.20 and 0.19, respectively.

The diversity indexes of meadow species showed high values as for their uniformity, higher at 0.68 in all studied places. This allows to conclude that the existent biodiversity, taking into account the Margalef, Simpson and Shannon index, is variable, which corresponds with the Páramo grassland ecosystems, identified as of poor diversity, given the height to which they are and the adverse climatic conditions.

This can be due to that the biological diversity of the Páramo grassland has showed to be very sensitive to the ecological changes in an ecosystem. At the moment suffers adverse effects on the plant communities of grasses, due to the climatic change. In a grasses community, the diversity is affected by the temperature changes, in day and night hours. It has been verified that is more restrictive with temperatures that can reach to 8 and 4º C, and when physical- chemical factors of the water and soil are present, as the pH levels every time more acid, that caused that some species, more spread than others, get higher abundances in a very short time and others, that do not adapt, they tend to disappear, reducing the diversity of the Páramo grassland ecosystem (Jiménez 2013 and Monasterio 2013).

It is recommended that for the constant climatic changes that takes place in the Earth and for being the Páramo grassland ecosystem fragile, should be create policies of ecological restoration and environmental protection plans that reduce even more the anthropic effect on the ecosystem, and allow to control the biodiversity loss that caused the natural effects, so it can recover the resident flora, which has a forage productive potential necessary for animal production.



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Received: July 17, 2015
Accepted: July 21, 2015



L. Fiallos, Escuela Superior Politécnica de Chimborazo, Docente Facultad de Ciencias Pecuarias, Riobamba, Ecuador. Email:

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