Aim To review the insights that palaeoecology can offer on the threat posed to Andean communities by global climate change.
Location The geographical focus is the eastern flank of the tropical Andes, with particular reference to Peru.
Method The article presents a synthetic review of the problem.
Results Species-rich communities of the eastern Andean flank are threatened both by development and climate change. If, as predicted, the cloudbase and frost line lifts 600 m elevation this century, there will be a substantial loss of cloud forest habitat. Palaeoecology provides insights on the location and nature of past ecotones, the continuity of niche availability, and estimates for rates and modes of migration. With further warming and drying of lower montane regions, upslope migration of species will be individualistic: a new equilibrium with the altered climate is unlikely to be attained. The zone of agriculture will move upslope faster than the migrating trees and so landscape conversion will negate the ability of some species to respond to the new conditions. Conservation of the lower reaches of modern cloud forest is advocated as a means to limit this foreseeable extinction event.
Main Conclusions Climate change will induce changes in plant and animal communities. Human disturbance will invade climatically marginal agricultural lands at the pace of climate change. Rapid migratory response such as that witnessed at the onset of the Holocene may not be evident as climates warm, because Holocene climatic stability has reduced outlying upslope populations that may have served as expansion nuclei. Conservation must aim to maintain plant and animal niches, rather than particular communities of species.