Age-growth relationships, temperature sensitivity and palaeoclimate-archive potential of the threatened Altiplano cactus Echinopsis atacamensis

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Oxford University Press & the Society for Experimental Biology
The tall (>4 m), charismatic and threatened columnar cacti, pasacana [Echinopsis atacamensis (Vaupel) Friedrich & G.D. Rowley)], grows on the Bolivian Altiplano and provides environmental and economic value to these extremely cold, arid and high-elevation (~4000 m) ecosystems. Yet very little is known about their growth rates, ages, demography and climate sensitivity. Using radiocarbon in spine dating time series, we quantitatively estimate the growth rate (5.8 and 8.3 cm yr−1) and age of these cacti (up to 430 years). These data and our field measurements yield a survivorship curve that suggests precipitation on the Altiplano is important for this species’ recruitment. Our results also reveal a relationship between night-time temperatures on the Altiplano and the variation in oxygen isotope values in spines (δ18O). The annual δ18O minimums from 58 years of in-series spine tissue from pasacana on the Altiplano provides at least decadal proxy records of temperature (r = 0.58; P < 0.0001), and evidence suggests that there are longer records connecting modern Altiplano temperatures to sea-surface temperatures (SSTs) in the Atlantic Ocean. While the role of Atlantic SSTs on the South American Summer Monsoon (SASM) and precipitation on the Bolivian Altiplano is well described, the impact of SSTs on Altiplano temperatures is disputed. Understanding the modern impact of SSTs on temperature on the Altiplano is important to both understand the impact of future climate change on pasacana cactus and to understand past climate changes on the Altiplano. This is the best quantitative evidence to date of one of the oldest known cactus in the world, although there are likely many older cacti on the Altiplano, or elsewhere, that have not yet been sampled. Together with growth, isotope and age data, this information should lead to better management and conservation outcomes for this threatened species and the Altiplano ecosystem. © The Author(s) 2021
© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press and the Society for Experimental Biology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Climates, Paleoclimatology, Stable isotopes, Cacti, Plants, South America, Bolivia
English, N. B., Dettman, D. L., Hua, Q., Mendoza, J. M., Muir, D., Hultine, K. R., & Williams, D. G. (2021). Age-growth relationships, temperature sensitivity and palaeoclimate-archive potential of the threatened Altiplano cactus Echinopsis atacamensis. Conservation Physiology, 9(1), coaa123. doi:10.1093/conphys/coaa123