Published online by Cambridge University Press: 11 July 2013
Studying species turnover along gradients is a key topic in tropical ecology. Crucial drivers, among others, are fog deposition and soil properties. In northern Peru, a fog-dependent vegetation formation develops on mountains along the hyper-arid coast. Despite their uniqueness, these fog oases are largely uninvestigated. This study addresses the influence of environmental factors on the vegetation of these unique fog oases. Accordingly, vegetation and soil properties were recorded on 66 4 × 4-m plots along an altitudinal gradient ranging from 200 to 950 m asl. Ordination and modelling techniques were used to study altitudinal vegetation belts and floristic composition. Four vegetation belts were identified: a low-elevation Tillandsia belt, a herbaceous belt, a bromeliad belt showing highest species richness and an uppermost succulent belt. Different altitudinal levels might reflect water availability, which is highest below the temperature inversion at around 700 m asl. Altitude alone explained 96% of the floristic composition. Soil texture and salinity accounted for 88%. This is in contrast with more humid tropical ecosystems where soil nutrients appear to be more important. Concluding, this study advances the understanding of tropical gradients in fog-dependent and ENSO-affected ecosystems.