Research Article

Impact of Lower Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Tropical Mountain Ecosystems

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Science  21 Nov 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5342, pp. 1422-1426
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5342.1422

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Abstract

Carbon-isotope values of bulk organic matter from high-altitude lakes on Mount Kenya and Mount Elgon, East Africa, were 10 to 14 per mil higher during glacial times than they are today. Compound-specific isotope analyses of leaf waxes and algal biomarkers show that organisms possessing CO2-concentrating mechanisms, including C4 grasses and freshwater algae, were primarily responsible for this large increase. Carbon limitation due to lower ambient CO2 partial pressures had a significant impact on the distribution of forest on the tropical mountains, in addition to climate. Hence, tree line elevation should not be used to infer palaeotemperatures.

  • Present address: Department of Geosciences, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.

  • Present address: Department of Geology, University of Nairobi, Post Office Box 30197, Nairobi, Kenya.

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