Ecoregions of Colombia

August 2, 2012, 10:53 pm
Content Cover Image

Atrato River (Rio Atrato) in northwestern Colombia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Colombia has thirty one ecoregions that occur entirely or partly within its borders: [1] Western Ecuador moist forests, [2] South American Pacific mangroves, [3] Chocó-Darién moist forests, [4] Eastern Panamanian montane forests, [5] Amazon-Orinoco-Southern Caribbean mangroves, [6] Magdalena-Urabá moist forests, [7] Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub, [8] Sinú Valley dry forests, [9] Santa Marta montane forests, [10] Santa Marta páramo, [11] Cordillera Oriental montane forests, [12] Northern Andean paramo, [13] Magdalena Valley montane forests, [14] Magdalena Valley dry forests, [15] Cauca Valley montane forests, [16] Cauca Valley dry forests, [17] Northwestern Andean montane forests, [18] Patía Valley dry forests, [19] Eastern Cordillera real montane forests, [20] Napo moist forests, [21] Purus varzea, [22] Solimoes-Japura moist forest, [23] Caqueta moist forests, [24] Japurá-Solimoes-Negro moist forests, [25] Negro-Branco moist forests, [26] Rio Negro campinarana, [27] Llanos, [28] Apure-Villavicencio dry forests, and [29] Catatumbo moist forests. And off shore: [30] Cayos Miskitos-San Andrés and Providencia moist forests, and [31] Malpelo Island xeric scrub.

Western Ecuador moist forests

The moist forests of western Ecuador encompass a large part of the Pacific Coast covering a series of plains and small elevation variations that make this ecoregion unique by enhancing its ecological complexity. Located in south western Colombia and western Ecuador, most of this ecoregions moist forests are concentrated in the province of Esmeraldas to the north between the area of San Lorenzo (south of the Colombian Chocó) and Quinindé (Mangoya river). The ecoregions boundaries extend from the Patia River in the north then through the provinces of Manabí and Guayas to the south where it touches the Golfo de Guayaquil, ending among the foothills of the Andes Mountains in the east.

These forests that once covered vast areas of the coastal region and were home to an enormous wealth and diversity of species are now a dispersed chain of remnants under constant threat and facing an uncertain future. These moist forests of western Ecuador previously covered most of the north western Ecuadoran coast, but have now lost more than 1500 kilometers2 (km2) and are continuing to disappear at one of the highest rates in the world.

South American Pacific mangroves

  • Esmeraldes-Pacific Colombia mangroves -  This extensive mangrove ecoregion follows along the Pacific Coasts of Colombia and Ecuador encompassing stands of mangrove ecosystems along the way. Some of the larger stands are found in Tribugo Bay at the northern extent of the ecoregion then working south through the mouth of the San Juan River, Naya River, Guapi River, Mira River, Esmeraldas River finally ending at just south of the Mompiche Bay. The ecoregion generally has two large mangrove zones divided by Cabo Corrientes in Colombia.

    On the continent, Colombia has two Natural National Parks (Sanquianga and Ensenada de Utría) that based on their status as protected areas promote mangrove development and positively reduce the effects of human action on the ecosystem. In addition, positive expectations have been created with the implementation of Civil Society Natural Reserves. Three reserves have been established in northern Colombia and efforts to increase this number are ongoing.

Chocó-Darién moist forests

caption Choco, Colombia Photograph by WWF/ Jorge Orejeula The ecoregion of the wet forests of Chocó-Darién extends from eastern Panama, in the provinces of Darién and Kuna-Yala, along almost the entire Pacific coast of Colombia, in the departments of Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño. Thus running between latitudes 9º to 1º15’ north, then down to 2°S and longitudes 79º to 76º15’ west. This ecoregion encompasses a strip of land from sea level to an elevation of approximately 1,000 meters (m). It lies between the Pacific Ocean and the western range of the Andes; from west of the mouth of the Atrato River, in Panama to the Patia River, in Colombia.

This moist forest ecoregion is considered one of the most species rich lowland areas in the world, with exceptional abundance and endemism over a broad range of taxons that include plants, birds, amphibians, and butterflies. Its biological distinctiveness is outstanding in the world, with great biological, ecological, and evolutionary biodiversity. Due to the multiple threats in the ecoregion, its conservation status is vulnerable although relatively stable. There are, however threats of habitat conversion and the attendant degradation, in a system of areas with insufficient conservation. In addition, this ecoregion is culturally rich in that numerous indigenous communities with strong ties to its ecosystems still persist here.

The region has great potential for ecotourism and scientific research. Its forests are of great interest because some of them may be secondary forests that are nearly 500 years old, which would clearly allow for studies on the subject of the regeneration of tropical forests. The areas with remaining vegetation correspond to the central area of the ecoregion, while the northern areas of Darién and Urabá, in Colombia are devoted primarily to the production of bananas and cattle ranching. Southern areas of Bajo Calima and Tumaco, are devoted in part to plantations for the production of oil palm and extraction of timber for paper pulp are those that require greater urgency and efforts for their protection and conservation.

Eastern Panamanian montane forests

This ecoregion is found in the highlands of eastern Panama with small extensions into Colombia, and contains montane forests which grow at elevations from 500 to 1,800 m. Located on the land bridge between South and North America, complex forests cover this mountainous region and are home to extremely high diversity and endemism. A number of endemic avifauna inhabit this region, including the acaruna tapaculo, Pierre bush tanager, Pierre warbler, and Tacaruna quail-dove. Parque Nacional Darién, Central America’s largest national park, is found here and protects twenty-four species of endangered herpetofauna. The inaccessibility of the slopes has left much of the region intact, but the extension of the Pan-American Highway has led to an increase in slash-and-burn agriculture, gold mining, and illegal trade in local wildlife.

Amazon-Orinoco-Southern Caribbean mangroves

  • Magdalena-Santa Marta mangroves - Running along the Carribean Sea coast of Colombia this ecoregion is a perfect example of how diverse a mangrove ecosystem can be with species distributions varied throughout the ecoregion depending on the conditions of each patch including the salinity gradient and tidal flux. Species are representative of the surrounding ecoregions such as the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta montane moist forests and the arid Sinú Valley dry forests as well as mangrove specialists. The avifauna of the ecoregion is compiled by two separate endemic bird areas with at least one endemic hummingbird species and innumerable numbers of migrants. It is located in northern Colombia in the Department of Magdalena encompassing the Gulfo de Urabá then east to just past the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta at the base of the Guayjira Peninsula, at 10°30' and 11° north latitude.

Magdalena-Urabá moist forests

Located in northern Colombia, these jungles link the northern ecoregions of Mesoamerica and the Chocó with the Andean and Amazonian ecoregions. Extremely rich in both species richness and endemism, this region serves as an important migration point for many avifauna species.

Several areas of considerable size still intact and with little human intervention; around the Serranía de San Lucas is the largest patch. But the conditions and fragmentation of the ecoregion are diverse, depending of the location.

There are many official figures of conservation in this important region; there is not a National Park or alike; several projects with international funds are aimed to rescue some important wetlands, and the establishment of private nature reserves is starting with strong forces in some areas. There are several areas of intact habitat remain such as Serranía de San Lucas.

The region is surrounded by most of the Colombian population and the pressure for the natural resources are tremendous; large scale colonization, cattle ranching, gold mining, oil drilling, valuable timber, narcotic crops, and warfare, together with the extreme pollution of the two most important rivers, the Magdalena and the Cauca, are putting tremendous pressure on these fragile and unique ecosystems.

Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub

caption Tayrona National Park, Colombia Photograph by Luke Mastin The Guajira/Barranquilla xeric scrub is located in three enclaves along the Caribbean Sea. The largest enclave is located in the Guajira Peninsula, which is the northernmost point of South America, in both northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia. The enclave extends south between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serrania de Perijá. The second and smallest of the three enclaves is located east of the Santa Marta Bay, in the north of the Magdalena department of Colombia. The third enclave is found in the north of the Cordoba, Sucre, Bolivar and Atlantico departments, along the Caribbean Sea. The largest city in the ecoregion is Barranquilla.

The Guajira/Barranquilla ecoregion is a unique xerophytic area in the neotropics. Proposed as a bird center of endemism, this arid habitat is dominated by thorn scrub. Herpetofauna is particularly rich with sixty-six species including the endangered species Geochelone carbonaria, and Phrynops dahli.

Even though the dry climate in this region does not favor crops, the whole ecoregion has been effected by humans, principally through agriculture and grazing. The southernmost part of the Guajira peninsula has been severely altered by such activities.

There are two important protected areas in the region, Macuira National Park (IUCN Category II) and Tayrona National Park (IUCN Category II). Macuira Park is located in the northeastern side of the Guajira Peninsula. The park has an area of 25,000 hectares (ha.), and is part of the Serranía de Macuira, which is an "island" of dense vegetation different from the surrounding desert. The elevation of the Serranía is 500 masl. The most common species are Acacia farnesiana, Anacardium excelsum, Cardiospermum carindum, Cassia tora, Cephalocereus colombianus, Dodonea viscosa, Fagara sp., Genipa americana, Lemaireocereus griseus, Pristimera vernicosa, Ruperchtia ramiflora The Park has isolated populations of caiman (Caiman crocodylus), ocelot (Leopardus pardalis), margay (Leopardus wiedii), and primates of the genus Alouatta. There are 7 endemic subspecies of birds in the Park.

Tayrona National Park has an area of 150 square kilometers (km2). The Park consists of mangroves and xeric scrubs. The most common species are Capparis odoratissima and Pltymiscium plystachum. The Park has recorded appriximately 100 species of mammals, 200 birds, and 31 species of amphibians. Some of the mammals are jaguar (Felis onca), paca (Cuniculus paca), collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), red howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus seniculus), and various species of Chiropterans.

Sinú Valley dry forests

For its location at the northwestern extreme of the Andes, near the Darien-Panama bridge and between the two major ecoregions: Chocó wet forests and Magdalena Medio rain forests, the Sinú region is a bridge, a genetic corridor, a contact zone and a center of endemism, and it is strongly believed, a paleo-environment.

Located in the northern sector of Colombia and the South American continent ( between 7° N, 75° W and 10° N, 77° W ), and surrounded by the Magdalena moist forest, the Sinú river flows from the northernmost branches of the western Cordillera of the Andes, towards the Caribbean sea, forming a valley between the Serranías de Abibe and San Jerónimo

The altitudinal gradient, from the upper peaks of the Paramillo, at 3.960 meters (m) above sea level (masl.) to the low alluvial valley at 200 masl. and to the mangroves at sea level, makes it possible for the region to have several types of ecosystems and forests in within a relatively small area.

Due to recent large-scale human intervention, of no more than sixty years, mainly deforestation for cattle ranching and agriculture, damming of the river for large hydroelectric projects, and desiccation of wetlands, very few intact habitat remains in the low valley or in the drier ecosystems, but around it, in the mountains and in the upper Sinú, the forest cover stills present and the presence of a National Park and Indigenous territories assures its conservation.

Wetlands and swamps are at different levels of intervention, but most still in good conditions, until now, when a new dam is filling up in the upper Sinú. The aquatic ecosystems are in need of conservation actions.

Santa Marta montane forests

caption Tayrona National Park, Colombia Photograph by Luke Mastin The Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta montane forest ecoregion lies in northern Colombia between 10° 01’05’’ and 11° 20’11’’ north latitude and 72° 36’16’’ and 74° 12’49’’ east longitude, in the extreme northwest of South America. It is a mountain massif with a pyramid-shape and a surface area of 12,230 km2. On the shores of the Caribbean Sea these mountains rise to an altitude of 5775 m. This ecoregion forms a triangular shape.

This montane ecoregion is a characteristic moist forest; however, it rises from very different habitat of xeric scrub and dry forest that surround it. This ecoregion is limited by altitude running from lowlands to 3300 meters(m) or ending when the vegetative structure changes to paramo, which is then considered the Sierra Marta paramo ecoregion. Parts of the two ecoregions are together in a national park and listed as an endemic bird area by Stattersfield. These monuments and titles further justify the need to protect and recognize this unique habitat and the amount of diversity held within this ecoregion.

Much of this ecoregion has been destroyed leaving about 15% of the original vegetation intact, mainly on the north-facing slopes. Although not much help to this ecoregion it is found within the limits of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park and in 1980 the Cogui–Arsario Arhuaco indigenous reserve was created as a strategy for conserving the ecosystems and aboriginal cultures in this territory further. The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Biosphere Reserve and Tayrona National Park also hold parts of this ecoregion but offer it little formal protection as areas are continuing to be cleared. The jurisdiction of the indigenous reserve was subsequently expanded so that it now overlays and exceeds the area covered by the National Park.

The mountains of this Sierra ecoregion previously held a settlement of pre-Columbian aboriginal communities that left signs of their presence in various areas. In addition, they have been settled at different times since the late nineteenth century. All of this led to a process that modifies the natural environment. The area covered by mountain forests has declined drastically during the last 50 years. In some cases, it is estimated that the reduction in the original forest is between 70% and 80%.

Santa Marta páramo

caption Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Colombia Photograph by Diego Miguel Garcés This isolated ecoregion in Columbia is found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.

The southernmost areas of páramos high moors in South America (11° North Latitude) are found in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, an isolated mountain system of the Andes range that rises to 5,775 meters (m) above sea level (m.a.s.l.) on the shores of the Caribbean in northern Colombia. This massif located between 10° 01'05 and 11° 20'11 north latitude and 72° 36'16 and 74° 12'49 west longitude, sits on a base of sub-triangular contours the northern edge of which runs parallel to the coastline. One edge looks to the west facing the Great Swamp de Santa Marta, while the other faces south-southwest to the Perijá mountains, from which it is separated by the valleys of the Cesar and Ranchería rivers.

Due to this isolation, a range of endemic flora and fauna occur here including the genus Cabreriela, Castenedia and Raouliopsis. This ecoregion is included in the jurisdiction of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, however existing cattle grazing and agricultural development by the indigenous people have severely altered the landscape.

The páramos of the Sierra Nevada are included in the jurisdiction of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, which was created in 1964 and now encompasses an area of approximately 383,000 hectares. It is also included in the Cogui-Arsario and Aruhaco indigenous refuges that have special jurisdiction over the territory. However, they are seriously affected by the existence of extensive cattle herds belonging to indigenous communities that reach up to 3800 m above sea level. A large part of the subpáramo or lower limit has been altered by burning to expand the scrublands and establish local potato and onion crops. Communities of small trees or shrubs are altered by extraction of wood for building and firewood, an activity associated with extensive burning on the páramo as such, to expand the scrubland, clearly degrading biological diversity, eliminating the cover of fallen leaves, reducing moisture retention, and promoting erosion on slopes. Cleef and Rangel note that the high coverage of Acaena cylindrostachya and Lupinus carrikeri in some sectors of scrubland seems to indicate a change in the original vegetation, as a result of extensive livestock, modifying the structure of the vegetation.

Cordillera Oriental montane forests

These Andean montane forests span the eastern slopes of the Andean Cordillera Oriental from their northernmost point southwards through most of Colombia. The Cordillera Oriental Montane Forests are clearly distinguishable from the rest of the montane forest ecoregions of the Northern Andes because of the influence of the piedmont dry forests and the Llanos grasslands of the Orinoco basin, as well as species associations shared with the isolated Santa Marta Mountains.

In Colombia, 60% of the original ecosystems of the ecoregion have been altered. In the montane forests of the Macarena Mountains around 17% has been intervened and approximately 60% of the area has been converted. In Venezuela, the degree of habitat loss is unknown but thought to be limited. In the Colombian portion of the ecoregion, Parque Catatumbo – Bari covers some 821 km2, and various indigenous territories cover another 1,746 km2.

Logging, agriculture, and extensive ranching activities, such as in the flatter foothills, have led to fragmentation, while hydroelectric projects and road infrastructure are being developed in some areas continue to threaten the ecoregion.

Northern Andean paramo

This ecoregion occurs in elevational, mountaintop patches between treeline and the permanent snowline, from northern central Colombia, down the Andean Cordillera to Central Ecuador. This is an extensive ecoregion with a diversity of vegetation types within its parameters, however they all share the characteristic páramo vegetation; high alpine grasslands, bunchgrass, bogs, and open meadows. Although these areas have proven resilient to the influence of man, their capacities are being forced to their limit by burning, grazing, and farming.

Magdalena Valley montane forests

caption Magdalena Valley, Colombia Photograph by WWF/ R.G. Bermal The montane forests that grow along the Magdalena river valley, on the inner slopes of the Eastern and Central Cordilleras, of the Northern Andes in Colombia, are very rich both in animal and plant diversity and endemic species. Being the Eastern cordillera of sedimentary origin, due the uprising of the highly volcanic Central cordillera, the soils are very diverse so the forests that grows on them. In the middle of the Magdalena Medio, surrounded by moist forests, rises the Serranía de San Lucas, up to 2,000 meters, little known biologically.

Few areas are still in good condition due to large scale use of the slopes for coffee growing and farming, but also because more than 70% of the Colombian population lives in this region. The best-preserved areas are the upper Magdalena around the Los Guacharos National Park; the slopes of Nevados del Puracé and Huila, and the Serranía de San Lucas. The remaining areas have forest fragments of variable size. Today many canyons, basins and forest fragments have the remaining biodiversity of the region and all of remains are in urgent need of conservation.

There are several parks in the upper Magdalena basin, such as Guácharos, Puracé, Huila, Hermosas, Nevados, Picachos, Sumapaz and Chingaza, that conserve most of the high montane forests, mostly above 3,000 masl, but unfortunately, below 2,000 masl there are few conservation figures or initiatives, besides an insipient movement of nature reserves of the civilian society that is aiming to protect most of the remaining fragments of native forests among a "sea of grasses and exotic conifers and eucalyptus". Besides protecting the remnant fragments of native habitats, forest corridors between fragments, conservation areas and altitudinal gradients should be established.

Magdalena Valley dry forests

This ecoregion, located within the Northern Andes, occurs along the dry inter-Andean valley formed by the Magdalena River, which is the largest in Colombia. The climate is dry and vegetation includes cati such as Armathocereus humilis and Stenocereus griseus. Fauna biodiversity is relatively unknown, but includes a few endemic subspecies such as the burrowing owl (Athene cunicularia tolimae), tropical bobwhite (Colinus cristatus leucotis), and euphonia (Euphonia concinna). Agriculture, and overgrazing, especially from introduced goats, has destroyed much of the original habitat. Major conservation plans are needed to save this ecoregion since there are no national parks.

Today, most of the original forest cover has disappeared due to conversion of these to farmland and cattle-ranching. Only few forest patches still present around the Cabrera river in Tolima and along creeks. Goats were introduced since the XVI century by the Spanish, and their descendants are still roaming today on the vegetation left.

Several oil deposits are present in the region, and the drilling and extraction of it is a cause of pollution around the Tatacoa desert

Cauca Valley montane forests

caption Risaralda, Colombia Photograph by WWF/ Jorge Orejuela Located at the northwestern end of the Andes Mountain Range in southwestern Colombia, the Cauca Valley, nestled between the Western and Central ranges of the Andes, stretches for 600 kilometers (km) in a south-north direction between 2° and 8° N latitude.

The montane forests of the Cauca Valley in southwestern Colombia are highly diverse and are an important center of endemism of plants and animals. However, the ecoregion has suffered large losses of forest cover and only small remnants of native vegetation remain, especially at the lower elevations.

The montane forests of the Cauca Valley are strongly fragmented, especially at the lower elevations. Between 1,000 and 2,000 meters (m), most forest has disappeared, and only scattered remnants remain. The largest remaining block within this elevational belt is the Yotoco Forest Reserve, with an extension of 519 hectares (ha). Substantial forest remains at the higher elevations, on both slopes of the valley. However, only small portions receive nominal protection in national parks such as Farallones de Cali, Tatamá, and Los Nevados. Some protection is also afforded by small regional reserves such as Ucumarí Regional Park.

Cauca Valley dry forests

A narrow strip of dry forest is situate in a dry valley of the Cauca River in northwestern Colombia, this ecoregion is one of the most degraded in area. Little is left of the natural vegetation in the valley due to agricultural expansion and urban development. There are many endemics within this region that desperately need protection in order to avoid extinction.

The Sonso Lagoon Reserve is the only protected area located in an ancient oxbow of the Cauca River. The reserve consists of wetlands and forests, and has an area of 2,050 hectares (IUCN category IV). The species found in the reserve are representative of wetlands and gallery forests. There are no protected areas in the dry forests.

Northwestern Andean montane forests

The Northwestern Andean montane forest ecoregion is among the most diverse regions on the planet. The disjunct formation of Andean topography and pronounced glacial period of isolation forced plant and animal communities to adapt to different areas after being cut off from each other; therefore laying the perfect foundation for speciation. For a variety of reasons, related to their complex topography and a biogeographical history featuring continual altitudinal migration of vegetation zones in response to changing climate, these ecosystems today present a diverse array of distinctive biological communities, characterized by unusually high levels of species endemism. This region not only boasts the highest biodiversity, but also the highest percentage of endemic species. About 50% of its flora is found nowhere else, and this area contains the highest concentration of endemic bird areas. Unfortunately, people have found these areas livable and have disturbed these natural areas in many ways since pre-Colombian times. Although some reasonably sized continuous forest stands still exist, patchiness from farms and other anthropogenic influences have disturbed these highly sensitive forests.

Patía Valley dry forests

caption Near Popayán, Colombia Photograph by Luke Mastin This small dry inter-Andean Valley in southwestern Colombia flanks the Patía River Valley and vicinity. Completely surrounded by the formidable barrier of the Andean chain, and encompassed by moist and cloud forests, this valley has remained isolated from similar habitats for long enough for speciation to occur among its flora and fauna. Like most of the dry valleys in the Andes, the Patía Valley is threatened by human settlement and urban sprawl.

Today most of the valley has suffered from human activity, but there are pockets with original vegetation that could be preserved; there are some conservation initiatives in private lands that can may conserve a good proportion of the original species. But in general, conservation initiatives are urgently needed in this valley.

If the current trend of use continues, very few original ecosystem could be left for conservation. Promotion of private conservation is one way to save what is left, and there is a Colombian NGO, the Network of Nature Reserves of the Civilian Society that is addressing this challenge.

Eastern Cordillera real montane forests

This tropical montane forest ecoregion is located on the eastern slopes of the middle Andes, extending north-south from southern Colombia, through Ecuador, and into northern Peru. This rugged premontane habitat receives between 1,500-2,000 millimeters (mm) of rain each year, but can get as much as 4,500 in a heavy rain year. The dominant vegetation in this region varies dramatically with altitude, which ranges from 900 meters (m) to over 2100 m. In general, the plant communities here are tropical evergreen seasonal broad-leaved forests. The lower elevational areas, known locally as ceja de montaña, consists of closed, luxuriant forests. As elevation increased forests stature decreases and at higher elevations grades into cloud forests and finally elfin woodlands.. This area is home to several endangered and endemic birds, including the white-necked parakeet, coppery-chested jacamar, and bicoloured antvireo.

These moist montane forests are naturally isolated and have also been fragmented by the clearing away of forests to make way for agriculture and pasture. As access is relatively easy, in recent years these forests have been increasingly more threatened by the removal of valuable commercial species such as Podocarpus. Perhaps 75 percent of the coverage of original wet forest has been removed, having been cut and replaced by agricultural systems or thickets.

Napo moist forests

The Rio Napo region is situated at the western extreme of Amazonia where it hosts extraordinarily rich tropical moist forests. The ecoregion covers the northwestern portion of Peru, the Amazon region of Ecuador and the southwestern corner of Colombia’s Amazon. It is bounded on the west by the foothills of the Andes Mountains, on the south by the Marañon River in Peru, on the north by the Napo in Peru and the Caguán in Colombia. The region extends east almost to the Peruvian City of Iquitos near the confluence of the Napo and Amazon Rivers. Many important Amazon rivers including the Morona, Pastaza, Tigre, and Curaray in Ecuador and Peru, and the headwaters of the Caquetá and Putumayo in Colombia bisect the region. All of these rivers drain into the Amazon Basin.

This ecoregion belongs to the Amazon floristic province, an area of extreme diversity and endemism in species of both flora and fauna. This diversity results in some of the most species-rich forests in the world. For example, below 300 meters (m) elevation there are 138 orchid species that have been identified in Ecuador alone. Much of this ecoregion is not well known by scientists, possibly holding species currently undiscovered with the possibility of increasing worldwide biodiversity.

La Paya National Park in Colombia is situated on the interfluve between the Caquetá and Putumayo Rivers, but its forests and species are under threat from colonization, plantation agriculture, and hunting in and around the reserve. The entire area around La Paya National Park is deforested. The large triangle between the Caguán and Upper Putumayo Rivers in Colombia and the province of Napo in Ecuador at the northern extent of the ecoregion are areas of notable deforestation, resulting from forest conversion to cattle pasture and coca (Erythroxylum coca) plantations. The remaining intact Napo moist forest is considered threatened by degradation resulting from ongoing human activities.

Purus varzea

The flooded river basins of the Amazon make up this ecoregion. Avifauna diversity is extraoridinary with over six hundred and thirty species. Terrestrial mammal diversity is smaller because the habitat is often flooded; two narrow endemic primates inhabit this region, the white uakari monkeys (Cacajao calvus calvus) and blackish squirrel monkeys (Saimiri vanzolinii) . Also, the largest snake in the world, the great anaconda (Eunectes murinus), is found here. Much of the ecoregion is effected by human presence, because of the waterways used for transportation.

Solimoes-Japura moist forest

The Solimões-Japurá moist forest ecoregion lies on well-drained upland Tertiary alluvial plains in western Amazonia. The region straddles the Putumayo River which forms the Peru-Colombia border north extending to the Caquetá River in Colombia and south to the Amazon and Napo Rivers in Peru. The eastern flank covers the interfluve between the Japurá (Caquetá) and Solimões (Amazon) Rivers in Brazil. The western extent of the ecoregion is well before the lowest foothills of the Andes near Puerto Laguízamo, Colombia.

This rolling terrain on the plains of western Amazonia is high in biodiversity. Avifauna diversity is extremely high with 542 species, including restricted range species such as the blue-tufted starthroats (Heliomaster furcifer), and the endemic ochre-striped antpittas (Grallaria dignissima). The largest freshwater turtle in the world (Podocnemys expansa) inhabits the rivers of this region. Much of the native habitat in this ecoregion remains intact, but recent advances of coca (Erythroxylum coca) production, logging and mining operations, and cattle ranching have damaged huge tracks of land.

About one-third of this ecoregion, in Colombia between the Putumayo and Caquetá Rivers, is under the jurisdiction of indigenous people who practice extractive activities and small-scale shifting cultivation. Although Colombia has strong legislation to regulate timber extraction from these forests, enforcement suffers because of insufficient administrative capacity.

Caqueta moist forests

caption Apaporis River, Colombia Photograph by WWF/ Aldo Brando The Caquetá moist forest occurs in the Colombian Amazon. It is bound on the northeast by the Guainía, Guaviare, and Guayabero rivers and to the western extreme at the small Rio Losada, south of the Serrania de la Macarena. The southern border of the region extends southeast from the headwaters of the Rio Caguan, which then converges with the Caquetá. The region extends east just into Brazil. The Apaporis, Vaupés, and Yari rivers dissect this region, and large expanses of seasonally flooded forest occur on their banks.

Located in the Colombian Amazon and high in rainfall, flora diversity is rich as is a transitional area between these floristic provinces of the Amazon Basin forests and the Guayana region. Fauna diversity is high although endemism is not. A few species that are endemic include the Chiribiquete emerald (Chlorostilbon olivaresi) and grey-legged tinamou (Crypturellus duidae), and tamarin (Saguinus inustus). Large-scale cattle ranching poses the most serious threat to this ecoregion. Large tracts of forest have been logged to cultivate pastures for grazing.

Large-scale cattle ranching in the western extreme of this ecoregion at the headwaters of the Vaupés River has resulted in the clearing of vast expanses of forestland. A large triangle of deforestation has occurred, fanning out from the San Jose-Calamar road south of the Rio Guayabero. In the interior of the region small settlements of indigenous people have little impact on the natural habitat; however, colonists are now migrating down the Rio Negro, deforesting along the way for small-scale agriculture or cattle grazing. Large forested areas along the Vaupés and Apaporis rivers are also falling to coca (Erythroxylum coca) production. The one protected area in this region is the 8,550 square kilometers Nukak Tuhahi National Reserve in the center. The remaining intact forest is considered threatened frontier forest that may eventually be degraded by ongoing human activities.

Japurá-Solimoes-Negro moist forests

This region of dense tropical rain forest is situated on the lowland plateau in the central northern portion of the Amazon Basin in Brazil with tiny sections just touching Colombia and Venezuela. This tropical rainforest in the northern Amazon Basin is dissected by rivers. Biodiversity is high and includes a number of primates such as black spider monkeys (Ateles paniscus), red-handed tamarins (Saguinus midas), and common squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus). This ecoregion contains the largest national park in Brazil, Jaú National Park. Although much of this habitat has remained intact, areas along the rivers have high levels of mining, logging, agriculture, hunting, and fishing.

Negro-Branco moist forests

The Negro-Branco ecoregion abuts to the northern banks of the Rio Negro, along the southwestern edge of the Guayana Shield in eastern Colombia, southwestern Venezuela, and northwestern Brazil. This area consists of forested lowland plains, with some wide, rolling hill-lands, and low sandstone table mountains. This area hosts diverse plant communities, including both seasonally flooded and non-flooded tall evergreen lowland forests, that can reach 40 meters (m) in height, as well as low evergreen flooded palm forests, which reach only 20 m in height. Elevations range from 120 m-400 m and annual precipitation is between 2,000-3,000 millimeters (mm).

Due to the inaccessibility of this ecoregion, the forest remains largely intact. No paved roads exist here although unpaved roads exist to the north and west of the ecoregion in Colombia. People living in settlements along the rivers practice small-scale rotational agriculture, and boat traffic along the rivers brings loggers and merchants. Brazil nut collectors set fire to the lower portion of the forest as a management practice. This alters the understory in some stands, but this is a localized practice. The largest biosphere reserve in the tropics, the Alto Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve, lies mostly in this ecoregion.

Rio Negro campinarana

The Rio Negro Campinarana ecoregion occur in isolated patches along the Rio Negro and Rio Branco basins in northern Brazil. These isolated patches of oligotrophic, or low nutrient, soils host a range of vegetation types from herbaceous savannas to closed-canopy forests. Patches of similar vegetation occur in northern Peru, southwestern Venezuela, and eastern Colombia as well. Campinarana habitat is very unique with vegetation adapted to extremely poor soil types, leading to a high number of endemic species. There are multiple vegetative layers in this one ecoregion, moving from herbaceous savannas with lichens and grasses through stages to trees and forests. With this structure comes a wide variety of primitive faunal species including at least four species of primates and plant species that are exclusive to the compinarana ecoregion.

Llanos

The llanos ecoregion covers a large elongated area 1,200-1,300 kilometers (km) long, that extends in a gentle curve in a northeast direction, beginning at the foothills of the Oriental Andes of Colombia and extending along the course of the Orinoco River almost to its delta at the sea. The Llanos ecoregion is located in a great depression, limited by the Andes in the west, the Venezuelan coastal range that isolates it from the Caribbean Sea in the north, and the Guiana shield in the south. In Colombia they occupy the departments of Meta, Arauca, Vichada, and Casanare, and continue in Venezuela in the states of Apure, Barinas, Portuguesa, Cojedes, Guarico, Anzoategui, and Monagas. The area of the lowlands of Colombia and Apure State collects the rainfall from the Andes and the Guiana plateau and draining, due to the presence of a slight downward slope in the north-east direction, through the Meta, Arauca, Vichada, Cinaruco, Apure, and Capanaparo Rivers, just to name a few, to the Orinoco River.

In South America the savanna ecosystem covers a total of 269 million hectares (ha.) Most of it (76%) belongs to the Cerrados of Brazil but about 11% (28 million ha) form the Venezuelan Llanos and 6% (16-17 million ha) the "Llanos Orientales" of Colombia. These two areas, although belonging to different countries, form a single ecoregion, the Llanos of the Orinoquia (latitude 3° to 10° N and longitude 62° to 74° W). This is an area of extensive plains, covered mainly by savanna vegetation, of great economic importance for both countries. This ecoregion is relatively young, perhaps less than 10,000 years old, and developed in a great geosyncline between the Guiana Plateau and the Andes Range. This extensive basin was, over time, filled with sediments from the Guiana Plateau and the cordilleras during the Tertiary. The ecoregion then experienced a series of subsidences resulting in a landscape made up mainly of alluvial plains and highlands.

A total of 1.2 million ha are protected in the Colombian Orinoquia as National Parks of "Cordillera de Los Picachos", "El Tuparro" and "Tinigua".

Apure-Villavicencio dry forests

The Apure/Villavicencio dry forests extend southwest, bordering the eastern Cordillera de Mérida, from Venezuela to the Serranía de Macarena in Colombia. The ecoregion is located in the states of Portuguesa, Barinas, and Apure in Venezuela and the departments of Arauca, Casanare, and Meta in Colombia. The ecoregion is wide in the north and narrows as it extends southward.

This transitional habitat is located between the montane forests of the eastern Andean slope and the lowland grasslands. The ecoregion is a mosaic of premontane forest, dry forest, savanna, and gallery forest. Small mammals are characteristic of area and include a mouse opossum (Marmosa xerophila), a vesper mouse (Calomys hummelincki) and the giant anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla). Only two parks, the Serranía de la Macarena and Tinigua National Parks, are located within this ecoregion that as been almost destroyed by agriculture and livestock grazing.

Most of the area has been highly degraded by agriculture and livestock grazing. In Venezuela, the agricultural lands are in the north of the ecoregion. In Colombia, the agricultural lands extend throughout the ecoregion, except for some natural habitat remaining in the lowlands of the Serranía de la Macarena and Tinigua National Parks. These two Parks are the only protected areas located in the southernmost part of the ecoregion.

Catatumbo moist forests

The Catatumbo moist forests exist as four distinct enclaves within the Catatumbo Valley, in both northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia.

The Catatumbo moist forests are among the richest in floral diversity in humid tropical areas of Venezuela. These forests flank the lower slopes and lowlands between the Cordillera de Mérida and the Cordillera Oriental of the northern Andes, and occur as several outliers in the vicinity of Lake Maracaibo.

Cayos Miskitos-San Andrés and Providencia moist forests

The islands of San Andrés (the southernmost, at 12º36’N-81º42’W, with a surface area of 24 km2), Santa Catalina and Providencia (the northernmost, at 13º23’N-81º22’W, with a surface area of approximately 17 km2) and a group of keys and small islands, are located 150 km east of the Nicaraguan coast (Bluefields) and 620 km northwest of Cartagena (Colombia). The Miskitos Keys, with more than 85 islands, are located 40 km east of Awas Tara (northeastern Nicaraguan coast on the Caribbean) at 14º26’N-82º50’W and cover a total area of 500 km2, i.e., each key has an average area of some 6 km2.

Moist forests of the Cayos Mistitos / San Andés and Providencia islands form this ecoregion, and cover an area of some 96 square kilometers (km2). This region forms part of the Colombian territory and the greatest source of income is tourism; in addition to coconut production in San Andrés and citrus fruit, particularly oranges in Providencia. Due to deforestation associated with agriculture in San Andrés and intense cattle raising in Providencia, the tropical rain forests which once covered most of the islands are now almost completely destroyed. There are, however, two species of land birds and reptiles that are endemic to San Andrés Island and have managed to survive the vegetative destruction.

Malpelo Island xeric scrub

Malpelo Island (3¸59'05N - 81¸35'28W) is a small isolated Pacific island, 270 miles to the west of Colombia and south of Panama. It is one of several oceanic islands in the eastern tropical Pacific, along with Cocos Island and the Galapagos. The main island itself is roughly 8 square kilometers (km2), its elongate shape is 2.5 kilometers (km) long and 800m wide at its widest point, and is surrounded by a number of smaller rock outcroppings.

Malpelo, a small isolated Pacific island, is host to several endemic plants, a number of breeding seabirds, a land crab, and two endemic species of lizards. Much of the island’s perimeter consists of near vertical rock faces which reach 60 to 230 meters (m) above the sea - making access very difficult. Malpelo was uninhabited until 1986 when a small military garrison was established. Because the island is seldom visited, little is know of its natural history.

The terrestrial species on Malpelo Island remain in relatively good condition. That is to say no exotic species have thus far been introduced, no permanent human habitations exist, and the island is otherwise unchanged by mankind. A military garrison is in place on the island and houses several people at any given time. At present, Malpelo Island is recognized as a Fauna and Floa Sanctuary.

Context

Ecoregions are areas that:

[1] share a large majority of their species and ecological dynamics;
[2] share similar environmental conditions; and,
[3] interact ecologically in ways that are critical for their long-term persistence.

Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), have established a classification system that divides the world in 867 terrestrial ecoregions, 426 freshwater ecoregions and 229 marine ecoregions that reflect the distribution of a broad range of fauna and flora across the entire planet.

 

Glossary

Citation

Fund, W. (2012). Ecoregions of Colombia. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/178725