Upper Amazon Rivers and Streams | WWF

Upper Amazon Rivers and Streams

Rio Tapajós, Amazonas, Brazil.
© WWF / Michel ROGGO

About the Area

The Amazon River has over 1,000 tributaries. Those originating in the Andes on the western perimeter of the basin are sediment-rich and appear muddy (whitewater rivers), while the ones in Guiana Highlands to the north of the Amazon River tend to be nutrient-poor and appear black (blackwater rivers).

These interconnected waterways form the Upper Amazon Rivers and Streams ecoregion, where hundreds of endemic fish live, making it the most species rich freshwater ecosystem on Earth.
3,400,000 sq. km (1,360,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Large River Headwaters

Geographic Location: Northwest and North-central South America: Bolivia, Brazil, Columbia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana, Peru, Suriname, and Venezuela

Conservation Status:
Relatively Stable/Intact
Local Species
The entire Amazon region has more than 1,300 described fish species with many more that remain to be discovered. The Amazon's piedmont streams have not been well investigated, but it is known that they harbour an incredible array of aquatic species, particularly fish.

For example, more than 500 species are known from just one of the rivers in this region - the Napo River.

Featured species


The pimelodid, also known as the naked catfish or long whiskered catfish family includes approximately 300 known species. Like many catfish, their bodies lack scales.

Different species vary in size considerably, with the larger ones reaching up to 3m. Pimelodid are active at night and feed alone, generally spending all their time at the bottom of the water. Barbels or whiskers around the mouth are covered with taste buds which help them find food, compensating for poor eyesight. Larger members of this group feed on fish and other animals, including monkeys that fall into the water.

Read more:
Hydroelectric dams, deforestation of headwater catchments for logging, and conversion to agriculture and pasture is a potentially serious problem leading to erosion and altered hydrologic regimes, further disturbing the movements of migratory fish species.

Other serious threats include oil development, pipelines, mining activities, and construction of roads and railroads that open up access to the region and increase levels of hunting and fishing. Habitat protection is severely hampered in the northwest portion of the basin where illegal narcotics activities predominate.
WWF’s work
Since starting work in the Amazon more than 40 years ago, WWF has been promoting solutions for wildlife protection, sustainable management of natural resources and improved conditions for the people who rely on them. This comprehensive approach has been successful due in part to WWF's engagement with local communities and partnerships with organizations and local and state governments that help WWF carry its mission forward.

In addition to the use of sound science, WWF's conservation vision and global reach have enabled the organization to take a leadership role in pioneering efforts like the Amazon Region Protected Areas (ARPA) programme.

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required
Donate to WWF

Your support will help us build a future where humans live in harmony with nature.

Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions
Enter Yes if you accept the terms and conditions