High Andean Lakes

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Lake Titicaca, Bolivia.
© WWF-Canon / Hartmut JUNGIUS

About the Area

Situated in the Andes, this ecoregion comprises many freshwater and saline lakes, including some on the highest elevations in the world.

These high altitude lakes, such as Lake Titicaca in Peru and Bolivia, are not particularly rich in species but they contain many endemic fish and mollusks. About 25 rivers empty into Lake Titicaca, but only one carries water out. Up to 95 percent evaporates because of the Andes’ hot sun and strong winds.
Size:
320,000 sq. km (123,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:

Large Lakes

Geographic Location:
Western South America: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru

Conservation Status:

Critical/Endangered
Local Species
Lake Titicaca hosts 23 endemic species of the fish genus Orestias and 15 endemic gastropods. The climbing (Astroblepidae) and pencil (Trichomycteridae) catfishes are also characteristic of the high-altitude lakes and streams of the Andes.

Numerous Orestine fishes such as Orestias chungarensis, O. laucaensis, and O. pentlandii occur in these still-water habitats.

Also found here are the threatened James (Phoenicopterrus jamesi) and Andean (P. andinus) flamingoes, the endemic horned coot (Fulica cornuta), and the more common Chilean flamingo (P.chilensis).

Featured species

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Paul BARRUEL
Horned coot (Fulica cornuta) drawing.
© WWF-Canon / Paul BARRUEL
Horned coot (Fulica cornuta)

The rare and local Horned Coot (Fulica cornuta) is only found in a few high Andean lakes of Argentina, Bolivia and Chile, not Paraguay which has no Andean highlands. It’s a huge coot with a hairy, almost wire-like hairs, proboscis that hangs over the bill as on a turkey. Both sexes have this proboscis but it is slightly different in shape on males than females.

Its size is about 24 1/2 in. Head and body black, with chest and abdomen clearer. Under tail coverts grayish, sometimes with whitish. Bill greenish yellow to orange, with upper e dge black; without frontal shield. Forehead with black lengthened caruncle. Legs greenish yellow. Feeding consist of aquatic vegetables and the adults live in pairs.

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Threats
The fragile systems of these high elevation lakes are threatened by human activities such as mining, agriculture, livestock grazing, untreated sewage disposal, and industrial pollution.

In addition, overfishing and introduction of exotic species threaten fish populations, particularly in Lake Titicaca.
WWF’s work
Based on the work at La Cocha and other conservation experiments concerning high-Andean wetlands, WWF, and other organisations associated with Ramsar, has been working on the development of a regional strategy for high-Andean wetland conservation in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, Chile, Equador, Peru. Venezuela and Costa Rica.

The regional strategy seeks to promote the conservation and sustainable use of high-altitude wetlands through a long-term process of regional management between the countries involved. It is designed to maintain the goods and services they already provide and reduce current threats and impact.

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