Northern Andean Montane Forests

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Mountains at sunset, Andes, Peru.
© WWF / Getty Images / Brent STIRTON

About the Area

This Global ecoregion is made up of 7 terrestrial ecoregions: Magdalena Valley montane forests; Venezuelan Andes montane forests; Northwestern Andean montane forests; Cauca Valley montane forests; Cordillera Oriental montane forests; Santa Marta montane forests; and Eastern Cordillera real montane forests.

The complex topography, climate, geology, and biogeographic history of the region have helped create many distinct habitats and biological communities.

In fact, the eastern and western slopes of some of the major valleys in this ecoregion have substantially different plants and animals, and many species are restricted to single mountaintops or ranges. These are likely to be the richest tropical montane forests on Earth, with very high levels of regional and local endemism.

In the Northwestern Andean montane forests, flowering species are extremely diverse, and up to 300 species can be found in a single 2.5 acre (one hectare) tract. Rainfall here is high, creating one of the wettest regions on Earth.

Size:
423,000 sq. km (163,000 sq. miles)

Habitat type:
Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests

Geographic Location:
Northwestern South America: Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru

Conservation Status:
Critical/Endangered

Local Species
In addition to harboring most of the world's spectacled bears (Tremarctos ornatus) - the only species of bear to be found in Central and South America, this ecoregion is home to an incredible variety of plants and animals.

There are 86 species of palm, including 2 found nowhere else on Earth - the feather palm and the endangered wax palm. Other spectacular species of the region include the sword-billed hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera), and the Andean tapir (Tapirus pinchaque).

More than 400 species of birds, over 90 species of frogs, some 120 mammal species, and over 200 different types of butterflies populate the Cauca Valley highlands.

 / ©: WWF-Canon / Kevin SCHAFER
Wax palm (Ceroxylon andicola), Pasochoa Reserve, Ecuador.
© WWF-Canon / Kevin SCHAFER

Featured Species

The Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) is a species of hummingbird from South America and the sole member of the genus Ensifera. It is noted as the only species of bird to have a bill longer then the rest of its body. This allows it to feed on flowers with long corollas such as Passiflora mixta. The tongue is therefore also unusually long. Most of these flowers hang straight down, and the hummingbird comes up from below to feed on their nectar and pollinate them.

Hummingbirds are rather unusual birds in the relatively large size of their sternum - it makes up much of the volume of the body skeleton and has a very large keel for muscle attachment. In this species especially, you can imagine that very powerful flight muscles are needed to propel that bill across the landscape!

In a bird wing, the primaries are the source of thrust, and hummingbirds depend on thrust for much of their flight; the lift provided by the inner wing feathers in most birds is of little importance to hummingbirds.

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Threats
The region is under intense pressure from a growing human population due to conversion for agriculture and pasture, gathering wood for fuel and timber, mining operations, and logging. Continuing degradation of forest fragments is an additional threat. Timber exploitation, illegal hunting, cattle ranching and coca production pose additional threats. There are no reserves or other conservation projects protecting this ecosystem.
WWF’s work
WWF led the participatory development of an ecoregional conservation strategy for the species in the Northern Andes, with the support of other international organizations and local NGOs from Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. The strategy is being adopted by an increasing number of partners in these 4 countries and is helping to develop action plans at the local level.

WWF-Colombia is currently working with government and non-government partners to implement priority actions; including finding solutions to conflicts between wild bears and farmers, developing a communication campaign and identifying priority sites for bear conservation in Colombia. In Venezuela, WWF's associate organization FUDENA is leading the development of a national action plan based on the ecoregional conservation strategy.

WWF is also leading the way in forest conservation programmes. One such programme is ‘The Northern Andean Montane Forest Ecoregional Program’ - Promotion of the conservation of biodiversity and priority ecological processes in the Andean ecosystems and the sustainable use of associated resources are the main goals of this programme.

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