The Northern Andes is among the most diverse regions of the world. In an area 1/14th the size of the Amazon basin, Northern Andes harbor almost 30% of the palms found in the Neotropics and 11% of the world's palm species. 1,450 bird species of Northern Andes far exceed the 1,000 species found in the Amazon and constitute 15% of world's bird population. From a sample of 8,117 species, representative of Neotropical flora, 23% had Amazonian distributions versus 17% with Andean distributions, despite the large difference in surface area. In Colombia, 80% of the frog species are from the Andes, an area equivalent to that of the Colombian Amazon.
The large number of habitats in a relatively small area implies an equally large number of transitional habitats. The biota of these sites mixes elements of 2 adjacent habitats and the variety of niches permit the development of unique species. These features produce dramatic and relatively small scale, unique ecosystems with equally unique taxa. It also leads to high numbers of species with ranges that are restricted to particular elevations or other biogeographic features.
Habitat loss and fragmentation in the Northern Andes severely threaten the long term maintenance of the whole species system in the complex. Some species, such as Andean Bear and Mountain Tapir are extremely sensitive to these threats. They were chosen as focal species for the NAEC due to their certain life-history traits such as specialized diets or breeding requirements. Both are generally area sensitive and require large, interconnected areas to maintain viable populations.
WWF and its associates assume that establishing sufficiently large and interconnected areas would fulfill the habitat requirements of focal and most, ideally all other native species. The NAE Program strategy to address species conservation include:
- Concerted development and implementation of species action plans.
- Conceptual development of conservation models for focal species at different scales.
- Promotion of policy instruments (international, national and regional) for species conservation.