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Encyclopedia of Biodiversity
Pages 345-359
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doi:10.1016/B0-12-226865-2/00248-0    How to Cite or Link Using DOI (Opens New Window)
Copyright © 2001 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

South American Natural Ecosystems, Status of      

Philip M Fearnside

National Institute for Research in the Amazon (INPA), USA

Available online 22 November 2004.

Article Outline

I. Original Extent of Terrestrial Ecosystems
II. Present extent of terrestrial ecosystems
III. Human Use of Converted Areas
IV. Human Use of Remaining Natural Habitats
V. Threats to Remaining Natural Habitats
V.A. Terrestrial ecosystems
V.A.1. Deforestation
V.A.2. Logging and Charcoal Manufacture
V.A.3. Other Threats
V.B. Aquatic ecosystems
V.B.1. Dams
V.B.2. Waterways
V.B.3. Other Threats
VI. Status of protected areas
VII. Priorities for conservation

Enlarge Image
Figure 1. Ecoregions for pre-Columbian vegetation of South America. Numbers correspond to Table I. (Adapted from Dinerstein et al., 1995).

Enlarge Image
Figure 2. Locations mentioned in the text.

Table I. Terrestrial Ecoregions of South Americaa
Major ecosystem typeMajor habitat typeBioregionEcoregion nameEcoregion numberCountriesOriginal area (km2)Conservation statusbBiological distinctivenesscBiodiversity priorityd
Tropical broadleaf forestsTropical moist broad-leaf forestsOrinoco tropical moist forestsCordillera La Costa montane forests17Venezuela13,48132I
Orinoco Delta swamp forests18Venezuela, Guyana31,69843III
Guianan Highlands moist forests20Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana248,01852III
Tepuis21Venezuela, Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Colombia49,15751II
Napo moist forests22Peru, Ecuador, Colombia369,84741I
Amazonian tropical moist forestsMacarena montane forests23Colombia2,36632I
Japurá/Negro moist forests24Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil718,55151II
Uatumã moist forests25Brazil, Venezuela, Guyana288,12843III
Amapá moist forests26Brazil, Suriname195,12043III
Guianan moist forests27Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, Brazil, French Guiana457,01743III
Paramaribo swamp forests28Suriname7,76033III
Ucayali moist forests29Brazil, Peru173,52721I
Western Amazonian swamp forests30Peru, Colombia8,31541I
Southwestern Amazonian moist forests31Brazil, Peru, Bolivia534,31641I
Juruá moist forests32Brazil361,05552III
Várzea forests33Brazil, Peru, Colombia193,12931I
Purús/Madeira moist forests34Brazil561,76544IV
Rondônia/Mato Grosso moist forests35Brazil, Bolivia645,08932II
Beni swamp and gallery forests36Bolivia31,32944IV
Tapajós/Xingu moist forests37Brazil630,90534IV
Tocantins moist forests38Brazil279,41924III
Northern Andean tropical moist forestsChocó/Darién moist forests39Colombia, Panama, Ecuador82,07931I
Eastern Panamanian montane forests40Panama, Colombia2,90521I
Northwestern Andean montane forests41Colombia, Ecuador52,93721I
Western Ecuador moist forests42Ecuador, Colombia40,21812I
Cauca Valley montane forests43Colombia32,41211I
Magdalena Valley montane forests44Colombia49,32211I
Magdalena/Urabá moist forests45Colombia73,66023II
Cordillera Oriental montane forests46Colombia66,71231I
Eastern Cordillera Real montane forests47Ecuador, Colombia, Peru84,44231I
Santa Marta montaneforests48Colombia4,70732I
Venezuelan Andesmontane forests49Venezuela, Colombia16,63821I
Catatumbo moistforests50Venezuela, Colombia21,81314III
Central Andean Tropical moist ForestsPeruvian Yungas51Peru188,73521I
Bolivian Yungas52Bolivia, Argentina72,51722I
Andean Yungas53Argentina, Bolivia55,45733III
Eastern South American tropical moist forestsBrazilian Coastal Atlantic forests54Brazil233,26611I
Brazilian interior Atlantic forests55Brazil803,90822I
Tropical dry broad leaf forestsOrinoco tropical dry forestsLlanos dry forests74Venezuela44,17724III
Amazonian tropical dry forestsBolivian Lowland dry forests76Bolivia, Brazil156,81411I
Northern Andean tropical dry forestsCauca Valley dry forests77Colombia5,13014III
Magdalena Valley dry forests78Colombia13,83714III
Patiá Valley dry forests79Colombia1,29114III
Sinú Valley dry forests80Colombia55,47314III
Ecuadorian dry forests81Ecuador22,27111I
Tumbes/Piura dry forests82Ecuador, Peru64,58821I
Marañion dry forests83Peru14,92123II
Maracaibo dry forests84Venezuela31,47124III
Lara/Falcón dry Forests85Venezuela16,17824III
Central Andean tropical dry forestsBolivian montane dry forests86Bolivia39,36813II
Conifer/temperate broadleaf forestsTemperate forestsSouthern South American temperate forestsChilean winter rain Forests87Chile24,93722I
Valdivian temperate forests88Chile, Argentina166,24831I
Subpolar Nothofagus forests89Chile, Argentina141,12033III
Tropical and subtropical coniferous forestsEastern South American tropical and subtropical coniferous forestsBrazilian Araucaria forests105Brazil, Argentina206,45913II
Grasslands/savannas/shrublandsGrasslands, savanas, and shrublandsOrinoco grasslands, savannas and shrublandsLlanos110Venezuela, Colombia355,11243III
Amazonian grasslands, savannas, and shrublandsGuianan savannas111Suriname, Guyana, Brazil, Venezuela128,37543III
Amazonian savannas112Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela120,12443III
Beni savannas113Bolivia165,44523II
Eastern South American grasslands, savannas, and shrublandsCerrado114Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia1,982,24931I
Chaco savannas115Argentina, Paraguay, Bolivia, Brazil611,05332I
Humid Chaco116Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, Brazil474,34034IV
Córdoba montane savannas117Argentina55,79834IV
Southern South American grasslands, savannas, and shrublandsArgentina monte118Argentina197,71043III
Argentina Espinal119Argentina207,05443III
Uruguayan savannas121Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina336,84633III
Flooded grasslandsOrinoco flooded grasslandsOrinoco wetlands128Venezuela6,40343III
Amazonian flooded grasslandsWestern Amazonian flooded grasslands129Peru, Bolivia10,11143III
Eastern Amazonian flooded grasslands130Brazil69,53333III
São Luis flooded grasslands131Brazil1,68124III
Northern Andean flooded grasslandsGuayaquil flooded grassland132Ecuador3,61723II
Eastern South American flooded grasslandsPantanal133Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay140,92731I
Paraná flooded savannas134Argentina36,45223II
Montane grasslandsNorthern Andean montane grasslandsSanta Marta paramo137Colombia1,32931I
Cordillera de Mérida paramo138Venezuela3,51841I
Northern Andean paramo139Ecuador58,80631I
Central Andean montane grasslandsCordillera Central paramo140Peru, Ecuador14,12831I
Central Andean wet puna141Bolivia, Argentina, Peru, Chile183,86832I
Central Andean wet puna142Chile188,91132I
Central Andean dry puna143Argentina, Bolivia, Chile232,95832I
Southern South American montane grasslandsSouthern Andean steppe144Argentina, Chile198,64344IV
Patagonian steppe145Argentina, Chile474,75732I
Patagonion grasslands146Argentina, Chile59,58533III
Xeric formationsMediterranean scrubCentral Andean Mediterranean scrubChilean matorral148Chile141,64321I
Deserts and xeric shrublandsOrinoco deserts and xeric shrublandsLa Costa xeric shrublands168Venezuela64,37924III
Arayua and Paría xeric Scrub169Venezuela5,42423II
Northern Andean deserts and xeric ShrublandsGalapagos Islands xeric scrub170Ecuador9,12231I
Guajira/Barranquilla xeric scrub171Colombia, Venezuela32,40423II
Paraguná xeric scrub172Venezuela15,98723II
Central Andean deserts and xeric shrublandsSechura Desert173Peru, Chile189,92833III
Atacama Desert174Chile103,84133III
Eastern South American deserts and xeric shrublandsCaatinga175Brazil752,60633III
RestingasNorthern Andean restingasParanaguá restingas176Venezuela15,98722II
Amazonian restingasNortheastern Brazil restingas177Brazil10,24811I
Eastern South American restingasBrazilian Atlantic coast restinga178Brazil8,74011I

a Data source: Dinerstein et al., 1995.
b Conservation status codes: 1, critical; 2, endangered; 3, vulnerable; 4, relatively stable; 5, relatively intact.
c Biological distinctiveness codes: 1, globally outstanding; 2, regionally outstanding; 3, bioregionally outstanding; 4, locally important.
d Biodiversity priority codes: 1, highest priority at regional scale; II, high priority at regional scale; III, moderate priority at regional scale; IV, important at national scale.

Table II. Area of Tropical Forest Present in 1990 (km2)a
Tropical rainMoist deciduousDry deciduousVery dryDesertHill and
CountryforestsforestforestbforestDesertmontane forestAll forestsb
French Guiana79,93030000079,970

a Data source: FAO, 1993.
b Includes cerrado, caatinga, and chaco.

Table III. Land Cover in South America in 1988
CountryClosed tropical moist forestRecently degraded IMFClosed forestDegraded closed forestWoodlandsDegraded woodlandsSavanna, grasslandsDegraded savanna, grasslandsScrublands, ShrublandsDesert, bare soilWaterSnow, rock, iceOtherTotal
French Guiana78.
Continent (%)
Category (%)8.721.617.723.4100.0

Note. All values in thousands of km2 or percent. "TMF" includes tropical moist, semideciduous, and gallery forests, "Grasslands" includes those seasonally flooded, "Closed Forest" includes TMF, montane forests, cool and temperate deciduous forests, and tropical seasonal forests, "Degraded Grasslands" includes agriculture, "Desert, Bare Soil" includes inland salt marsh communities, and "Other" includes wet vegetation and mangroves. Source: Stone et al., 1994. Reproduced with permission, the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Stone, T. A., Schlesinger, P., Houghton, R. A., and Woodwell, G. M. (1994). A map of the vegetation of South America based on satellite imagery. Photogramm. Eng. Remote Sens. 60(5), 541–551.


Anderson, A.B., Editor, 1990. Alternatives to Deforestation: Towards Sustainable Use of the Amazon Rain Forest, Columbia Univ. Press, New York.

Dinerstein, E., Olson, D.M., Graham, D.J., Webster, A.L., Primm, S.A., Bookbinder, M.P. and Ledec, G., 1995. A Conservation Assessment of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean, The World Bank, Washington, D.C.

FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), 1993. Forest Resources Assessment 1990: Tropical Countries (FAO Forestry Paper 112), FAO, Rome, Italy.

Fearnside, P.M., 1993. Deforestation in Brazilian Amazonia: The effect of population and land tenure. Ambio 22 8, pp. 537–545. Abstract-GEOBASE | Abstract-Elsevier BIOBASE   | $Order Document

Fearnside, P.M., 1997. Limiting factors for development of agriculture and ranching in Brazilian Amazonia. Rev. Brasil. Biol. 57 4, pp. 531–549.

Fearnside, P.M., 1997. Environmental services as a strategy for sustainable development in rural Amazonia. Ecol. Econ. 20 1, pp. 53–70. Abstract | Abstract + References | PDF (1239 K)

Fearnside, P.M., 1999. Biodiversity as an environmental service in Brazil's Amazonian forests: Risks, value and conservation. Environ. Conserv. 26 4, pp. 305–321. Abstract-EMBASE | Abstract-GEOBASE | Abstract-Elsevier BIOBASE   | $Order Document | Full Text via CrossRef

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Harcourt, C.S. and Sayer, J.A., Editors, 1996. The Conservation Atlas of Tropical Forests: The Americas, Simon & Schuster, New York.

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Laurance, W.F. and Bierregaard, R.O., Editors, 1997. Tropical Forest Remnants: Ecology, Management, and Conservation of Fragmented Communities, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL.

Nepstad, D.C., Moreira, A.G. and Alencar, A.A., 1999. Flames in the Rain Forest: Origins, Impacts and Alternatives to Amazonian Fire, Pilot Program to Conserve the Brazilian Rain Forest, Brasilia, Brazil.

Rudel, T.K. and Horowitz, B., 1993. Tropical Deforestation: Small Farmers and Land Clearing in the Ecuadorian Amazon, Columbia Univ. Press, New York.

Stone, T.A., Schlesinger, P., Houghton, R.A. and Woodwell, G.M., 1994. A map of the vegetation of South America based on satellite imagery. Photogramm. Eng. Remote Sens. 60 5, pp. 541–551. Abstract-Compendex | Abstract-GEOBASE | Abstract-Elsevier BIOBASE   | $Order Document

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