The Argentine Espinal ecoregion is a thorny deciduous shrubland forest located in central Argentina, extending from central Santa Fe through the province of Córdoba to the north of San Luis. It has been extensively modified by large-scale cattle ranching.
The Argentine espinal ecoregion is a dry, thorny deciduous shrubland forest in central Argentina. The espinal has been extensively modified by large-scale cattle ranching, but remnants of the original flora remain.
The name "espinal" (thorny) refers to the thorny deciduous shrubland forest of the region between the flooded wetlands along the Paraná River to the east and the Sierras de Córdoba to the west.
The espinal is found within a broad arc of land in the interior of Argentina, to the north and west of Buenos Aires, extending from the northern Uruguay border west through Santa Fe to Cordoba, and south to the Atlantic coast south of Bahía Blanca. It includes central Santa Fe Province, Córdoba Province and the northern part of San Luis Province.
The Argentine espinal can be divided into two subregions:
The carob subregion in the north: dominant tree species include algarrobo negro and blanco, spiny hackberry, chañar, and espinillo, as well as caranday palms in isolated areas
The caldén subregion in the south: is characterized by an abundance of caldén trees, forming dense forests, as well as clearings covered by grassy savannas, dunes with wind-pollinated vegetation, and salty soils with scrublands.
Like other phytogeographic provinces, it has significant temperature variations and high average precipitation. It is a primarily flat plain with low hilly areas. Soils are predominantly silt-sized sediment formed by wind-blown dust or sand accumulation.
Flora and Fauna
Overall, relatively few endemic organisms exist in this area. The plant species found in the Espinal are generally also found in other ecoregions of Argentina. Caldén trees are a rare example of a species confined to this ecoregion.
The vegetation is characteristic of deciduous xerophytic forests, palm groves, grassy savannas, grassy steppes, and bushy steppes.
The dominance of the arboreal species of Prosopis characterizes the Espinal. Mimosoideae leguminosae of the genera Prosopis and Acacia are generally predominant, accompanied by other "chaco types" genera such as Jodina, Celtis, Schinus, Geoffroea, Atamisquea, and others.
There are three species of endemic birds: the yellow cardinal, the Chaco eagle, and the Eskimo curlew. Endangered birds include the yellow cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata), Chaco eagle (Buteogallus coronatus), and Eskimo curlew (Numenius borealis)
The Mar Chiquita lake and the Dulce River swamps are designated a Ramsar wetland crucial for endangered neotropical birds. The wetland supports a rich and diverse fauna with 138 known species of birds, including large breeding groups of the Chilean flamingo (Phoenicopterus chilensis).
Native fauna include guanacos, greater rheas, and giant anteaters. Endangered amphibians include the blunt-headed salamander (Ambystoma amblycephalum).
The World Wildlife Fund gives the Argentine espinal ecoregion the "Critical/Endangered" status. Conservation units within the region include Lihué Calel National Park, La Reforma University Reserve, Chacharramendi Provincial Reserve, and Luro Provincial Reserve. Other protected areas are El Palmar National Park and Parque Atlántico Mar Chiquita.
Map depicting the location of the Argentine Espinal (in purple)