Central Andean Puna Ecoregion (South America)
The Central Andean puna ecoregion is a high-elevation montane grassland and shrubland of South America and is part of the Puna grassland region. It is located in the high southern Andes, extending from southern Peru through Bolivia into northern Argentina.
Central Andean Puna
The Central Andean puna ecoregion is a high-elevation montane grassland and shrubland of South America and is part of the Puna grassland region.
Located in the high Andes, extending from southern Peru through Bolivia to northern Argentina, the ecoregion occupies an area of 140,960 sq km (54,425 sq mi). Elevations range from 3,200 - 6,600 m (10,500 - 21,700 ft).
The landscape in this ecoregion consists of high mountains with permanent snow and ice, mountain meadows, high lakes, plateaus, and valleys. It maintains nearly unaltered blocks of habitat, representing an important area for the conservation of endemic species of both flora and fauna.
The Central Andean puna transitions to the Central Andean wet puna to the north and the Central Andean dry puna to the south.
The climate varies from temperate to cold; it is dry with an average temperature between < 0 - 15 ºC (< 32 - 41 ºF. Precipitation ranges from 250 - 500 mm (10 - 20 in) annually.
Flora and Fauna
The characteristic dryness, intensive radiation, and low atmospheric pressure causing low oxygen levels, along with the strong natural disturbances cycles (like droughts and frost), have made it challenging for life to develop in this ecoregion. Thus, many species inhabiting the Central Andean puna have interesting adaptations.
The flora consists typically of open meadows with rocks, bunchgrass, herbs, moss, and lichen. Grasses are represented by the genera Calamagrostis, Agrostis and Festuca. Parastrephia lepidophylla and Margyricarpus are small bush species found here. Azorella compacta and Puya raimondi are shared with the wet puna. Polylepis, Buddleja, and Escallonia are trees found at lower elevations.
Darwin's rhea (Pterocnemia pennata) and the puna mouse (Punomys lemminus) are endemic mammal species found here. Vicuña (Vicugna vicugna), guanaco (Lama guanicoe), chinchilla (Chinchilla brevicaudata), and viscacha (Lagidium).
Threatened bird species include the royal cinclodes (Cinclodes aricomae), the tamarugo cone bill (Conirostrum tamarugense), James's flamingo (Phoenicopterus jamesi), and the giant coot (Fulica gigantea).
Despite its characteristic dryness and because it maintains nearly unaltered blocks of habitat, the Central Andean puna represents an essential area for conserving endemic species of flora and fauna.
This ecoregion faces increasing mining activity, destroying its scarce plant cover and contaminating some bodies of water and the soil. In addition, this region has many population centers and highways that cross the Andes, leading to a decline in natural habitat and growing pressures on the existing fauna.
Fortunately, some of these habitats are represented within protected natural areas, and most plant formations are included.
Protected natural areas within the Central Andean puna ecoregion include:
Salinas and Aguada Blanca National Reservation: A protected area in Arequipa and Moquegua, Peru. The primary purpose of this area is to protect the local flora, fauna and landscape formations. It spans an area of 366,936 ha (906,718 acres), covering the headwaters of important local rivers like Yura and Chili.
Tariquía Flora and Fauna National Reserve: Located in the Tarija Department of Bolivia, it protects a large portion of cloud forest and a smaller area of polylepis woodland on the eastern slopes of the department of Tarija's mountains. The Reserve provides a habitat for rare animals such as the spectacled bear and hundreds of bird species, including the threatened rufous-throated dipper and the spectacular military macaw.
Cordillera de Sama Biological Reserve: Located in the Tarija Department of Bolivia, it protects part of the Central Andean puna and Bolivian montane dry forests ecoregions.
Aymara Lupaca Reserved Zone: This protected area in southeastern Peru was set up in 1996, with around 200,000 ha (494,000 acres). It was expanded in January 2006, but the decree was repealed in 2009. The zone was established to protect the flora and wild fauna of the Central Andean puna and to preserve the ruins of Tanqa Tanqa of the Lupaca culture shaped by Chullpas and the funeral towers, fortifications and other archaeological sites that could be studied.
Cotahuasi Subbasin Landscape Reserve: A protected area in Peru in the Arequipa Region, La Unión Province. It covers part of the Central Andean puna and the Sechura Desert ecoregions.
Map depicting the location of the Central Andean puna ecoregion (in purple)