Central Andean Wet Puna Ecoregion (South America)

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Central Andean Wet Puna Ecoregion (South America)

Wed, 04/01/2020 - 18:26
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The Central Andean wet puna ecoregion is a high elevation, moist, montane grassland in the high southern Andes in Peru and eastern Bolivia. It comprises bunchgrass communities, wetlands, small shrubs and trees, and herbaceous plants.

Central Andean Wet Puna

The Central Andean wet puna ecoregion is a high-elevation, moist, montane grassland in Peru and eastern Bolivia's southern high Andean Mountains. Part of the Puna grassland region, it features landscapes filled with snow-capped peaks, mountain grasslands, high lakes, plateaus, and valleys.

This region rises above the tree line (approximately 3500 m or 11,500 ft elevation) and comprises bunchgrass communities, wetlands, small shrubs and trees, and herbaceous plants.

The Central Andean wet puna is bordered on the west by the dry Sechura desert. To the east by the wet Peruvian Yungas, which makes for extreme transitional zones. The landscape is characteristically mountainous, with snow-capped peaks, mountain pastures, high lakes, plateaus and valleys.

The Central Andean wet puna comprises magnificent mountains and a high plateau. The area includes three subregions:

  • High Andean puna: This subregion lies between 4,200 to 5,000 m (13,780 to 16,400 ft) in elevation. The area is highly oligothermic, characterized by summer during the day and winter at night. The extreme temperature shift during the day has been a selective force in adapting plants to this environment. Nightly freeze during the entire year is one of the environmental stresses the plants face. The annual precipitation at high elevations is less than 700 mm (28 in). Rainfall occurs mainly as snow and hail.

  • Wet puna: This subregion is located in the Altiplano at elevations ranging from 3,700 to 4,200 m (12,100 to 13,780 ft asl. The humidity in the Altiplano varies from north to south. The areas in the north surrounding Lake Titicaca have eight wet months, and the areas in the south have one to two wet months. The average precipitation in the Altiplano ranges from 500 to 700 mm (20 to 28 in). The average annual temperature is low, ranging from 5 to 7 °C (41 to 45 °F); the temperature varies considerably daily, with night frost periods from March to October.

  • Wet montane grassland: This subregion is located in the eastern section of the ecoregion, at an elevation ranging from 3,800 to 4,200 m (12,460 to 13,780 ft) asl. These grasslands are located in steep mountains with deep valleys originating from glaciers. Consequently, the grasslands are more humid than the puna.

The topography in the Central Andean wet puna ecoregion is complex, as the Andean mountain range divides into a series of ridges with a large plateau in between called the Altiplano.

In the northern section of the ecoregion, the wet puna is fragmented, including only the higher elevations of low mountain ranges. The northern area includes the Cordillera Blanca, Cordillera Negra, Cordillera Vilcabamaba, and Cordillera Carabaya.

The Andes divide into two mountain systems, the Cordillera Occidental and the Cordillera Oriental, close to the border of Peru and Bolivia. The Cordillera Oriental is, in turn, divided into two Cordilleras, the Real and the Central.

The Cordillera Real contains various mountain chains: the Cordillera de Apolobamba, Cordillera de Muñecas, Cordillera de La Paz and Cordillera de Tres Cruces. The highest peak of the ecoregion is Nevado Huascarán (6,745 m or 22,129 ft) in Peru.

Flora and Fauna

Approximately 1,000 - 1,500 vascular plant species are accounted for on the Peruvian side of the wet puna. 

Endemic plants with various centers in this ecoregion include Culcitium spp., Perezia spp., and Polylepis spp. Above 4,000 m, floating submerged cushion plants (bofedales) make up the wet vegetation community.

Trees in the area are Buddleja coriacea and Polylepis spp. Puya raimondii, a giant rosette plant, is also common in the ecoregion.

The Andean camelids in these and other ecoregions include the vicuña, llama, guanaco, and alpaca. Larger mammals, like the puma and the Andean fox, and smaller mammals, like the bats Histiotus montanus and Lasiurus cinereus, are also found here.

Additionally, endemic and restricted range species throughout the region include the endangered ash-breasted tit-tyrant, the critically threatened royal cinclodes, the olivaceous thornbill, the short-tailed finch and birds in the Junin Puna area in Peru.

Protection Status

The puna is one of the most altered regions in Peru and Bolivia. It has been severely affected by extensive grazing and burning, degrading the vegetation and causing soil erosion.

Many protected areas exist throughout this ecoregion, including Manu National Park and the Ulla-Ulla Biosphere Reserve.

Map depicting the location of the Central Andean wet puna ecoregion (in purple)

Map depicting the location of the Central Andean wet puna ecoregion (in purple)