The Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub ecoregion, along the Caribbean Sea in northern Venezuela and Colombia, is a unique xerophytic area in the neotropics. Proposed as a bird center of endemism, this arid habitat is dominated by thorn scrub and succulents.
Guajira-Barranquilla Xeric Scrub
The Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub, located in three enclaves along the Caribbean Sea in northern Venezuela and Colombia, is a unique xerophytic area in the neotropics. Proposed as a bird center of endemism, this arid habitat is dominated by thorn scrub and succulents.
The Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub ecoregion occupies the Guajira Peninsula, the valley of the Rancheria River and the Guajira Department, covering parts of the northeastern coast of Venezuela.
The valleys lie in the rain shadow of the surrounding Serranía de Macuira, which reaches an elevation of 900 m (3,000 ft). These mountains trap some of the trade winds, causing mist.
The largest enclave of Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub is in the Guajira Peninsula, the northernmost point of South America, in both northwestern Venezuela and northeastern Colombia. The enclave extends south between the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and the Serrania de Perijá.
The second and most minor of the three enclaves is located east of Santa Marta Bay, north of the Magdalena department of Colombia.
The third enclave is north of the Cordoba, Sucre, Bolivar and Atlantico departments along the Caribbean Sea. The largest city in the ecoregion is Barranquilla, Colombia.
Landscape elements in this ecoregion consist of hills (Serranía de Macuira), lowlands (llanuras or plains), and some rivers, of which the largest is the Magdalena River.
Smaller rivers also originate in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta and make their way to the Caribbean Sea through this ecoregion, including the Guachaca, Buritaca, Don Diego, Palomino, Ancho, Dibulla, and Corual.
Flora and Fauna
The area of the Guajira peninsula has a great diversity of plants, including 465 species across 255 genera and 109 families.
The dominant vegetation in the Guajira-Barranquilla Xeric Scrub ecoregion includes thorn trees and succulents. Plant communities consist of forests dominated by small evergreen trees.
There are also forests of mesquite trees, leguminous trees, and other species. However, the most common vegetation in the ecoregion includes Acacia, creosote, cacti, flowering plants, and other small trees and shrubs.
Reptiles in the Guajira include at least 34 species representing 21 genera and ten families, including the endangered green iguana, red-footed tortoise and the endemic Dahl's toad-headed turtle. Amphibians include 32 species representing 17 genera and seven families.
This ecoregion also contains various bird species found exclusively in this ecoregion, many of which are restricted to arid lowlands in the Guajira peninsula and northeastern Colombia.
Birds in Guajira include over 180 species representing 140 genera and 50 families, including the endemic pygmy swift, buffy hummingbird, black-backed antshrike, and Caribbean flamingo, among others.
The Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub ecoregion is notable for being the habitat for a large community of Caribbean flamingos (Phoenicopterus ruber).
Heavily populated, the entire region has been altered through agriculture and grazing activities. The ecoregion has two important protected areas:
Tayrona National Natural Park: consists of mangroves and xeric scrubs that provide habitat for approximately 100 mammal species, 200 birds, and 31 amphibians.
Macuira National Natural Park: has isolated populations of caiman, ocelot, margay, howler monkey, and seven endemic subspecies of birds.
Map depicting the location of the Guajira-Barranquilla xeric scrub (in purple)