Plant and animal endemism in the eastern Andean slope: Challenges to conservation

Jennifer J. Swenson, Bruce E. Young, Stephan Beck, Pat Comer, Jesús H. Córdova, Jessica Dyson, Dirk Embert, Filomeno Encarnación, Wanderley Ferreira, Irma Franke, Dennis Grossman, Pilar Hernandez, Sebastian K. Herzog, Carmen Josse, Gonzalo Navarro, Víctor Pacheco, Bruce A. Stein, Martín Timaná, Antonio Tovar, Carolina TovarJulieta Vargas, Carlos M. Zambrana-Torrelio

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61 Scopus citations


Background: The Andes-Amazon basin of Peru and Bolivia is one of the most data-poor, biologically rich, and rapidly changing areas of the world. Conservation scientists agree that this area hosts extremely high endemism, perhaps the highest in the world, yet we know little about the geographic distributions of these species and ecosystems within country boundaries. To address this need, we have developed conservation data on endemic biodiversity (~800 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, and plants) and terrestrial ecological systems (~90; groups of vegetation communities resulting from the action of ecological processes, substrates, and/or environmental gradients) with which we conduct a fine scale conservation prioritization across the Amazon watershed of Peru and Bolivia. We modelled the geographic distributions of 435 endemic plants and all 347 endemic vertebrate species, from existing museum and herbaria specimens at a regional conservation practitioner's scale (1:250,000-1:1,000,000), based on the best available tools and geographic data. We mapped ecological systems, endemic species concentrations, and irreplaceable areas with respect to national level protected areas.Results: We found that sizes of endemic species distributions ranged widely (< 20 km 2 to > 200,000 km 2) across the study area. Bird and mammal endemic species richness was greatest within a narrow 2500-3000 m elevation band along the length of the Andes Mountains. Endemic amphibian richness was highest at 1000-1500 m elevation and concentrated in the southern half of the study area. Geographical distribution of plant endemism was highly taxon-dependent. Irreplaceable areas, defined as locations with the highest number of species with narrow ranges, overlapped slightly with areas of high endemism, yet generally exhibited unique patterns across the study area by species group. We found that many endemic species and ecological systems are lacking national-level protection; a third of endemic species have distributions completely outside of national protected areas. Protected areas cover only 20% of areas of high endemism and 20% of irreplaceable areas. Almost 40% of the 91 ecological systems are in serious need of protection (= < 2% of their ranges protected).Conclusions: We identify for the first time, areas of high endemic species concentrations and high irreplaceability that have only been roughly indicated in the past at the continental scale. We conclude that new complementary protected areas are needed to safeguard these endemics and ecosystems. An expansion in protected areas will be challenged by geographically isolated micro-endemics, varied endemic patterns among taxa, increasing deforestation, resource extraction, and changes in climate. Relying on pre-existing collections, publically accessible datasets and tools, this working framework is exportable to other regions plagued by incomplete conservation data.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1
JournalBMC Ecology
StatePublished - 27 Jan 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are deeply indebted to the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for financial support and technical guidance during the project. The project would not be possible without the generous data sharing, opinions, advice and participation of our long list of collaborators, found at Funds from NatureServe, Duke University’s Nicholas School of Environment, and USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT Program supported the publication of this manuscript. The datasets for most of the maps and analyses described here are accessible in both graphic and GIS format at http://


  • Andes-Amazon
  • Conservation planning
  • Ecological systems
  • Endemic species richness
  • Irreplaceability
  • Latin America


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