Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

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

Jennifer J Swenson110*, Bruce E Young1, Stephan Beck2, Pat Comer1, Jesús H Córdova3, Jessica Dyson111, Dirk Embert4, Filomeno Encarnación5, Wanderley Ferreira6, Irma Franke3, Dennis Grossman112, Pilar Hernandez113, Sebastian K Herzog7, Carmen Josse1, Gonzalo Navarro6, Víctor Pacheco3, Bruce A Stein114, Martín Timaná115, Antonio Tovar8, Carolina Tovar8, Julieta Vargas9 and Carlos M Zambrana-Torrelio162

Author Affiliations

1 NatureServe, 4600 North Fairfax Drive, Floor 7, Arlington, VA 22203, USA

2 Herbario Nacional de Bolivia, Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, Bolivia

3 Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Apartado 140434, Lima-14, Perú

4 Fundación Amigos de la Naturaleza, km 7,5 Doble Vía la Guardia, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, Casilla 2241

5 Instituto de Investigaciones de la Amazonía Peruana, Iquitos, Perú

6 Rumbol, S.R.L. Av. Dorbigni 1608, Cochabamba, Bolivia

7 Asociación Armonía, BirdLife Internacional, Avenida Lomas de Arena 400, Casilla 3566, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia

8 Centro de Datos para la Conservación, Departamento de Manejo Forestal, Facultad de Ciencias Forestales, Universidad Nacional Agraria La Molina, Apartado 456, Lima 100, Perú

9 Museo Nacional de Historial Natural, Colección Boliviana de Fauna, Casilla 8706, La Paz, Bolivia

10 Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Box 90328, Durham, NC 27708, USA

11 The Nature Conservancy, 99 Bedford St., 5th Floor, Boston MA 02111 USA

12 The Nature Conservancy, 4245 Fairfax Drive, Arlington, VA 22203 USA

13 Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, 50 Bloomington Road W, Aurora, ON L4G 3G8

14 National Wildlife Federation, 901 E Street, NW Suite 400, Washington DC, 20004 USA

15 Departamento de Ciencias, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú, Av. Universitaria 1801, Lima 32, Peru

16 EcoHealth Alliance - 460 W 34th Street, 17th Floor, New York, NY 10001, USA

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BMC Ecology 2012, 12:1  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-12-1

Published: 27 January 2012



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.


We found that sizes of endemic species distributions ranged widely (< 20 km2 to > 200,000 km2) 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).


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.

Andes-Amazon; conservation planning; ecological systems; endemic species richness; irreplaceability; Latin America