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Area: 3,929,557 square kilometers.


* Venezula

* Colombia

* Ecuador

* Peru

* Bolivia

* Argentina

Geography and Vegetation: Extremely diverse with regard to topography, from near sea level to more than 5000 meters elevation, with a continuous cordillera system that becomes in places narrow, divides and joins. Vegetation varies in the lowlands from very wet or very dry forest to semi-desert, to dry or wet premontane forest or dry inter-Andean vallies, to open dry or wet montane forest or elevated valley deserts. Finally the alpine zone, either wet or dry paramo and puna, are often either somewhat isolated as in the former, or exist as extensive plains. Overall, plant communities represented in the Tropical Andes, like species diversity in the region, is probably one of the highest in the world.


Vascular Plant Diversity: Absolutely unknown, more than 50,000 species.


Diversity: Liverworts 1000 species, Mosses 1400+ species. Estimated by country: Venezuela - 852, Colombia - 953, Ecuador - 954, Peru - 882, Bolivia - 1136. Country estimates change continuously due to newly described species or new country records that increase the number, and newly recognized synonyms that reduce the number of species.

Endemism for Higher Taxa: There are no endemic families recorded for the Tropical Andes. There are 23 endemic genera presently recognized for the Tropical Andes. Two sections of Sphagnum are also endemic to the region. Fifteen of the 23 genera are listed under the individual countries. The following endemic genera are known from 2 or more Tropical Andean countries:

Allioniellopsis Ochyra - Sematophyllaceae: A. cryphaeoides (Broth.) Ochyra is known from the eastern Andean slopes of Ecuador and Peru at elevations from 750 to 1400 m. A monotypic genus, this branch epiphyte is known only from three collections inhabiting premontane to low montane forest.

Callicostellopsis Broth. - Pilotrichaceae: C. meridiensis (Müll. Hal.) Broth. is known from Venezuela and Bolivia at elevations from 3500 to 3620 m. A monotypic genus, related to Helicoblepharum and Lepidopilum group, found on exposed rocks and shrubs in moist or wet páramo and puna.

Erythrophyllopsis Broth. - Pottiaceae: Two species: E. andina (Sull.) R.H. Zander Müll. Hal.) and E. zanderi M.J. Cano & J.A. Jiménez. The genus is distributed from Venezuela to Bolivia and northern Argentina at elevations from 2750 to 4720 m. A genus found on soil and rocks in somewhat dry, open scrub montane to páramo and puna.

Gertrudiella Broth. - Pottiaceae: G. validinervis (Herzog) Broth. Previously known only from Bolivia, now recroded for northwest Argentina and southern Peru; at elvations from 300-2940 m. This species is locally quite common in the dry inter-Andean valleys and to some extent in Chaco and Chaco Serrano forest, at least for the departments of Chuquisaca and Santa Cruz of Bolivia, found in dry open thorn- and spine-forest on soil.

Porotrichopsis Broth. - Neckeraceae: P. flacca Herzog is known from mid to upper montane forest of Colombia and Bolivia at elevations from 2000-3800 m. This species is found on logs and shrubs in somewhat open sites. This species probably is a good example of an inconspicuous plant that has simply been overlooked in the intervening countries of Ecuador and Peru.

Sciuroleskea Hampe - Stereophyllaceae: Two endemic species - S. mittenii (Spruce) M. Fleisch. is known from Ecuador and Peru, at elevations from 1300-2150 m, epiphytic in semidry montane forest; S. xanthophylla (Hampe & Lorentz) Broth. is known from Ecuador and Bolivia at elevations from 3050-3160 m; possibly epiphytic.

Stenodesmus (Mitt.) A. Jaeger - Pilotrichaceae: S. tenuicuspis (Mitt.) A. Jaeger is known from premontane forest of Colombia and Ecuador at elevations from 700-925 m. This species, found as an epiphyte on tree branches (probably shrubs and treelets also), is apparently rare, only three known collections.

Sphagnum section Cuculliformes H. A. Crum - Sphagnaceae: S. cuculliforme H. A. Crum is known from Colombia and Ecuador at elevations from 1800-2000 m in wet premontane to low monatne open forest.


Species Endemism: The number of mosses endemic to the Tropical Andes is estimated at about 960. That figure is inflated owing to numerous superfluous species described in the 19th and early 20th century. There may be 300-400 endemic species, but that is simply a guess at the present time.


Floristic Coverage: As with much of the Neotropics, there remain large portions of the Andes that have been little or not at all explored for mosses. The majority of historical and even many recent collections have been made near major cities and principle routes between cities. During the final three decades of the 20th century both the number of localities and collections increased significantly throughout the region. With regard to countries, relative ranking of the Tropical Andes would likely be, at present, Ecuador as best inventoried, followed by Colombia, Venezuela, Bolivia, and least, Peru. Level of inventory assessment of the tropical Andean countries for bryophytes  is here considered minimal - has only started.

TROPICOS. The number of bryophyte collections from the tropical Anden countries in the Missouri Botanical Garden TROPICOS system data base is more than 54,000.

Herbaria. Information on herbaria presented here and under the various countries is based on the current information provided by Index Herbariorum http://sciweb.nybg.org/science2/IndexHerbariorum.asp.

The following European and North American herbaria contain important historical and recent (hopefully not original) collections from the Tropical Andes.

BM (Herbarium, Department of BotanyThe Natural History Museum, London, England).

GOET (Herbarium, Abteilung Systematische Botanik. Albrecht-von-Haller-Institut für PflanzenwissenschaftenUniversität Göttingen, Germany).

H (Herbarium, Botanical MuseumUniversity of Helsinki, Finland). The following collections are maintained separately: Brotherus Herbarium (H-BR) and Lindberg Herbarium (H-SOL).

JE (Herbarium Haussknecht, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany).

MO (Missouri Botanical Garden, Saint Louis, Missouri, USA).

NY (The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, USA).

PC (Herbier Cryptogamique, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France).

S (Herbarium, Swedish Museum of Natural History, Stockholm, Sweden).

US (United States National Herbarium, Department of BotanySmithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., USA).


General References Related to the Mosses of the Tropical Andes

  • Churchill, S.P. 1996. Andean moss diversity and conservation: State of knowledge and prerequisites for the future. Anales Inst. Biol., Univ. Nac. Auton. Mexico, Bot. 67: 169-176.
  • Churchill, S.P. 1998. Catalog of Amazonian mosses. J. Hattori Bot. Lab. 85: 191-238.
  • Churchill, S.P. 2009. Moss diversity and endemism of the tropical Andes. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 96: 434-449.
  • Churchill, S.P. 2011. Diversity of mosses in the tropical Andes. Pages 224-227, In Herzog, S.K., R. Martinez, P.M. Jørgensen & H. Tiessen (eds.). Climate Change and Biodiversity of the Tropical Andes. MacArthur Foundation, Inter-American Institute of Global Change Research (IAI) and Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE), São José dos Campos and Paris.
  • Churchill, S.P. & D. Griffin III. 1999. Mosses. In: Paramo: A checklist of plant diversity, geographical distribution, and botanical literature. J. L. Luteyn (ed.). Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 84: 53-64. [544 species, 163 genera, 51 families]
  • Churchill, S.P., D. Griffin, III, M. Lewis. 1995. Moss diversity of the tropical Andes. Pages 335-346. In: S.P Churchill, H. Balslev, E. Forero & J.L. Luteyn (eds.), Biodiversity and Conservation of Neotropical Montane Forests. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.
  • Churchill, S.P., D. Griffin III & J. Muñoz. 2000. A checklist of the mosses of the tropical Andean countries. Ruizia 17: 1-203.
  • Churchill, S.P. & N. Salazar Allen. 2001. Mosses. In: S.R. Gradstein, S.P. Churchill & N. Salazar Allen, A guide to the bryophytes of tropical America. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 86: 240-571.
  • Delgadillo M., C. 1982. Bryological exploration and moss research in the Neotropics. Pages 507-512. In: P. Geissler & S. W. Greene (eds.), Bryophyte Taxonomy. J. Cramer.
  • Delgadillo M., C., B. Bello & A. Crdenas S. 1995. LATMOSS. Monogr. Syst. Bot. Missouri Bot. Gard. 56: 1-191.
  • Gradstein, S.R. 1993. A decade of neotropical exsiccates. Trop. Bryol. 7: 77-85.
  • Gradstein, S.R. & T. Pocs. 1989. Bryophytes. Pages 311-325. In: H. Lieth & M. J. A. Werger (eds.). Tropical Rain Forest Ecosystems. Ecosystems of the World 14B. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  • Griffin, D., III. 1990. Floristics of the South American páramo moss flora. Trop. Bryol. 2: 127-132.
  • Griffin, D., III & S. R. Gradstein. 1982. Bryological exploration of the tropical Andes: current status. Pages 513-518. In: P. Geissler & S. W. Greene (eds.), Bryophyte Taxonomy. J. Cramer.
  • Kessler, M. 2000. Altitudinal zonation of Andean cryptogam communities. J. Biogeogr. 27: 275-282.
  • Matteri, C.M. 1985. Current state of Latin American bryology. J. Hattori Bot. Lab. 59: 481-486.
  • Pócs, T. 1982. Tropical forest bryophytes. Pages 59-104. In: A. J. E. Smith (ed.), Bryophyte Ecology. Chapman & Hall, London.
  • Richards, P.W. 1984. The ecology of tropical forest bryophytes. In: R. M. Schuster (ed.), New Manual of Bryology 2: 1233-1270. Nichinan.
  • Spruce, R. 1861. Mosses of the Amazon and Andes. J. Linn. Soc., Bot. 5: 45-51.

Background References Related to the Andean Flora and Vegetation

  • Balslev, H. & J.L. Luteyn (eds.). 1992. Páramo: An Andean Ecosystem under Human Influence. Academic Press, London.
  • Churchill, S.P., H. Balslev, E. Forero & J.L. Luteyn (eds.). 1995. Biodiversity and Conservation of Neotropical Montane Forests. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.
  • Davis, S.D., V.H. Heywood, O. Herrera-MacBride, J.L. Villa-Lobos, and A.C. Hamilton, eds. 1997. Centres of Plant Diversity: A Guide and Strategy for their Conservation. Vol. 3. The Americas. Cambridge: WWF and IUCN. [A good example of how not to organize a book]
  • Duellman, W.E. 1979. The herpetofauna of the Andes: Patterns of distribution, origin, differentiation, and present communities. Mus. Nat. Hist., Univ. Kansas Monogr. 7: 371-459. [Excellent geographical summary]
  • Gentry, A. 1982. Neotropical floristic diversity: Phytogeographical connections between Central and South America, Pleistocene climatic fluctuations, or an accident of the Andean orogeny? Ann. Missouri Bot. Gard. 69: 557-593.
  • Gentry, A. 1989. Northwest South America (Colombia, Ecuador and Peru). Pages 391-400. In: D. G. Campbell & H. D. Hammond (eds.), Floristic Inventory of Tropical Countries. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx.
  • Hammen, van der T. 1974. The Pleistocene changes of vegetation and climate in tropical South America. J. Biogeogr. 3: 3-26.
  • Hammen, van der T. 1989. History of the montane forests of the northern Andes. Pl. Syst. Evol. 162: 109-114.
  • Henderson, A., S.P. Churchill, J.L. Luteyn. 1991. Neotropical plant diversity. Nature 351: 21-22.
  • Luteyn, J.L. (ed.). 1999. Paramo: A checklist of plant diversity, geographical distribution, and botanical literature. Mem. New York Bot. Gard. 84: 1-278.
  • Luteyn, J.L. & S.P. Churchill. 2000. Vegetation of the Tropical Andes. Pages 281-310. In: D. Lentz (ed.). Imperfect Balance: Landscape Transformations in the Pre-Columbian Americas. Columbia University Press, New York.
  • Pennell, F.W. 1945. Historical Sketch. Pages 35-48. In: F. Verdoorn (ed.), Plants and Plant Science in Latin America. Ronald Press Co., New York.
  • Spruce, R. 1908. Notes of a Botanist on the Amazon & Andes. Ed. A. R. Wallace. MacMillan & Co., London. [volume 1 covers the Amazon, volume 2 covers the Andes]
  • Troll, C. (ed.). 1968. Geo-ecology of the mountainous regions of tropical America. Colloq. Geogr. 9: 1-222.
  • Vuilleumier, F. & M. Monasterio (eds.). 1986. High Altitude Tropical Biogeography. Oxford University Press, New York.
  • Young, K.R., C. Ulloa U., J.L. Lutey & S. Knapp (eds.). 2002. Plant evolution and endemism in Andean South America. Bot. Rev. 68: 1-188.


Web Pages Related to the Tropical Andes

Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago

Göttingen bryophyte herbarium (GOET)


Missouri Botanical Garden


The New York Botanical Garden


Sociedad Latinoamericana de Bryología



Web Pages Useful for Geographical Localities and Data




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