“Paramos” is a type of alpine meadow or mountain steppe located in the highlands (2800-4300 m.a.s.l.) of the central and northern Andean range in South America (8°N to 18°S). At high elevation of the central and northern Andes, paramos vegetation is composed of shrubs and grasses, is continuously cool to cold, and relatively dry because of rain shadow effects from the surrounding mountains. Within the paramos, mountain streams carrying snowmelt are the main source of water in the lakes. Despite their tropical location, and directly because of their high elevation, this is a cold ecosystem (0-15°C daily range with an annual average of about 10°C and no seasonal variations), frequently freezing during the night, yet supporting a rich and diverse plant and animal life, but few trees. High valley paramos ecosystems are water catchments in the northern Andes containing lakes formed from terminal Pleistocene mountain glacial processes, and now functioning as headwaters of many South American rivers.

Chingaza lake, 40 Km northeast of Bogota (Paramo de Chingaza, Colombia)

Although the lakes are important for supporting urban and rural populations in the lower valleys, paramos had been studied mainly for their botanical interests and the impact of slash-and-burn practices (Keating 1997; Sklenar & Jorgensen 1999; Sklenar & Ramsay 2001; Suarez & Medina 2001).

Paramo de Guerrero (Close to Bogota, Colombia)

Information regarding microbial primary production in the lakes comes from only two sources (Miller et al. 1984; Richerson & Carney 1988). The land and water microbial and microfaunal paramos communities are scarcely documented, involving only a handful of studies on mycorrhizae fungi (Barnola & Montilla 1997) and their impact (Chapela et al. 2001), grassland fungi (Gualdron-Arenas et al. 1997), lichens (Perez 1997), ciliates (Foissner 2000), algae (Taylor 1935), diatoms (Theriot et al. 1985) and microalgae in two paramos lakes in Colombia (Donato-Rondon et al. 1996; Gonzalez-Gonzalez and Mora-Osejo 1996), and phytoplankton in Lake Titicaca in Peru-Bolivia (Carney et al. 1987). Most of the groups of microalgae found in paramos ecosystems in Colombia have arctic-alpine and neotropical origins, with few endemics (Coesel 1987).

Embalse de Chuza, northeast of Chingaza lake (Paramo de Chingaza, Colombia)

References and additional reading

  • Barnola L.G. & Montilla, M.G. 1997. Vertical distribution of ectomycorrhizal colonization, root hairs, and below-ground biomass in three contrasting sites from the tropical high mountains, Merida, Venezuela. Arctic and Alpine Research 29: 206-212.

  • Carney H.J., Richerson P.J. & Eloranta P. 1987. Lake Titicaca (Peru-Bolivia) phytoplankton: species composition and structural comparison with other tropical and temperate lakes. Arch. Hydrobiol., 110: 365-385.

  • Chapela I., Osher L. J., Horton T. & Henn M. 2001. Ectomycorrhizal fungi introduced with exotic pine plantations induce soil carbon depletion. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 33: 1733-1740.

  • Coesel P.F.M. 1987. Taxonomic notes on Colombian desmids. Cryptogamie Algology 8: 127-142.

  • Donato Rondon J.C., Gonzalez L.E. & Rodriguez C.L. 1996. Ecology of two paramo aquatic ecosystems. Academia Colombiana de Ciencias Exactas, Fisicas y Naturales. Coleccion Jorge Alvarez Lleras, No. 9. Bogota, Colombia, p. 164 (In Spanish).

  • Foissner W. 2000. Notes on ciliates (Protozoa, Ciliophora) from Espeletia trees and Espeletia soils of the Andean paramo, with descriptions of Sikorops espeletiae nov. sp. and Fragmocirrus espeletiae nov. gen., nov. spec. Stud. Neotrop. Fauna E. 35: 52-79.

  • Gonzalez-Gonzalez L.E. & Mora-Osejo L.E. 1996. Desmids from paramo lakes in Colombia. Caldasia18:165-202 (In Spanish).

  • Gualdron-Arenas C., Suarez-Navarro A.L. & Valencia-Zapata H. 1997. Soil fungi isolated from natural high plain vegetation zones from Chisaca, Colombia. Caldasia 19: 235-245. (in Spanish).

  • Keating P.L. 1997. An inventory of plant species in the Paramo of Cajanuma, Podocarpus National Park (Ecuador). Phytologia 83: 333-344.

  • Miller M.C., Kannan, M. & Colinvaux, P. 1984. Limnology and primary productivity of Andean and Amazonian tropical lakes of Ecuador. Verein. Limnol. 22: 1264-1270.

  • Perez F.L. 1997. Geoecology of erratic lichens of Xanthoparmelia vagans in an equatorial Andean paramo. Plant Ecology 129: 11-28.

  • Richerson P.J. & Carney H.C. 1988. Patterns of temporal variation in Lake Titicaca. A high altitude tropical lake: II. Succession rate and diversity of the phytoplankton. Verh. Int. Verein. Limnol. 23: 734-738.

  • Sklenar P. Jorgensen P.M. 1999. Distribution patterns of paramo plants in Ecuador. Journal of Biogeogaphy 26: 681-691.

  • Sklenar P. & Ramsay P.M. 2001. Diversity of zonal paramo plant communities in Ecuador. Diversity and Distributions 7: 113-124.

  • Suarez E. & Medina G. 2001. Vegetation structure and soil properties in Ecuadorian paramo grasslands with different histories of burning and grazing. Arctic Antarctic and Alpine Research 33: 158-164.

  • Taylor W.R. 1935. Alpine algae from the Santa Marta Mountains, Colombia. American Journal of Botany 22: 763-781.

  • Theriot E., Carney H. & Richerson P. 1985. Morphology, ecology and systematics of Cyclotella andina sp. Nov. (Bacillariophyceae) from Lake Titicaca, Peru-Bolivia. Phycologia 24: 381-387.
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