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(Tropical) Andes: CPD Site SA27


Location:  Eastern Cordillera, from c. 40-120 km south of Bogotá, between latitudes c. 4°50'-3°20'N and longitudes c. 74°40'-74°00'W.
c. 15,000-16,000 km²; páramo c. 4000 km²
About 300 to 4250 (-4300) m.
On lower western slope a wide variety of dry forests, on mid-slope lower and upper montane humid to wet forests, on top of watershed bordering wet bamboo and humid bunchgrass páramos; on eastern slope, lower montane rain forest grades into Amazonian rain forest.
High diversity - over 200 vascular plant genera, with substantial species endemism.
Useful plants: 
Many species, for construction, as medicinals or in indigenous agriculture.
Other values: 
Habitat for many vertebrate taxa, including endemics; threatened species; watershed protection and water resources for Bogotá and densely populated towns and villages bordering western and northern slopes; archaeological sites.
Road construction in western and northern areas much damages fragile uppermost forest, allows for extensive and locally intensive cattle-grazing. Extractions of timber, fuelwood and water increasing; mining becoming more important. On western slope, colonization relatively dense below and above treeline.
Central-northern part of Sumapaz páramo a Natural National Park (1540 km²) since 1977.

Map 63: CPD Site SA27


The Páramo de Sumapaz region comprises c. 15,000-16,000 km² south of Bogotá (Map 63). The large ecological island of páramo comprises the upper part of much of the Sumapaz massif, which is formed primarily by the south-north main ridge of the Eastern Cordillera of the Andes. The top of the watershed is between c. 4100-3800 m in elevation, and extends southward with the high points Boca Grande, Chisacá, Medio Naranja, Alto Caicedo, Andabobos, La Rabona, Torquita or Fraile, Cáqueza and Alto San Mateo to Alto de Las Oseras (3830 m), where the departments Cundinamarca, Huila and Meta meet (Guhl 1964). The calcareous summit of Cerro El Nevado de Sumapaz rises to c. 4250 m (or nearly 4300 m) some 20 km east of the main ridge.

A number of tributary rivers drain the Sumapaz massif in two major directions: (1) the Chisacá, Blanco (Oeste), Sumapaz and Cabrera flow variously westward to the Magdalena River in the adjacent lowlands at c. 300 m elevation; and (2) all in the Orinoco River drainage, the Blanco (Este) flows north-eastward to the Meta River, and the Nevado and Guape eastward to the Ariari River and the Duda to the Guayabero River, which together form the Guaviare River.

Access from the north to the highest part is only by road from Usme via Chisacá and Nazareth to Andabobos and San Juan. A number of smaller roads are present mainly in the northern part. The eastern flanks are mostly still under mature forest cover, whereas on the western flank a road penetrates along the parallel valley of the Sumapaz River. At the southern edge of the Páramo de Sumapaz is the lowest part of the Eastern Cordillera (at 1874 m); here the Neiva-Uribe road crosses the cordillera at Las Cruces.

Geologically the main part of the Sumapaz massif consists of sedimentary rocks, mostly Cretaceous sandstone of the Villeta and Guadalupe groups, Guaduas Formation (Maestrichtien). Dark calcareous rocks of Palaeozoic origin that are rich in fossil corals (e.g. Chaetetes sp.) and molluscs give rise to a sharp parallel ridge east of the main watershed - El Nevado de Sumapaz is part of that system.

Quaternary glaciations have largely defined the landscape in the Páramo de Sumapaz region (Guhl 1964; Melief 1985; Helmens 1990). In the highest parts, cirque lakes and roches moutonnées (fleecy rocks) are common. Moraines are found along wide U-shaped valleys. On valley bottoms in the area west and north of El Nevado de Sumapaz (and also elsewhere) is a sequence of glacial lakes dammed by terminal moraines.

The median annual temperature in Sumapaz Natural National Park varies from 19°C at 1500 m to 2°C at 4300 m (INDERENA 1984). The average annual precipitation also varies a great deal in the Sumapaz region. The incidence of fog is very high, reducing irradiance and plant transpiration; the fog is an important factor for páramo and montane cloud forests. Detailed weather records are only available from páramo and western-slope stations. In the páramo above 3000 m on the drier Magdalena slope is a bimodal annual rain pattern (January and February are driest) with up to 1500 mm of precipitation, which shifts in the easternmost highlands to a unimodal rain pattern with up to 3000 mm or more. Cerro El Nevado de Sumapaz has a snow mantle during October and November. At c. 1700-2000 m occurs the highest annual montane precipitation. On Amazonian foothills, annual rainfall exceeding 4000 mm has been registered (Bates 1948).

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The natural vegetation of the Páramo de Sumapaz region consists basically of warm lowland forests, montane rain forests, and páramo. The altitudinal vegetation sequence and composition are quite different on the relatively dry Magdalena slope and the extremely wet Amazon slope. Rather few vegetation studies had been conducted in the Páramo de Sumapaz (e.g. Sturm and Rangel-Ch. 1985; Ernst and Seljée 1988). Most of the present vegetation data are based on Cleef (1981) and in preparation, for the páramos and the uppermost forests; an EcoAndes transect was carried out mainly in the montane forest zone (van der Hammen and dos Santos 1996).

Zonal vegetation
On the drier Magdalena slope six distinct vegetation types have been distinguished: (1) Dry leguminous forest with spiny understorey species on the lowermost foothills in the Magdalena Valley, at 470 m to c. 750 m; (2) Dry meliaceous-sapindaceous forest (c. 750-1150 m); (3) A dry sub-Andean Quercus humboldtii forest belt, between c. 1150-1400 m; (4) Mixed sub-Andean or lower montane rain forest (c. 1400-2550 m), and also a fringe of Quercus humboldtii forest at c. 1900 m; (5) A wet Gordonia-Clusia Andean forest belt (c. 2500-3300 m) with an understorey of Neurolepis aperta bamboo; (6) High-Andean rain forest (c. 3300-3500 m). Considerable stretches of this uppermost forest belt consist of a humid type of dwarf forest of Escallonia myrtilloides-Polylepis quadrijuga which grades into a low forest of species of Weinmannia, Clusia and Brunellia.

The wet Amazon slope includes the following forest types: (1) Wet lowland rain forest, covering adjacent lowlands and the easternmost foothills (c. 500-1000 m); (2) Wet sub-Andean or lower montane rain forest (c. 1000-2250 m) with Moraceae, Sapotaceae, Palmae, Bombacaceae, Euphorbiaceae, Meliaceae and Rubiaceae, and in the uppermost part Guttiferae, more Euphorbiaceae and Cunoniaceae; (3.1) Wet Andean or upper montane rain forest (2250-3200 m) consisting of species of Clusia and Weinmannia and Drimys granadensis with tall bamboos (Chusquea and Neurolepis); (3.2) Uppermost dwarf forest (3200-3500 m) of Diplostephium fosbergii, Myrsine dependens, Argeratina tinifolia and species of Miconia and Gynoxys and tall Neurolepis aristata bamboo.

Transitions to treeline shrub-páramo and dwarf shrub-páramo develop where conditions allow (Fosberg 1944). Pentacalia vernicosa shrubs and open low scrub of Diplostephium rupestre are limited to the Sumapaz páramo and Central Cordillera volcanoes. Gaultheria ramosissima-Aragoa perez-arbelaeziana dwarf forest has only been located and studied at 3780 m on the western slope of the Sumapaz massif. Gynoxys cf. subhirsuta dwarf forest, apparently also limited to the Sumapaz region, is common in rock shelters, where also are characteristic high-altitude patches of Erythrophyllopsis andina and Senecio niveo-aureus a remarkable reddish globular moss carpet with whitish Senecio ground rosettes.

The páramo constitutes the uppermost tropical alpine vegetation belt. Basically three types of zonal grass páramo are present: bunchgrass páramo on the drier westernmost side of the Páramo de Sumapaz, transitional bunchgrass-bamboo páramo covering most of the central area, and bamboo páramo on the easternmost fringe.

Probably the most extant zonal páramo vegetation type on the Sumapaz massif is Chusquea tessellata bamboo páramo with Eryngium humile and tall Rhynchospora ruiziana. Also usual for the Sumapaz páramo and connecting páramos surrounding the Bogotá high plain is a peaty type of Calamagrostis effusa bunchgrass páramo with Oreobolus cf. goeppingeri.

The superpáramo is well represented (100 ha) on El Nevado de Sumapaz, where under wet and foggy high-altitude conditions a special type of vegetation thrives that is different from elsewhere in the Colombian Andes (Cleef 1981). This superpáramo is fully developed from c. 4100 m upward. Some characteristic species include Loricaria complanata and Diplostephium rupestre (low scrub); Senecio summus, S. niveo-aureus, Valeriana plantaginea, Draba cuatrecasana and Lachemilla nivalis (ground rosettes); Azorella multifida (large cushions); the mosses Rhacomytrium crispulum, Rhacocarpus purpurascens and Breutelia spp.; and in the summit area, the reddish liverwort Herbertus subdentatus (Cleef 1978, 1981).

Extrazonal and azonal vegetation
Cushion communities of Isoetes andicola are limited to the páramo lakes of La Primavera and Del Medio of the central-east Sumapaz massif. In Sumapaz swamps and bogs, which are mainly on glacial valley floors, very characteristic are e.g. Pentacalia reissiana shrubs, Carex pichinchensis sedge swamp, a Geranium confertum-Calamagrostis ligulata mire type with extensive mats of Draba sericea, and a rare calciphytic Calamagrostis ligulata mire with predominance of the aquatic mosses Drepanocladus aduncus and Calliergonella cuspidata. Plantago rigida cushion bogs are common and have considerable extension on flat valley floors, frequently overgrown by species of the mosses Breutelia and Campylopus, and by an open dwarf forest of Diplostephium revolutum which apparently represents the end of succession (Cleef 1978, 1981). Senecio summus crevice communities (also present in the Central Cordillera) and Azorella multifida cushion vegetation are patchy and well developed above 4000 m in the summit area of El Nevado de Sumapaz. Cushions of the juncaceous Distichia muscoides have only been found in one locale.

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The Páramo de Sumapaz constitutes the second biogeographic centre of the Eastern Cordillera, after the Sierra Nevada del Cocuy (CPD Site SA26). The vascular flora has over 200 genera and stands out by having a substantial number of endemic species, especially in the páramo zone. Endemics to the Sumapaz ecological island include Hypericum prostratum (Guttiferae) and Pernettya hirta (Ericaceae). Some of the endemics have also been recorded from páramos surrounding the Bogotá high plain. Endemic species have been reported as well in the uppermost dwarf forests and include Diplostephium fosbergii, Habracanthus cleefii and Miconia cleefii. A complete record is not available yet for the forest zone, which has been poorly explored.

The endemic species occurring in the páramos include Draba sericea and D. cuatrecasana (Brassicaceae) and Aragoa perez-arbelaeziana and A. corrugatifolia (Scrophulariaceae). A number of endemic Espeletia species (picture) occur, among which are E. summapacis, E. tapirophila, E. miradorensis and E. cabrerensis; other endemic Compositae are Laestadia pinifolia, Pentacalia reissiana and P. nitida. In the superpáramo 3 of c. 75 species (in almost 55 genera) are endemic, and about two-thirds of the species are shared with the Cocuy superpáramo farther to the north.

Among the bryophytes, some species were described from the Sumapaz massif but also might be found elsewhere, e.g. Dendrocryphaea latifolia, Riccardia metaensis, Blindia gradsteinii, Gradsteinia andicola (Oschyra 1990), Plagiochila cleefii and Daltonia fenestrellata.

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Useful plants

A number of useful species occur in the region. Most of them are used as material in construction for houses, bridges and fences - particularly Polylepis quadrijuga, Aragoa perez-arbelaeziana, Escallonia myrtilloides and species of Weinmannia, Clusia and Quercus. There is apparently some commercial logging on the western slope, where forest is being converted to cattle pastures. Forests are particularly important in providing fuelwood. Both the páramo and the Andean forests contain many species for local medicinal use. A thorough ethnobotanical survey is lacking, as well as a systematic screening of species for commercial drugs.

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Social and environmental values

The large number of glacial lakes and bogs constitutes an important drinking-water resource for Bogotá (Guhl 1968). The core area of El Nevado de Sumapaz contains important resources of limestone and some coal.

The northern part of the Páramo de Sumapaz up to c. 3500 m is inhabited by settlers, who live in small dwellings. People of the Pasca area (western slope) traditionally use the páramo for grazing cattle and hunting, and have small farms in the headwaters of the rivers draining the wet eastern slopes of the Páramo de Sumapaz. There are almost no prospects here for sustainable agriculture, except for a few crops such as onions, "papas criollas" (local strains of potatoes) and some other Andean tubers. Pre-Columbian archaeological sites have been studied in the páramos above Pasca (INDERENA 1984).

There are several regionally endemic animals, such as mammals and lizards. The Páramo de Sumapaz is also an important migration route for exchange of fauna between the western and eastern slopes. An unusual example from early in 1973 is a big anteater observed at c. 3800 m elevation between Andabobos and La Rabona crossing a bamboo páramo from west to east.

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The chief threats to the Sumapaz region are logging activities, mainly on the western slope, and the subsequent change from forest into pasture. Degradation of such areas is commonly observed. Wood gathering for fuel is another significant threat to the uppermost forests, which only may recover at a very slow rate. Ranging cattle and burning are increasing throughout the region, which constitute also serious threats to wild vertebrates. Hunting takes place without discrimination; there is no real management. Mining is becoming more important in the region.

The water resources of lakes in the core area of El Nevado de Sumapaz will be used in the near future to supply Bogotá. The necessary infrastructure (e.g. access roads) will affect the wild glaciated scenery of Sumapaz, and attract more human disturbance. Consequently, the wild mammals and birds will be impacted, if the region is not carefully and adequately managed.

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The central-northern part of the Sumapaz páramo has been a National Park since 1977. The park (1540 km²) extends from about the forest line on the western slope across the divide and onto the wet eastern slope (to 1500 m), including its wet Andean rain forests (INDERENA 1984; Castaño-Uribe 1989).

It is strongly recommended that the core area of El Nevado de Sumapaz and the adjacent watershed highlands and valley systems be established as a sanctuary, which needs special protection because most of the endemism of the páramo species is concentrated here. The wet superpáramo vegetation (c. 4000-4250 m) covering the calcareous summit of El Nevado de Sumapaz is apparently unique in the northern Andes of Colombia and Venezuela, and wet páramo vegetation overlying calcareous rock is rare in the northern Andes.

It also is strongly recommended that the mainly pristine wet forests of the eastern Sumapaz slope be protected in order to maintain complete valley systems under forest cover, which would allow for the exchange of fauna and flora elements. This might guarantee the preservation of functional communities of the threatened spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus), oncilla (Felis tigrina) and mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) among others. The lakes in the core area are important for migrating water birds from both hemispheres. Significant in this respect as well is conservation of the last dry and wet forest remnants of the western slope of the Sumapaz massif. Particularly important forest communities here are high-Andean Aragoa perez-arbelaeziana dwarf forest, Escallonia-Polylepis quadrijuga forest, Weinmannia fagaroides-Hesperomeles lanuginosa forest with Polylepis quadrijuga, and Brunellia sp.-Gordonia-Clusia forest with Neurolepis aperta bamboo understorey, and downslope the last patches of the sub-Andean forest (including oak forest).

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Map 63. Páramo de Sumapaz Region, Colombia (CPD Site SA27)


Bates, M. (1948). Climate and vegetation in the Villavicencio region of eastern Colombia. Geogr. Rev. 38: 555-574.

Castaño-Uribe, C. (ed.) (1989). A guide to the national natural parks system of Colombia. INDERENA, Bogotá. 198 pp.

Cleef, A.M. (1978). Characteristics of neotropical páramo vegetation and its subantarctic relations between the southern temperate zone and tropical mountains. Erdwissenschaftliche Forschung (Wiesbaden) 11: 365-390.

Cleef, A.M. (1981). The vegetation of the páramos of the Colombian Cordillera Oriental. University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 321 pp.

Ernst, M.T. and Seljée, O.J. (1988). Vegetation mapping in Páramo Boca Grande (Cundinamarca, Colombia). Internal report 253. Hugo de Vries Laboratory, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 70 pp.

Fosberg, F.R. (1944). El Páramo de Sumapaz, Colombia. J. New York Bot. Garden 45: 226-234.

Guhl, E. (1964). Aspectos geográficos y humanos de la región de Sumapaz en la Cordillera Oriental de Colombia. Rev. Acad. Colomb. Cienc. Exactas Fís. Nat. 12: 153-161.

Guhl, E. (1968). Los páramos circundantes de la Sabana de Bogotá. Su ecología y su importancia para el régimen hidrológico de la misma. In Troll, C. (ed.), Geo-ecology of the mountainous regions of the tropical Americas. Coll. Geogr. 9, Bonn. Pp. 195-212.

Helmens, K.F. (1990). Neogene-Quaternary geology of the high plain of Bogotá, Eastern Cordillera, Colombia. Diss. Bot. 163. J. Cramer, Berlin. 202 pp.

INDERENA (1984). Colombia parques nacionales. Instituto Nacional de los Recursos Naturales Renovables y del Medio Ambiente (INDERENA), Bogotá. 263 pp.

Melief, A.B.M. (1985). Late Quaternary paleoecology of the Parque Nacional Natural Los Nevados (Cordillera Central) and Sumapaz (Cordillera Oriental) areas, Colombia. Ph.D. thesis, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. 162 pp.

Oschyra, O. (1990). Gradsteinia andicola, a remarkable aquatic moss from South America. Tropical Bryology 3: 19-28.

Sturm, H. and Rangel-Ch., J.O. (1985). Ecología de los páramos andinos: una visión preliminar integrada. Biblioteca J.J. Triana No. 9. Instituto de Ciencias Naturales, Museo de Historia Natural, Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogotá. 292 pp.

van der Hammen, T. and dos Santos, A.G. (eds) (1995). La Cordillera Central Colombiana: transecto Parque Los Nevados. Studies on Tropical Andean Ecosystems / Estudios de Ecosistemas Tropandinos Vol. 4 / 5. J. Cramer, Berlin. In press.


This Data Sheet was written by Dr Antoine M. Cleef (University of Amsterdam, Hugo de Vries-Laboratorium, Kruislaan 318, 1098 SM Amsterdam, The Netherlands).

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