Environment and Biodiversity in Nariño - Nariño Coffee - Nariño - - - - Micrositios
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Environment and Biodiversity in Nariño

Nariño is home to a huge variety of dry forests, mountains and high mountain areas, where water sources and high mountain vegetation predominate, known as paramo., All of these are different from each other thanks to the altitudes and climates they thrive in. The mountains are situated in the Río Patía valley, in the north of the department close to the border with Cauca; whereas the high plateaus are located in the Nariño altiplano volcano complex. 

Dry forests are distributed at altitudes of between 0 and 1000 masl (3280 ft.), with temperatures higher than 24°C and rainfall of between 700 and 2000 mm (27 to 79 inches) per year, and one or two marked dry seasons (IAvH 1997, 1998b).

In the Miocene, Pleistocene and Holocene in Nariño, the accumulation of ash and other volcanic materials gave rise to great elevations among which are the Chiles (4.760 masl), Cumbal (4.764 masl), and Azufral (4.070 masl) volcanoes, known as the southern volcanic corridor; the Colimba and Cerro Negro paramos and the Galeras volcano (4.276 maal) (14025 ft.) (Rangel, 2000).

Given the particular climatic conditions, in paramo ecosystems  the diversity of species for most animal and plant groups is considerably reduced when compared to the mountain forests that surround them.

According to Rangel (2000), the following vegetation is present in this ecosystem:

  • Stunted forests: 8-10 meter-high trees, with a predominance of Escallonia myrtilloides and Hesperomeles forestes; and polylepis forests which depend on their geographic distribution.
  • Scrublands: shrub-like vegetation, with a predominance of woody elements that spread from sub-paramo level to super-paramo level, with a predominance of families such as Asteraceae (genus: Diplostephium, Pentacalia, Castilleja and Hypericum). In some cases shrub-rosette forms can also be found.
  • Grasslands-scrublands: herbaceous vegetation primarily grasses, which stretches from the paramo up to the super-paramo. Predominance of Calamagrostis efusa (Cordillera Central, Cordillera Oriental andCordillera Occidental), Calamagrostris recta (Cordillera Central) and Agrostis tolucensis (Cordillera Oriental).
  • Frailejonales-rosettes: shrubby vegetation made up of rosettes of Espeletia, Espeletiopsis and Libanothamnus, stretching from sub-paramo areas up to permanent snowy caps, but denser at paramo level. Predominance of Espeletia grandiflora, Elopezii and E. phaneractis
  • Meadows-peat bogs-quaking bogs or groups of vascular cushion plants:  predominance in ground and herb strata.
  • Chuscales: plants homogeneously dominated by paramo bamboo (Chusquea tessellata), which can be found as azonal flora on the shores of paramo lagoons and ponds, or as azonal flora in humid areas and moorlands.  There are also Neurolepis aperta Rosetales formations with species of Puya: frequently found on humid paramos with giant rosettes of Puya santosii, P. goudotiana and P. trianae.
  • Low rosettes: established at super-paramo level. The plant and animal species of this formation are influenced by climatic variability: sunlight, rainfall, microrelief and exposure to winds, which make the population typical of these environments that are sensitive to change and natural or anthropic alterations, resulting in the conditioning of these areas to volcanic eruptions (Rangel, 2000).

The presence of numerous sources of water including lagoons and paramos allows for a vast wealth of flora and fauna in the Colombian Massif in the Santuario de Flora y Fauna Galeras, the Páramo de Paja Blanca and in the Chiles, Cumbal and Azufral volcano complex (Corporación Autónoma Regional de Nariño, 2002).



The Nariño volcanos are home to a range of typical paramo flora with at least 84 genuses of Astareceae, among which: Espelletia, Lourtegia, Baccharis, Calea, Chaptalia, Diplostephium, Gynoxys, Loricaria, Oritrophium, Verbesina, Vasquezia, Werneria, Conyza, Hypochoeris, Gnaphalium, Pentacalia, Senecio, Lasiocephalus, Mikania and Munnozia.

The area also houses 53 genuses of Poaceae, such as Calamagrostris, Agrostris, Festuca, Cortadaria and Bromus; 22 genuses of Orchidaceae, such as Alteinsteinia, Elleanthus and Epidendrum; 18 genuses of Apiaceae, such as Niphogeton, Asorella, Areomyrrhis, Hydrocotyle, Eryngium and Ottoba; 15 genuses of  Ericaceae, como Befaria, Disterigma, Macleania Pernettya, Gualtheria and Vaccinium; 15 genuses of Scrophulariaceae, such as Calceolaria, Ourisia, Bartsia and Castilleja; 14 genuses of Brassicaceae, such as Cardemine and Draba;11 genuses of Melastomataceae, such as Brachyotum and Miconia; 10 genuses of Caryophyllaceae, such as Drymaria, Colobanthus, Cerastium and Arenaria; 10 genuses of Cyperaceae, such as Oreobalus, Carex and Rhynchospora y 7 genuses of Rosaceae, such as Hesperomeles, Polylepis, Rubus and Acaena.

According to the Nariño Herbarium database there are 1822 plant species organized in 860 genuses and 230 families.



  • Fish: the area is home to 16 species belonging to 7 families and 12 genuses among which the most diverse family is Charidae, with 10 species and seven genuses.
  • Amphibians: based on a study by Narváez and Narváez (2002), and Cepeda and Bacca (2004), a preliminary inventory of the amphibian fauna has been consolidated for the Galeras and Chiles volcanoes, according to which the area s home to Eleutherodactylus unistrigatus, E. lyman, E. buckleyi, E. repens, E. thymelensis and Osornophrine bufoniformes. According to Ardila and Acosta (2000) the following are also present: Atelopus ignescens, Centrolene buckleyi, Gastrotheca argenteovirens, Gastrotheca espeletia, G. orophylax, Eleutherodactylus curtipes, E. elassodiscus, E. leoni, E. leocopus, E. myersi, E. ocreatus, E. pugnax,E. vicarius, E. w-nigrum andPhrynopus brunneus.
  • Birds: In Nariño 123 bird species have been recorded, which can be grouped into 31 families and 86 genuses. Among the studies undertaken, those that stand out include those undertaken in the Cumbal and Chiles paramos by Salaman 1994, Calderón and Bonilla 2004, Gutiérrez et al. 2004 and GAICA.

Coffee plantations in the region are not only fundamental for its economy, but also for the conservation and sustainability of the environment. They are home to 33 tree species used for shade, which fulfil a very important role in the optimization of coffee production. The main species among them include: Arrayan (Myrcia popayanensis Hier.), the Yarumo (Cecropia sp.), the Mullo Pava (Oreopanax incisus (Will ex Schull.) Decne.), the Cucharo (Clusia multiflora H.B.K) and the Citrus.

Understanding the biodiversity in areas where specifically coffee is grown instead of other crops, helps us to understand and highlight the challenges and advantages that this product may hold in terms of biodiversity conservation. Shade-system coffee plantations, or coffee farms with interconnected forests are just some of the strategies for optimization that the coffee growers in Nariño use to preserve the biodiversity.


Federación Nacional de Cafeteros de Colombia 2010.

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