Páramo, Venezuela

James S. Aber


Alpine (páramo) shrub vegetation is found in the Andes Mountains of northwestern Venezuela at ~8° to 9°N latitude. Much of the páramo zone is within the Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada at elevations above 4000 m (13,000 feet). The highest peaks exceed 5000 m (16,200 feet) altitude. This zone is almost constantly in clouds. Rain falls most days during the cool, wet summer season, and snow falls during the slightly colder, dry winter months. Precipitation exceeds 2˝ m in the páramo, and wetland conditions are widespread.

General geography of northwestern Venezuela. Blue asterisk shows location of the Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada. Adapted from Mapa Fisico y Politico de la Republica de Venezuela (1991, scale 1:4,000,000).
Mérida vicinity including the Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada. Notice reference to "páramo" in several places, which refers to the alpine zone. Taken from Estado Mérida (1994).

The montane region (brown zone in map above) supports abundant agriculture--potatoes, carrots and other root crops grown on steep slopes, as well as cattle grazing in alpine meadows. Crops can be grown year-round in the tropical climate; water collected from the páramo is distributed to lower elevations during the dry season.

Wet meadow in small stream valley of the páramo, Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada, Venezuela. Such cloud cover persists throughout the summer wet season.
View upstream along wet meadow in small valley of the páramo, Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada, Venezuela. Water table is quite close to the surface and the ground is "spongy" for walking. Note people near large boulder in background.
Jumping across a rain-swollen stream in the lush páramo, Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada, Venezuela.
Roaring waterfall feeds a meandering network of channels on the valley floor in the background. Parque Nacional de Sierra Nevada, Venezuela.
Water collection systems in high valleys consist of small dams and pipelines, which cause minimal impact on the environment. Pipes can be laid on the surface, as freezing conditions rarely happen.
Water storage tank and pipeline system for distributing water to drier zones lower in the valley.
Agricultural fields on steep glacial moraines of the Andes Mountains in the Mérida vicinity. Potatoes and other vegetables are the most important crops, both for local subsistence and cash sales.
Cattle grazing on a wet meadow in a cloud-filled alpine valley, Andes Mountains in the Mérida vicinity.

Text and photos © by the author.
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