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Choco Forest
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Choco Forest
Choco, Colombia.
Choco, Colombia
Earth's Natural Wonders in South America
Area of forest: 51,000 square miles (131,250 sq. km )
Length of forest: 900 miles (1,500 km )
Habitat: ultra-moist tropical rainforest
Choco, Colombia. (Photograph by WWF/ Jorge Orejeula)


This moist forest ecoregion is considered one of the most species rich lowland areas in the world, with exceptional abundance and endemism over a broad range of taxons that include plants, birds, amphibians, and butterflies. Its biological distinctiveness is outstanding in the world, with great biological, ecological, and evolutionary biodiversity. Due to the multiple threats in the ecoregion, its conservation status is vulnerable although relatively stable. There are, however threats of habitat conversion and the attendant degradation, in a system of areas with insufficient conservation. In addition, this ecoregion is culturally rich in that numerous indigenous communities with strong ties to its ecosystems still persist here.


Location and General Description
The ecoregion of the wet forests of Chocó-Darién extends from eastern Panama, in the provinces of Darién and Kuna-Yala, along almost the entire Pacific coast of Colombia, in the departments of Chocó, Cauca, Valle del Cauca, and Nariño. Thus running between latitudes 9º to 1º15’ north, then down to 2°S and longitudes 79º to 76º15’ west. This ecoregion encompasses a strip of land from sea level to an elevation of approximately 1,000 meters (m). It lies between the Pacific Ocean and the western range of the Andes; from west of the mouth of the Atrato River, in Panama to the Patia River, in Colombia.
There are five distinct subregions. First the northern coast, with the hill country areas of Darién and Urabá. Second the coastal zone along the Pacific coast, generally up to an elevation of 500 m. Third the central strip, including the northern wet forests, the central rainforests and the San Juan River area. Fourth the hills of Carmen del Atrato and the San José del Palmar area and finally the jungles along the Pacific slope from 500 to 1,000 m in altitude. The mountainous areas include the western slopes of Cordillera Occidental and land massifs such as Cerro Torrá, Serranía del Darién, and Sierra Llorona de San Blas and Serranía del Baudó .
Average annual temperature is generally 23.6ºC, with a maximum average of 30ºC and a minimum of 18.6ºC. The biogeographic Chocó is probably the only ecoregion of this size with the precipitation, from 4,000 to more than 9,000 millimeters (mm) per year. It is also one of the few places in the Neotropics with pluvial rainforest. Precipitation in the ecoregion varies - with less in the northern zone, higher amounts in the central region and less again in the south. Some sectors may receive more than 13,000 mm of precipitation per year. There are areas toward Panama and the Caribbean Sea to the north and then south that have short dry seasons, generally from January to March. [1]

Current Status

According to the evaluation of Dinerstein et al. in 1995, the ecoregion has lost between 10% and 20% of the original habitat. The habitat blocks are large with minimal fragmentation and high connectivity, which still allows dispersion over long distances through altitudinal and climatic gradients. The annual habitat conversion rate or percentage of intact habitat that is altered each year from during the period 1990-1995 is estimated to be 3.5%, a relatively high figure.

Darien National Park, Panama. (Photograph by David Olson)Protected areas are limited in size considering the size of the ecoregion and the great diversity of different ecosystems, and thus the protection system is deficient. The existence of extensive areas of lowland forests and medium elevations represents one of the last opportunities to conserve relatively large areas of intact forest in the northwestern section of South America. In addition, this characteristic allows the natural altitudinal migration of many species of birds, [[mammal]s, and invertebrates, a phenomenon that is increasingly rare in the tropics as its forests are being destroyed. The region has great potential for ecotourism and scientific research. Its forests are of great interest because some of them may be secondary forests that are nearly 500 years old, which would clearly allow for studies on the subject of the regeneration of tropical forests. The areas with remaining vegetation correspond to the central area of the ecoregion, while the northern areas of Darién and Urabá, in Colombia are devoted primarily to the production of bananas and cattle ranching. Southern areas of Bajo Calima and Tumaco, are devoted in part to plantations for the production of oil palm and extraction of timber for paper pulp are those that require greater urgency and efforts for their protection and conservation. It is estimated that the rate of deforestation is 600 square kilometers (km2) per year.

Originally, in Panama, this ecoregion covered approximately 13,335 km2. Nearly 30% of this area, about 4,000 km2, is under some type of protection in parks and reserves. The most important is the Darien National Park, covering 597,000 hectares (representing less than 10% of the entire ecoregion), with management categories II and X (Biosphere Reserve), and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Next there is the Kuna-Yala indigenous reserve (3,200 km2) and the Embera Wounan reserve (4,326 km2). An additional 40% of the ecoregion is found in areas considered to be potential parks and 5% is found in mining reserves. A third section of the area of this ecoregion in the Panamanian sector is devoted to agriculture.

In Colombia, where most of the ecoregion is found, the largest protected areas cover an area equal to only about 1% of the total original habitat, and these areas are quite distant from each other. On the Colombian side, a total of approximately 2,013 km2 of the ecoregion is protected in national parks or 2.5% of the total ecoregion. Bordering on the east with the Darien National Park, in Panama, is the Los Katios National Park, covering an area of 720 km2. The Utria National Park, covers an area of 543 km2 including a land and a marine sector while the Sanquianga National Park covers 800 km2 and the Gorgona Island National Park covers 16 km2 of protected land. The lowland portions of Farallones de Cali National Park and Munchique National Park are included in this figure. Additional areas must be delineated and their protection promoted, including the area lying between the Atrato, Baudó, and San Juan Rivers, the area between the Calima and Patía Rivers and the western lowlands of the department of Nariño.

The lack of sufficient taxonomic and geographic data on this ecoregion makes adequate management plans difficult, and thus much additional work is needed. There is information but it is insufficient or limited to small areas. More detailed flora and ecological studies are needed on the ecoregion, as well as on the patterns of distribution of plant communities. The need for conducting studies in the region is a priority, as there are still large undisturbed areas.

Types and Severity of Threats
The resources in these forests have been over-exploited for years, although the benefits have not gone to local groups (Kuna, Emberá, Wounana, Eperara, Afro-descendants mestizos, and other indigenous groups). Due to the numerous threats in the ecoregion, its conservation status is vulnerable although relatively stable. There are threats of habitat conversion and the degradation associated with it, in an insufficient system of conservation areas.
The major threat to this ecoregion is deforestation. In the Darien region, the major threat is the construction of the Inter-American Highway and the degradation associated with it. The forests of Chocó, although they represent only one-sixth of Colombian forests, supply more than half of the wood in the country. This deforestation also entails serious problems of erosion, affecting the different ecosystems of the region, including the coastal areas. Another pressing threat in Chocó is industrial development. The government has built a naval base at the mouth of Málaga Bay, an important place for humpback whale reproduction. Industrial production of African palm oil (Elaeis guineensis), uncontrolled gold mining and illegal growing of coca add to the list of causes of deforestation. [1]

The Choco lies on the Pacific coast between the sea and Andes, and os therefore very wet; it receives 197 to 630 inches or 52 feet on rain annually. It is rich in wildlife, with an unusual abundance of palms, which number greater than any other tropical forest. Throughout the Choco there are more than 11,000 plant species, a quarter of which occur nowhere else in the world. Half of Coloumbia's 465 mammals live here, including 60 unique species. Sixty-two bird species are exclusive to the area, 17 of which are very rare. Regional specialties include the cotton-top tamarin, long-wattled umbrella bird, and one of the world's most venomous vertebrates, the yellow arrow poison frog, just touching its skin can put you in cardiac arrest.

The lack of roads and major infrastructure ensure that the Choco is well preserved. Nearly a quarter of the region still survives in a pristine state, and there are considerable areas of prime secondary forest. Several important reserves have been established, including Los Katios National Park and, on the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, the Awa Indian Reserve.[2]

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1.EO Earth .Org-Choco Forest- Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license-retrieved 3/18/2009
2.1,001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die 2005-p. 627- Michael Bright-retrieved 6/2/2009


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