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The Llanos
Los Llanos in Columbia
Venezuela / Colombia
Earth's Natural Wonders in South America
Total area of the Llanos: 173,314 square miles
Elevation of the grassland: up to 260 feet
Rock type: Igneous Precambrian
Los Llanos in Columbia[1]

The Llanos is a seasonally flooded grassland that covers nearly one-third of Venezuela and on one-eighth of Colombia. It is most flooded in the central part which occurs on the huge saucer shaped depression that contains the floodplain of the mighty Orinoco. Underlying Pre-cambrian rocks follow the shallow basin's broad dips and rises, while recent sediments provide it with its character, created a mosaic effect of different habitats, both within the flooded area and in drier extremities. [4]

Located on a large downward flexure of the Earth’s crust, the Llanos lies at the intersection of the Andes ridge and the Caribbean ridge in the northern part of South America. The most flooded area is the middle part, which drains into the Río Orinoco and is transected by its tributaries from west to east. Situated over pre-Cambrian basement rocks, the Llanos is composed primarily of alluvial deposits from the Tertiary and Quaternary periods.

A great diversity of wildlife exists, many of the most specialized occuring around rocky outcrops. The Llanos is most famous for its swamp-based wildlife of Orinoco goose, scarlet ibis, and capybara, as well as a host of migrant species. Flooding is at a maximum between July and October. In the dry season many watercourses dry up, leaving the larger rivers and clay-panned estuaries to slake the thrist. The Llanos has over 3,400 recorded flowering plants, 40 of which are unique to this area. Among the 475 bird species is the Orinoco soft-tail, which included among the 148 mammals is the Llanos long-nosed armadillo. The area's reptiles include the green anaconda, the world's largest snake species, and the rare Orinoco crocodile.


Los llanos (meaning the flat plains) is a vast tropical grassland plain situated at the east of the Andes in northwestern South America (Colombia and Venezuela). Its main river is the Orinoco.The climate change of the Llanos is extreme. During the rainy season from June to October, parts of the Llanos can flood up to a meter. This makes the area unfit for most agriculture before the advent of modern, industrial technology; therefore, during the colonial era, the prime economic activity of the area came from the herding of millions of heads of cattle. The term llanero ("plainsman") became synonymous with the cowhands that took care of the herds, and had some cultural similarities to the compare to the gauchos of the Pampas or the vaqueros of Spanish and Mexican Texas.The area slopes gradually away from the highland areas that surround it; elevation above mean sea level in the llanos never exceeds 200 meters.

Originally, llano is the Spanish word for "plain". It became the Spanish-American term for prairie[3]


Location and General Description

This moist forest ecoregion encompasses the high altitude cloud forests of the Andean Venezuelan Cordillera, representing an ecological barrier that separates the great basins of Maracaibo Lake and the Llanos of Venezuela. This ecoregion occupies montane forests at middle elevations of the Venezuelan Andes or Venezuelan Andean Cordillera, a northeastern branch of the Andes. They are separated form the eastern Andes of Colombia by the Tachira depression at the border between Colombia and Venezuela. The end of the ecoregion lies roughly at 450 meters (m) northeast in the depression of Barquisimeto. These mountains reach altitudes between 4,000 and 5,007 m, and separate the Maracaibo lake basin from the plains of the Llanos. The Venezuelan Andes montane forest also includes those forests located around Tamá Massif , a relatively isolated montane area located between the Eastern Andes of Colombia and the Táchira depression.

Los Llanos in Venezuela
Politically, the Venezuelan Andes montane forests include almost all the Mérida and Trujillo states, a large part of the Táchira state, and the adjacent highlands of Lara and Barinas states. Many of the rivers born in the summits created great valleys that separate the Cordillera montane ranges. One of the most important rivers, the Chama, crosses the Cordillera at its middle portion, along its northeast- southwest axis. This breaks the Cordillera in to two main sections: the Cordillera de Mérida in the south and the Sierra de la Culata in the north. Other important rivers are the Santo Domingo, the Boconó and Motatán. These rivers also indicate physiographical barriers along the Cordillera.
Los Llanos in Venezuela[1]

The Venezuelan Andes were formed from surrounding areas during the Paleocene, and they continued developing until the end of the Pliocene, at which time they attained their greatest height. The geological constitution consists mainly of quartzite schists, gneisses, limestones, and isolated granitic and diabasic intrusions. Soils are predominantly inceptisols, but entisols are also common in the slopes and areas exposed to erosion.

The climate is strongly influenced by the north eastern trade winds, especially during the dry season, from December to April. From April to November, the inter-tropical convergence zone brings the highest rainfall of the year. In general, this ecoregion has mesothermic conditions with average annual temperatures of 24–12°C between 800–2,500 meters (m) altitude, and micrometric conditions with average annual temperatures of less than 12°C above 2,500 m.

Annual rainfall is about 2,000-3,000 millimeters (mm), but can be strongly variable. On the slopes that face the Llanos, high rainfall averages begin at 2,400 m, changing gradually with elevation, whereas on the Maracaibo Lake facing slopes, the high rainfall averages begin at 1,200 m. The internal slopes are driest, with some very dry xeric areas common in the Andean valleys.

Vegetation of this ecoregion is characterized by evergreen transition forests and evergreen montane cloud forests. Located between 800–1,800/2,000 m altitude, evergreen transition forests are dense middle-high forests structured in two or three layers, in which Lauraceae, Moraceae, Myrtaceae, Bignomiaceae, Euphorbiaciae, and Araliaceae are the most common families.

Very dense evergreen montane cloud forests occur in higher elevations between 2,000 and 3,000 meters. These are high forests with two or three structural layers, and a well-developed understory with abundant epiphytes. The most common species are Decussocarpus (Podocarpus) rospingliosii, Prumnopytis (Podocarpus) montana, Podocarpus oleifolius, Alnus jorullensis, Oreopanax moritzii, Brunellia integrifolia, Hedyosmum glabratum, Weinmannia jahnii, W. microphylla, Tetrorchidium rubrivenium, Beilschemieda sulcata, Ruagea glabra, and R. pubescens.[2]

Venezuelan national parks included in this ecoregion are: the Sierra Nevada, Sierra de la Culata, General Pablo Peñalosa (Batallón and La Negra páramos), General Cruz Carrillo (at Guaracamal), Dimira (Sierra de Barbacoa), Yacambú, El Tamá, and the Tamá National Park in Colombia. Protected areas constitute only 20.78% of the total area of this ecoregion. Almost all montane forests (which would include both semi-evergreen and the evergreen forests of low to mid altitudes) are being invaded with varying intensity. Most of the slopes are, or have been worked by shifting cultivators. This has given the slopes a mosaic appearance and fragmented habitat.




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1.Wikimedia-Llanos--retrieved 6/22/2009
2.World Wildlife Fund (Content Partner); Mark McGinley (Topic Editor). 2008. "Venezuelan Andes montane forests." In: Encyclopedia of Earth. Eds. Cutler J. Cleveland (Washington, D.C.: Environmental Information Coalition, National Council for Science and the Environment). [First published in the Encyclopedia of Earth March 19, 2007; Last revised August 25, 2008; Retrieved June 22, 2009]. <http://www.eoearth.org/article/Venezuelan_Andes_montane_forests>text is available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike license
3.Wikipedia-The Llanos-retrieved 6/22/2009
4.1,001 Natural Wonders You Must See Before You Die 2005-p. 627- Michael Bright-retrieved 6/2/2009
Wikipedia  text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

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