Atacama Desert, Southern Puna, and Southern Yungas

Map of the Month: Atacama Desert, Southern Puna, and Southern Yungas
Map boundaries: 20 to 30 South; 63 to 72 degrees West
Countries: Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile

Overview
Altitude changes in this area provide a diversity of tropical and temperate habitats, with arid areas the most common. In the north, the Atacama Desert, the world’s driest, is located just east of a Pacific coastal fog desert, which provides some moisture. Further east, elevations increase and the terrain grades into the Puna, a high-elevation desert with volcanoes and saline lakes, including the world’s largest salt flats. On the eastern side of the Andes, there are areas of tropical dry forest and the Yungas, a narrow strip of tropical montane moist forest. At lower elevations east of the Andes the terrain grades into the Chaco, a tropical dry forest of cactuses, bushes, and thorny trees. To the south, the Chaco becomes more arid. The Pampeanas Mountains are a dry-land region of mountains and eroded rock formations in central Argentina. To the west of the arid Chaco, the Argentine Monte is an arid region at the base of the Andes. The southern Andes contain steppe vegetation. The Chilean coastal portions in the south are in the matorral, a Mediterranean scrub vegetation.

Ecoregions and Provinces/Political Subdivisions

Tropical and Subtropical Moist Broadleaf Forests
NT 165, Southern Andean Yungas. Found in Catamaraca, Jujuy, Salta, and Tucuman provinces of Argentina; Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz, and Tarija departments of Bolivia. A narrow strip of montane moist forest between the Chaco and Puna. At higher elevations, Andean alder, pine, and Podocarpus trees predominate. At lower elevations, Lauraceae and Myrtaceae rainforest trees are found.

Tropical and Subtropical Dry Broadleaf Forests
NT 206, Bolivian Montane Dry Forests. Found in Chuaquisaca, Potosi, and Tarija departments of Bolivia. Seasonal dry forests of Acacia, Prosopis and chaparral thickets, wetlands along rivers, and cactus-covered slopes.
NT 210, Chaco. Found in Chaco, Cordoba, Jujuy, Salta, Santiago del Estero, and Tucuman provinces of Argentina; Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz, and Tarija departments of Bolivia. Savanna and thorn forests of Prosopis and cactuses.

Tropical and Subtropical Grasslands, Savannas and Shrublands
NT 701, Arid Chaco. Found in Catamarca, Cordoba, La Rioja and Santiago del Estero provinces of Argentina. Aspidosperma, Prosopis and cactus in savannas; Heterostachys and Bromelia in saline soils.
NT 706, Cordoba montane savanna. Found in Catamarca, Cordoba, La Rioja, and Santiago del Estero provinces of Argentina. Forests of Schinopsis and Lithrea plus grasslands.

Temperate Grasslands, Savannas and Shrublands
NT 802, Argentine Monte. Found in Catamarca, Jujuy, La Rioja, Salta, San Juan and Tucuman provinces of Argentina. Thorn scrub and dry grasslands with resinous evergreen bushes such as Larrea, Bulnesia, and Plectocarpa. Also cactus scrub of Cordon cacti.

Montane Grasslands and Shrublands
NT 1001, Central Andean Dry Puna. Found in Catamarca, Jujuy, and Salta provinces of Argentina; Potosi Department of Bolivia; and II Antofagasta, III Atacama, and I Tarapaca regions of Chile. High elevation deserts with saline lakes and volcanoes.
NT 1002, Central Andean Puna. Found in Catamarca, Jujuy, La Rioja, Salta and Tucuman provinces of Argentina; Chuquisaca, Potosi, and Tarija departments of Bolivia. A high elevation montane grassland with open meadows of bunchgrasses. Some montane forests of Polylepis.
NT 1008, Southern Andean steppe. Found in Catamarca, La Rioja, Salta, and San Juan provinces of Argentina; III Atacama and IV Coquimbo regions of Chile. Shrubs and cushion plants.

Mediterranean Forests, Woodlands and Shrub
NT 1201, Chilean matorral. Found in II Antofagasta, III Atacama, and IV Coquimbo regions of Chile. Mediterranean scrub of Gomortega, Pitavia, and Nothofagus.

Deserts and Xeric Shrublands
NT 1301, Atacama Desert. Found in II Antofagasta, III Atacama, and I Tarapaca regions of Chile. Vegetation is mostly absent except river valleys, basins, and the immediate coast. Coastal fog communities have vegetation of cacti, Nolana, and Prosopis.

Marine Ecoregions of the World
Temperate South America Realm, Warm Temperate Southeastern Pacific Province
176. Humboldtian
177. Central Chile

Freshwater Ecoregions of the World
South America Region
Montane Freshwaters
340. Cuyan-Desaguadero. Found in Argentina—La Rioja and San Juan provinces

Temperate Coastal Rivers
341. South Andean Pacific Slopes. Found in Chile—III Atacama and IV Coquimbo regions
Temperate Floodplain Rivers and Wetlands
345. Lower Parana. Found in Argentina—Salta and Santiago del Estero province

Tropical and Subtropical Floodplain Rivers and Wetland Complexes
342. Chaco. Found in Argentina—Salta and Jujuy provinces; and Bolivia—Chuquisaca, Santa Cruz and Tarija departments.

Xeric Freshwaters and Closed Basins
337. Titicaca. Found in Bolivia—Potosi Department and Chile—II Antofagasta and I Tarapaca regions
338. Atacama. Found in Chile—II Antofagasta and I Tarapaca regions
339. Mar Chiquita, Salinas Grandes. Found in Argentina—Catamarca province; and Chile—II Antofagasta region

UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Humberstone and Santa Laura Saltpeter Works. Consists of 200 former saltpeter works where employees lived in company towns and forged a distinctive communal culture. Found in I Tarapaca region of Chile. Ecoregion 1301. Nearby is El Gigante de Atacama, a human geoglyph 86 m high, dating to 900 CE (Beech, 2006).

Ischigualasto Provincial Park. Located in San Juan province, Argentina, ecoregion NT 802, the park contains gray-green rocks, petrified trees 130 feet tall, and petroglyphs. The oldest known dinosaur remains and a complete series of sediments for the Triassic Period cause Ischigualasto to be ranked first in the world in the quality, number, and importance of Triassic fossils, according to the University of California, Berkeley.

Quebrada de Humahuaca. The route of Inca royal road has been used for 14,000 years to transport people and ideas from the high Andes to the plains. The road follows a river gorge. Ecoregions 165, 210, 802,and 1002. Found in Jujuy Province, Argentina.

Talampaya National Park. Located in La Rioja Province, Argentina, ecoregion NT 706. Known for giant red sandstone cliffs (Aeberhard, 2008).

Ramsar Sites—wetlands of international importance
Cuenca de Tajzara, Tarija Department, Bolivia. Ecoregion 1002.
Laguna Colorada, Potosi Department, Bolivia. Ecoregion 1001. The blood-red color of this salt lake is due to algae. The lake is used by flamingos (Read, 2008).
Laguna de los Pozuelos, Jujuy Province, Argentina, ecoregion 1002
Laguna del Negro Francisco and Laguna Santa Rosa, III Atacama Region, Chile; Ecoregion 1008. Lagunas de Vilama, Jujuy Province, Argentina, ecoregion 1001.
Reserva Provincial Laguna Brava, La Rioja Province, Argentina, Ecoregion 1008
Salar de Tara, III Antofagasta Region, Chile, Ecoregion,1001.
Salar de Huasco, I Tarapaca Region, Chile, Ecoregions 1001 and 1303.
Sistena Hidrologico de Soncor, II Antofagasta Region, Chile, Ecoregion 1001.

Other points of interest:
Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA on map). Astronomical observatory in II Antofagasta Region, Chile (Beech, 2006). Ecoregion 1001.
Baritu National Park, Salta Province, Argentina; and Calilegua National Park, Jujuy Province, Argentina. National parks in cloud forests (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 165.
Belen, Catamarca Province, Argentina. A region of olive groves and paprika-producing peppers, with nearby Shinkal pre-Columbian ruins (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregions 802, 1002.
Capillitas, Catamarca Province, Argentina. Home to rhodochrosite mines, a semi-precious stone similar to onyx with rosy red veins (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 802.
Cardones National Park, Salta Province, Argentina. A forest of cordon cacti on an arid mountainside (Aerberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 802.
Chiquicamata Copper Mine, II Antofagasta Region, Chile, Ecoregion 1303. World’s largest open pit mine located on Atacama Desert plateau.
Choros Island and Chanaral Island, III Atacama and IV Coquimo regions, Chile. Site of Humboldt Penguin National Reserve. Terrestrial ecoregion 1201 and marine ecoregion 177.
Colchaqui River valley, Salta Province, Argentina. A dry valley with vineyards at high altitudes (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 802.
El Rey National Park, Salta Province, Argentina. River otters, monkeys, tapirs, and jaguars in humid rainforest (Riley, 2005), ecoregion 165.
El Tatio geyser field. Contains 80 active geysers at elevation 4300 m in a desert plain enclosed by volcanoes. II Antofagasta Region, Chile (Beare, 2006), Ecoegion 1001.
El Tren a las Nubes (Train to the Clouds). A 15-hour trip from Salta to San Antonio de los Cobres at elevation 13,000 (Schultz, 2003). Salta Province, Argentina; Ecoregions 165, 210, 802, and 1002.
Elqui River Valley, IV Coquimbo region, Chile. Known for avocados, papayas, and grapes (Beech, 2006). Ecoregion 1201.
Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas. An elegant 18th century landmark agricultural estate that allows guests. Crops are sunflower, sugarcane, tobacco, and cattle (Schultz, 2003). Jujuy Province, Argentina, Ecoregion 210.
European Southern Observatory, II Antofagasta Region, Chile. Ecoregion 1201.
Fiambala, Catamarca Province, Argentina. Mountain thermal springs and vineyards (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregions 802 and 1002.
Flamencos Reserve, II Antofagasta Region, Chile. Ecoregion 1001.
Galan Volcano, Catamarca Province, Argentina. The crater is 45 by 25 km, one of world’s largest (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 1008.
Laguna del Negro Francisco, Nevado Tres Cruces National Park, III Atacama Region, Chile. Home of flamingos and vicunas (Beech, 2006). Ecoregion 1008)
Las Vicunas Provincial Park, La Rioja Province, Argentina. Known for wildlife and Laguna Brava (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 1008.
Lascar Volcano, II Antofagasta Region, Chile. One of the world’s most active, with persistent fumarolic activity and periodic explosions (Rosi, 2003). Ecoregion 1001.
Llanos de Challe National Park, III Atacama Region, Chile. A desert that flowers in wet years July-September (Beech, 2006). Ecoregion 1201.
Mejillones Peninsula, II Antofagasta Region, Chile. Offshore sea stacks. Terrestrial Ecoregion 1201 and Marine Ecoregion 176.
Ojos del Salado, III Atacama Region, Chile. Active volcano that erupted in 1956. Ecoregion 1001 and 1008.
Pan de Azucar National Park, III Atacama Region, Chile. Terrestrial Ecoregion 1201and Marine Ecoregion 177. A coastal fog desert with cacti and succulents on land and pelicans, Humboldt penguins, and marine mammals (Riley and Riley, 2005).
Pesado Island, Potosi Department, Bolivia. An island in Salar de Uyuni salt flat containing giant cactuses. In flower, they attract giant hummingbirds (Read, 2008). Ecoregion 1001.
Pozuelos, Jujuy Province, Argentina. Large flocks of flamingoes may be viewed at high elevation salt lake (Aerberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 1002.
Quilmes Ruins, Tucuman Province, Argentina. Pre-Inca Ruins (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 802.
Reserva de Fauna Andina Eduardo Avaroa (FAEA on map), Potosi Department, Bolivia. A high altitude desert with lakes, geysers, and hot springs. The glacial salt lakes are stained bright red or emerald green by microbes. Flamingos, vicuna, and viscachas may be sited (Read, 2008). Ecoregion 1001.
Reserva Nacional de los Flamencos. Lakes filled with flamingos; hot springs. Found in II Antofagasta Region, Chile, Ecoregion 1001.
Salar de Atacama. Salt flat containing lithium reserves (Beare, 2006). Found in II Antofagasta Region, Chile, Ecoregion 1001.
Salar de Uyuni, Potosi Department, Bolivia. World’s largest salt flat. The upper layer is a hard crust of salt but water saturates the salt below the surface. Colonies of cacti grow around the edges (Read, 2008). Ecoregion 1001.
Salta, Salta Province, Argentina, Ecoregion 165. The best preserved colonial city in Argentina.
Sama (Reserva Biologica Cordillera del Sama). Puna grasslands with high Andean scenery and trails (Read, 2008). Found in Tarija Department, Bolivia, ecoregion 1002.
San Guillermo National Park, San Juan Province, Argentina. Wildlife such as guanacos, vicunas, condors, flamingoes, and pumas (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 1008.
Sanctuario de la Naturaleza Granito Orbicular, III Atacama Region, Chile. Rock formations and comglomerates in coastal fog desert. Ecoregion 1201.
Tafi del Valley, Tucuman Province, Argentina. Noted for mountain scenery (Aeberhard, 2008). Ecoregion 165, 1002.
Tamarugal National Reserve, I Tarapaca Region, Chile. Reserve for Prosopis tamarugo, a native tree. Nearby are 355 geoglyphs in Pintados. Ecoregion 1303.
Tarija, Tarija Department, Bolivia. A vineyard-filled valley, similar to Andalucia, Spain. To the northeast are eroded gulches and badlands that attract fossil hunters in search of Pleistocene megafauna (Read, 2008). Ecoregion 206.
Tupiza, Potosi Department, Bolivia. Arid red mountains, cactus-strewn badlands, gulches, and canyons (Read, 2008). Ecoregion 1002.

References:
Abell, Robin and 27 others. 2008. Freshwater Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Biogeographic Units for Freshwater Biodiversity Conservation. Bioscience 58:403-414.
Aeberhard, Danny, Andrew Benson, Rosalba O’Brien, and Lucy Phillips. 2008. Rough Guide to Argentina. Rough Guides, New York.
Emma Beare, ed. 2006. 501 Must-Visit Natural Wonders. Bounty Books.
Beech, Charlotte and 3 others. 2006. Chile and Easter Island, 7th edition. Lonely Planet.
Olson, David M., et al., 2001. Terrestrial Ecoregions of the World: A New Map of Life on Earth. BioScience 51:933-938.
Read, James. 2008. The Rough Guide to Bolivia. Rough Guides, New York.
Schultz, Patricia. 2003. 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. Workman Publishing.
Riley, Laura and William. 2005. Nature’s Strongholds. Princeton University Press.
Rosi, Mauro and 3 others. 2003. Volcanoes. Firefly Books, Buffalo.
University of California, Berkeley. www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/mesozoic/triassic.
Spalding, Mark D. and 14 others. 2007. Marine Ecoregions of the World: A Bioregionalization of Coastal and Shelf Areas. Bioscience 57:573-583.

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