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The World's Highest Forest

A better understanding of the properties of Andean queñua woodlands has major implications for their conservation

Jessica Purcell, Alan Brelsford, Michael Kessler

Polylepis tarapacanaClick to Enlarge Image

In the high Andes of Bolivia sits an unexpected sight: patches of otherworldly trees and bushes adapted to live in the harsh conditions found more than 4,000 meters above sea level. Polylepis forests are unique ecosystems harboring about 20 different plant species of what the locals call queñua, as well as numerous insect and bird specialists living only in these forests. Once thought to be patchy by nature, Polylepis forests are now recognized to be highly endangered. Exploited since Incan times, the forests now occupy only about 1 percent of their original area in the eastern Bolivian Andes and about 3 percent in Peru. The authors describe the value of the Polylepis ecosystem and the challenges conservationists face in preserving what remains.

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