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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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