Exploring Bolivia's Biodiversity main content.

Exploring Bolivia's Biodiversity

Part of Hall of South American Peoples.

Bolivia's diversity of animal and plant life is among the greatest in the world.

The country's location in the tropics combined with dramatic variations in topography and climate result in a wide range of ecosystems—from the spectacular mountain landscapes of the Andes to the dense rainforests of the Amazon to the unusual dry forests of the Chaco. Bolivia has designated more than 17 percent of its land as protected areas. 

More than half of Bolivia's 8.7 million people are indigenous—descendants of those who lived there long before Spanish explorers arrived. The dozens of ethnic groups in Bolivia have adapted to the country's diverse landscapes and natural resources, and many continue traditions of weaving textiles and building homes from natural materials. While poverty in rural areas has fueled an ongoing migration to cities, many Bolivians still live a rural life, farming or raising livestock. Bolivians also play a key role in protecting biodiversity—more than 1.5 million live in or near the country's protected areas.

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The Mancornadas LagoonsBolivia is best known for its mountains, but nearly two-thirds of the country consists of lowland forests, wetlands and grasslands.
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South Lípez DesertThe Bolivian Altiplano, which means "high plain," lies between the parallel mountain ranges of the Andes. At more than 4,000 meters (13,000 feet) above sea level, the Altiplano can be literally breathtaking.

Water

Snowmelt flowing down the eastern slopes of the Andes combines to form several of the major rivers of the Amazon basin. The high valleys where these rivers begin harbor startling numbers of unique bird and plant species. The biodiversity of these valleys is severely threatened by the expansion of agriculture, ranching, erosion, mining and damming of rivers for hydroelectric power. Conservationists working in Bolivia, including members of the American Museum of Natural History's Center for Biodiversity and Conservation, are searching for development alternatives that will help to conserve both biological and cultural diversity.

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Shrinking GlaciersGlaciers on tropical mountains around the world, such as this glacier on the volcano Sajama, have been shrinking rapidly in recent decades. Just outside the capital city of La Paz, two glaciers—Zongo and Chacaltaya—supply most of the drinking water for the city's one million residents, and power its two hydroelectric plants. In the 1990s these glaciers shrank 10 times as fast as they had in previous decades. Scientists say the rapid melting of many of the world's glaciers is a symptom of global climate change.