There is growing consensus that biodiversity losses resulting from global change profoundly affects ecosystem services and human welfare. However, biodiversity and ecosystem processes are commonly monitored independently and on spatiotemporal scales inadequate to inform decision-making. The high Andean ecosystems of Colombia, extending from high Andean forests and páramos to glacier ice caps, form dynamic landscapes because of the interaction of climate and land use change in a complex socioeconomic and political context, including new demographic dynamics and policies associated with the peace process and strict regulations for economic activities in the páramos. Moreover, they are part of a global biodiversity hotspot and provide key ecosystem services, including substantial carbon accumulation and water regulation and provision for large rural and urban populations. There is substantial experience in environmental monitoring of Colombia's high mountain ecosystems, including programs addressing biodiversity, carbon stocks, hydrology, glaciers, and land use dynamics. However, a conceptual and institutional framework for integrating these diverse initiatives is required. Here, we present a proposal to promote integrated monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem services in high mountain ecosystems in Colombia as a contribution to consolidating a national ecosystem monitoring program. We describe the methodology used to design this integrated strategy based on an extensive process of consultation with monitoring experts in the region. Then, we review the state of the art of environmental monitoring in the Colombian High Andes. Based on the experience accumulated, we propose a multiscale conceptual framework for analyzing drivers of change and response variables from the local to the national scale, emphasizing the importance of monitoring along altitudinal, land use, and ecosystem restoration gradients. Finally, we describe the expected outcomes and possible institutional arrangements for the strategy, as well as some key next steps for promoting its implementation.
Introduction: integrated monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem services
There is growing consensus that the loss of biodiversity resulting from global change profoundly affects ecosystem services and human welfare (Isbell et al 2017). This results from the tight relationship between biodiversity and ecosystem productivity, resource use efficiency, and resilience to human transformations (Tilman et al 2014). Multilateral agencies, such as the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), have emphasized the need for long-term data on biodiversity and ecosystem services in natural and transformed ecosystems and their contribution to human welfare on regional to global scales (Díaz et al 2015). However, ecosystem processes (eg regulation of water provision or carbon storage) are commonly monitored independently of biodiversity and, in many cases, on spatiotemporal scales that are not large enough to capture the complex spatial dependencies and temporal lags linking human-induced transformations with their socioecological impacts (Isbell et al 2017). Consequently, the development of long-term monitoring systems combining multiple spatial scales constitutes a key step in consolidating effective systems of adaptive ecosystem management (Nichols and Williams 2006; Lindenmayer et al 2013).
There are 2 main types of environmental monitoring systems, called mandated monitoring and question-driven monitoring (Vos et al 2000; Lindenmayer and Likens 2010). The first are generally national programs that respond to the requirement to generate reports on the state of natural resources. The second type refers to more focused systems on a regional scale, which typically evaluate explicitly formulated questions on aspects such as the relationship between changes in land use and their environmental consequences. A major challenge in designing monitoring systems relevant for decision-making is to combine both types of strategies. This would allow monitoring to be guided by questions formulated on both regional and national scales, explicitly considering key bidirectional links between these scales (eg how national policies affect regional land use or how regional differences in socioecological dynamics scale up to determine national trends).
From this perspective, some key components should be included in a fully structured monitoring strategy that can inform decision-making: (1) explicit objectives, questions, and conceptual models linking drivers of change and their effects on response variables; (2) a detailed cost-effective design, including replicable protocols, which explicitly considers uncertainties and the power to detect changes given these uncertainties; (3) schemes for data management and analysis, system maintenance, and quality control; (4) flexible institutional arrangements, including mechanisms for stakeholder participation; and (5) a knowledge-sharing strategy, including adaptive feedback loops, explicitly linking monitoring with policy formulation (Legg and Nagy 2006; Lindenmayer and Likens 2010; Díaz et al 2015).
In Colombia, the Ministry of the Environment and other agencies of the National Environmental System (SINA in Spanish) have been working on the design of a national ecosystem monitoring program to guide decision-making. In this context, two key SINA agencies, the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology, and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) and the Institute of Biological Resources Alexander von Humboldt (IAvH), with the support of the Consortium for Sustainable Development of the Andean Ecoregion (CONDESAN), set out to formulate a joint proposal for an Integrated Strategy for Monitoring High Andean Ecosystems of Colombia (called EMA, its Spanish acronym, hereafter).
There is substantial experience in Colombia in environmental monitoring both on a national scale and in high mountain ecosystems (Table 1; Sierra et al 2017; Vallejo and Gómez 2017). An integrated conceptual and institutional framework would allow articulation of these diverse initiatives. Hence, the design of the EMA can be understood both as a contribution to consolidate the national monitoring program and as a conceptual exercise that could be replicated in other ecosystems in Colombia and other countries in which an integrative, ecosystem-oriented framework is lacking or is being developed.
Long-term monitoring initiatives identified in high Andean ecosystems of Colombia, indicating the name of the program, coordinating institutions, key variables monitored, spatial extent and sites included, monitoring interval, and available protocols or key publications. (Table extended on next page.)
Extended. (First part of Table 1 on previous page.)
Our objective in this paper is to present the key elements of a strategy for integrated monitoring of biodiversity and ecosystem services in high Andean ecosystems in Colombia (see the full proposal in IDEAM et al 2018 and a policy-brief publication in Spanish in Llambí et al 2019). First, we discuss the significance of high mountain ecosystems in Colombia. Then, we describe the methodology used to design the proposal and review the state of the art of environmental monitoring in the Colombian High Andes. Finally, we describe the conceptual framework, expected outcomes, and proposed institutional arrangement for the strategy, as well as some key next steps to promote its implementation.
Why focus on high mountain ecosystems in Colombia?
Because of their outstanding biodiversity and the provision of essential ecosystem services, mountain ecosystems are recognized as global priorities for conservation and sustainable management in the United Nations 2030 sustainable development goals (target 15.4, UN General Assembly 2015). To design the proposal, we defined as target ecosystems those located in the high mountain belt, above 2800 m in elevation, according to the ecosystem map of Colombia (IDEAM et al 2017a). This belt includes a complex mosaic of high Andean forests, páramos, wetlands, periglacial snowfields, and glacier ice caps, as well as secondary vegetation units and a diverse array of agroecosystems, including pastures and annual crops. The high mountain belt is characterized by a marked heterogeneity of environmental conditions because of steep elevation gradients and the presence of complex mountain landscapes with contrasting climates, geology, human occupation, and land use histories (Sarmiento and Leon 2015). The main mountain systems are the Perija; the Eastern, Central, and Western Cordilleras; the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta massif in the north; and the Colombian massif in the south (Figure 1). This belt covers a total surface area of 4,125,500 ha (3.6% of the continental area of Colombia), of which 2,906,137 ha (70.4%) correspond to páramos (Sarmiento et al 2017).
The Colombian High Andes are part of an important biodiversity hotspot and part of the largest tropical mountain region on Earth, the tropical Andes; they also comprise a large proportion of the páramo biome in South America (Myers et al 2000; Llambí and Cuesta 2014). Moreover, they provide key ecosystem services, including a high capacity for carbon accumulation in soils and biomass, and regulation of the provision of high-quality water resources for a growing urban and rural population, including the inhabitants of Bogotá and numerous intermediate cities (Castaño-Uribe 2002; Sarmiento et al 2017).
Andean forests in Colombia have been exposed to important historic processes of transformation and are estimated to occupy today less than 50% of their potential surface. The main drivers of change include cattle grazing, agriculture (including illicit crops), hydropower and transport infrastructure, hunting, wood extraction, and climate change in a general context of rapid population growth and urbanization (Etter and Wyngaarden 2000; Armenteras and Gast 2002; Etter et al 2006; Armenteras et al 2011; Morales and Armenteras 2013).
In the case of the páramos, it is estimated that 15% (449,500 ha) has been replaced by pastures, crops, and exotic plantations (pines and eucalyptus), while 45% of their surface area is included in the National System of Protected Areas. Other models of environmental governance in the region include legal indigenous lands (resguardos) of more than 16 ethnic groups and multiple initiatives for participatory land planning and sustainable agriculture implemented by community-based organizations. However, there are also numerous carbon and gold mining concessions and intense social conflicts associated with them. This lead to a complex legal process, starting with the reform of the Mining Code in 2010, which has established the delimitation of the páramo regions in the country, the exclusion of mining operations, a mandate to convert intensive cattle ranching and agriculture toward more sustainable alternatives, and the design of monitoring or management programs for each páramo region (Law 1930 promulgated in 2018). This sociopolitical scenario overlaps with the new demographic dynamics and policies associated with the peace process and postconflict interventions, including policies for land restitution, agrarian development, and illicit crop management (Sarmiento et al 2017; Sierra et al 2017).
The ecosystems of the high tropical Andes are also considered to be among the most exposed and vulnerable to climate change (Castaño-Uribe 2002; Tovar et al 2013). Although average warming rates in Colombia during the second half of the 20th century reached 0.1–0.2°C per decade (IDEAM et al 2017b), faster increases in mean temperature of up to 0.5°C per decade have been recorded above 3000 m in the tropical Andes (Vuille and Bradley 2000; Vuille et al 2018) and up to 0.7°C per decade in Colombian páramos where records are available (Ruiz-Carrascal et al 2008). Changes in precipitation are spatially more heterogeneous (Buytaert et al 2011), with a general trend for an increase but localized regions in which reductions of 5% or more are projected (IDEAM et al 2017b; IDEAM and UNAL 2018). These changes could induce an altitudinal displacement of species, ecosystems, and agroecosystems, resulting in alterations in community composition and diversity in high Andean forests (eg Duque et al 2015) and a significant reduction of páramo area of up to 75% during the present century in the more pessimistic scenarios (van der Hammen et al 2002). One of the most marked indicators of climate change in the Colombian Andes is the accelerated retreat of glaciers, with a current estimated cover of 42 km2, corresponding to 62% of their documented area in the mid-20th century (Ceballos et al 2012; Rabatel et al 2017).
Formulating the integrated strategy involved the following activities, based on the contributions of multiple actors with experience in monitoring high Andean ecosystems in Colombia and across the tropical Andes (see IDEAM et al 2018 for details):
Compilation, analysis, and synthesis of technical documents, scientific literature, maps and existing reviews, protocols, and monitoring proposals.
Electronic questionnaires directed to experts in environmental monitoring programs in Colombia, with emphasis on high Andean ecosystems. Twelve experts completed these questionnaires, which served as the basis for a catalog of monitoring initiatives, documenting their objectives and questions addressed, driving factors and response variables monitored, spatiotemporal design, data management, maintenance, and institutional arrangements.
Face-to-face semistructured interviews with 24 experts, in which a more in-depth analysis of the existing monitoring programs was carried out, including the aspects mentioned earlier and topics related to information demands from decision makers, lessons learned, spatial and thematic gaps, and opportunities for integration.
Organization of the workshop Diversity and Functioning of Colombian Andean Ecosystems in Environmental Change Scenarios. More than 60 participants attended the workshop, including representatives from the SINA, decision makers, universities, and environmental organizations (see IDEAM 2018 for details). First, discussion focused on the proposal and lessons learned from international networks active in the tropical Andes. Then, work was structured around thematic panels on biodiversity, biomass or carbon, climate or hydrology, and land use. Finally, working groups addressed key crosscutting topics, including thematic gaps, scale integration, and models for institutional organization and information synthesis.
Results of the process
State of the art of monitoring in Colombian high mountain ecosystems
On an international scale, several monitoring networks have active sites in the Colombian Andes. These include (1) the Global Network of Mountain Observatories (GNOMO), based on an socioecological approach and active in Los Nevados National Park (Poleka Kasue Mountain Observatory; Ruiz-Carrascal 2016); (2) the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS), which incorporates data collected by IDEAM on glacier dynamics in Colombia; (3) the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA)-Andes network, monitoring vegetation dynamics and temperature at 17 sites along the tropical Andes of South America, including 1 active Colombian site (Cuesta et al 2017); (4) the Andean Forest Network, monitoring forest diversity and biomass dynamics in 343 plots in South America, including several active sites in Colombia (Osinaga et al 2014; Baez et al 2015); and (5) the Regional Initiative for the Hydrological Monitoring of Andean Ecosystems, integrating 12 páramo watersheds in the tropical Andes (Celleri et al 2011). The experience accumulated in these networks has been important for demonstrating strategies for south–south cooperation and the development of standardized protocols for data collection and integration.
On a national scale, the Environmental Information System of Colombia (SIAC), includes the Biodiversity Information System, the National System of Hydrological Monitoring, the System for Monitoring Forests and Carbon, and the Research and Monitoring Plans of the National Parks. In particular, IDEAM reports national environmental variables or indicators on climate change, water quality or quantity, air quality, soil degradation, and forest cover. This information feeds national periodic reports (eg the Status of Natural Resources Report and the National Water Report). In high mountain ecosystems, there is a long-standing tradition of ecological research (Rangel-Churio 2000; van der Hammen et al 2002). This research has been accompanied by the development of several monitoring initiatives and protocols studying four aspects (Table 1; see details in IDEAM et al 2018).
Species and functional diversity: This aspect involves the establishment of permanent plots of variable size (1 m2 to ≥1 ha) for monitoring plant species and functional and phylogenetic diversity. Examples include monitoring of plant colonization in glacial retreat areas of the Santa Isabel Nevado (Cuellar 2017) and on páramo summits of the GLORIA-Andes network in Cocuy National Park (Cuesta et al 2017), as well as permanent plots in Andean forest in several regions of the country (eg Duque et al 2015; Quintero et al 2017; Avella et al 2017). Some of these programs (eg in the Iguaque Sanctuary) also monitor critical components of biodiversity, such as soil microbial diversity and vertebrates, but more systematic efforts are urgently needed (Ichii et al 2019). In addition, two emblematic initiatives to monitor keystone species are the Andean Bear Program (in which monitoring is an integral part of an adaptive management strategy; Márquez et al 2017) and the program monitoring population dynamics and phytosanitary problems in stem rosettes of Espeletia spp. (Medina et al 2009; Salinas et al 2013).
Biomass and carbon: Many plots monitoring forest diversity are used for analysis of biomass and carbon stocks in vegetation and soils. A key initiative is the establishment of permanent plots within the National Forest Inventory, which already includes 17 sites above 2800 m (IDEAM 2017b). There has been significant recent progress in monitoring biomass or carbon dynamics in high Andean forests and páramos in permanent plots along elevation gradients in two mountain ranges using a standardized protocol (Rueda et al 2015; IAvH and IGAC 2018).
Climate, hydrology, and glaciers: The national hydrometeorological network managed by IDEAM includes 613 stations between 2000 and 3000 m and 169 stations above 3000 m. New monitoring technologies are being integrated into the system, including remote sensing and isotopic and hydrochemical techniques. Moreover, IDEAM and IAvH have developed a detailed multiscale protocol for páramo hydrological monitoring (García-Herrán 2018). IDEAM also leads a program monitoring the 6 glaciated areas in the country, which includes detailed glacier mass balance and hydrological analyses in 2 of the areas (Ceballos et al 2012; Rabatel et al 2017; Morán-Tejeda et al 2018).
Land use dynamics: In the case of Andean forests, several authors have carried out multitemporal analyses of changes in ecosystem cover and land use on a national scale (eg Etter et al 2008; Morales and Armenteras 2013). The Observatory of Andean Forests of Antioquia is a multidisciplinary initiative that aims to characterize ecosystem health and transformation trends in the region (Quintero et al 2017). For páramo ecosystems, the national project for official delimitation included a detailed analysis at a 1:25,000 scale of ecosystem cover, land use change, and socioecological dynamics in 21 of the 36 páramo complexes in the country (IAvH 2016; Sarmiento et al 2017).
Thematic gaps and challenges for integrated monitoring
Based on the available literature and the expert consultation process, the following key thematic gaps and challenges were identified:
The ecohydrological component is seldom integrated in biodiversity or carbon dynamics studies using permanent plots, and ecosystem processes (eg productivity, decomposition, evapotranspiration, and nutrient leaching) and species interactions (eg facilitation and pollination) are rarely monitored, limiting comparative studies across regions.
Monitoring systems are generally not designed to capture gradients of land use transformation and natural regeneration (both inside and outside protected areas). Hence, important questions about the sustainability of alternative productive systems and the effectiveness of land planning strategies and restoration programs remain difficult to address, particularly on a national scale.
Environmental monitoring schemes rarely integrate socioeconomic drivers of change, the welfare impacts of these changes, and the governance responses of different types of actors. More emphasis is also needed on participatory monitoring, in which these diverse actors can be involved in all stages of the monitoring cycle.
The proposed objectives for the strategy are as follows:
Evaluate the dynamics of variables and indicators linked with the ecological integrity, biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, and services of high Andean ecosystems in Colombia.
Relate these dynamics with the main drivers of change operating at different spatiotemporal scales, including climate change and demographic, socioeconomic, and land use change processes.
Evaluate the effectiveness of the main biodiversity conservation, ecosystem management and restoration strategies, and territorial governance schemes in the country to guide the decision-making process on local, regional, and national scales.
The conceptual model was developed to provide a general framework for integrated monitoring, building upon the existing programs, protocols, and information available (Table 1). In this context, integrated monitoring is understood as combining (1) a multiscale approach, linking drivers of change and response variables from ecosystem and plot scales to regional and national scales; (2) a multiecosystem approach, analyzing the interdependences among the ecosystems that make up the high Andean belt (at different stages of ecosystem transformation or regeneration); and (3) a socioecological approach, analyzing the links between changes in the socioeconomic, cultural, and political context and changes in the dynamics of land use systems, as well as how they interact with biodiversity, ecosystem services, and human welfare (Figure 2; Table 2).
Proposed processes that can act as drivers of change and some key response variables or indicators that can be monitored on national, regional or landscape, and plot or ecosystem spatial scales within the integrated monitoring program.
Given the need for a multiscale approach, an important and difficult challenge is to explicitly consider the dynamic relationships that link the scales of analysis, from the top down and from the bottom up (Turner et al 2001). On the one hand, the drivers of change that operate on larger spatial scales, such as climate change or national demographic dynamics, can function as determinants or context conditions that modify socioecosystem responses on more local scales (van Riper et al 2018). On the other hand, spatiotemporal heterogeneity needs to be explicitly considered for scaling up driver and response variables from plots to landscapes and from landscapes to the national scale (eg for estimating national carbon stocks in high mountains based on measurements on plot and landscape scales; Figure 2). Consequently, scale integration requires explicit consideration of the nested environmental and human transformation gradients and processes that shape socioecosystem dynamics on both national and regional or landscape scales (eg among cordilleras and across regional topographic gradients). Moreover, it requires devising explicit institutional arrangements for sharing information and protocols, as well as analytic and management tools, among a network of regional nodes and between these nodes and the national level.
On the national scale, priority is given to analyzing the interactions between climate and land use change and how they affect biotic and social indicators (Figure 2; Table 2; Llambí and Llambí 2000; Isbell et al 2017; Mathez-Stiefel et al 2017). SIAC documents changes on the national scale in multiple indicators linked with biodiversity and ecosystem services (described earlier). The key is to re-evaluate these indicators specifically for the high Andean belt and generate integrated analysis and reports, in which the relationships among changes in land cover, biodiversity, hydrology, carbon stocks, and socioeconomic performance, among others, can be explored.
On the regional or landscape scale, several land use and production systems coexist, and their dynamics are driven by changes in the political and socioeconomic context at both national and regional levels (eg land use regulations, governance strategies, and environmental conflicts). We emphasize the need to analyze changes in biodiversity and ecosystem services along gradients of anthropogenic transformation and elevation both inside and outside protected areas (Figure 3). This is important, because land use and climate change can interact along these gradients in complex ways, with largely unknown consequences. For example, although the intensity and spatial extent of land use can decline with increasing elevation, the rate of warming has been shown to increase at higher elevations (MRI 2015). Special attention should be given to processes that occur at ecotones, which can serve as sensitive indicators of global change effects, such as the dynamics of the mountain tree line or the glacier line. In addition, it is critical to document the trajectories of biodiversity and ecosystem processes or services comparing scenarios, such as intensive production systems, alternative or diversified management, and secondary ecosystems, as well as the impact of restoration strategies (Figure 3). This framework should provide critical information on the impacts of ecosystem management alternatives, which in many cases are assumed to promote sustainability or the recovery of ecosystem services without solid evidence to back up these claims.
This approach requires combining information on landscape dynamics from remote sensors with ground data derived from hydrometeorological stations and permanent plots distributed along elevation gradients in different landscape or ecosystem units (Figure 3). Mathematical modeling and simulation strategies may become important tools for integrating information across scales. Given the difficulties of establishing long-term permanent plots in all situations (including different levels of restoration or along glacier retreat zones), the strategy should also incorporate a chronosequence approach, in which replicate plots with different previous histories are studied simultaneously (eg Abreu et al 2009; Zimmer et al 2018).
On the ecosystem or plot scale, emphasis is given to integrating biodiversity monitoring (ie changes in species composition and abundance) with indicators of the carbon and hydrological balance in permanent plots (Figure 4). Here, it is important to define a minimum monitoring package for all sites, and complementary variables that can be measured in selected sites. The minimum package should consider the main ecosystem compartments, including aboveground plant diversity or biomass, necromass, and soil organic matter (Chapin et al 2002; Osinaga et al 2014; IDEAM 2017b; Cabrera et al 2018). Measurements of soil water content could be combined with more detailed studies in some sites of water interception, infiltration, runoff, and evapotranspiration (eg Ataroff and Rada 2000). For the carbon cycle, complementary studies in selected sites could estimate fluxes such as litter production, soil respiration, or decomposition (Rueda et al 2015). A link between biodiversity and ecosystem functioning could be provided by the study of plant functional traits (eg height, specific leaf area, and wood density; Pérez-Harguindeguy et al 2013; Salgado-Negret 2015). Finally, complementary modules should include the study of keystone indicator species, such as soil fauna, birds, or amphibians (eg using bioacoustic methods or camera traps) and ecological interactions (eg pollination and seed dispersal). It is important to strengthen monitoring of threatened or critical fractions of biodiversity for which large-scale, long-term data are insufficient or lacking (eg insects, microorganisms, and parasites), promoting a better understanding of their role in regulating ecosystem services (Ichii et al 2019).
Expected outcomes and institutional framework
The expected outcomes of the EMA are oriented to support environmental decision-making on the local, regional, and national levels. The main outcome would be the generation of periodic reports on the status, integrity, and trends of high Andean ecosystems. Other associated products would include (1) periodic symposia on the dynamics of high Andean ecosystems; (2) an online platform, including databases and modules for information analysis, visualization, and reporting; (3) a catalog of management and conservation policies, as well as existing monitoring programs and protocols; and (4) outreach products for a broader audience, which could include short social-media updates, touring exhibitions for museums, and an attractive synthesis publication on the impacts of climate and land use change in the high mountains of Colombia (see eg IAvH 2018; IDEAM 2014; IDEAM 2017a; Ceballos et al 2012).
The institutional arrangements could include a directive and technical committee on the national scale, with participation of institutions from the SINA, universities, and nongovernmental organizations. It should also include a dialog platform, with participation of social organizations and decision makers from different sectors (Sierra et al 2017). The system should consider mechanisms for integration with SIAC and monitoring networks in the region (eg GNOMO and GLORIA-Andes). Finally, the integration of working nodes in the different regions in the country should be promoted, as well as the active involvement of local stakeholders and community organizations using participatory approaches.
Where do we go from here?
After formulating the EMA, the interinstitutional team leading the process (at IDEAM, IAvH, and CONDESAN) identified some key steps that could guide its progressive implementation: (1) promote a wide consultation process to define essential variables to monitor biodiversity and ecosystem services on national and regional scales and consolidate an online information system (linked with SIAC), including a catalog of monitoring initiatives, synthetic maps, and an integrated analysis of the variables and indicators available, and (2) promote information synthesis in pilot sites, both in areas with active long-term monitoring programs (eg Los Nevados and Chingaza) and in high-priority areas, given the existence of environmental conflicts (eg Santurban, Tota-Bijagual, and Pisba). This would provide a dynamic and holistic view of these territories, identify thematic gaps, and generate integrated protocols on landscape and ecosystem scales. The idea is to strengthen active monitoring sites, promote networking around regional observatories, and use these sites as pilots for replication.
Finally, it is essential to promote new forums for discussing the strategy with decision makers, international cooperation agencies, the private sector, academics, and social organizations on different scales so that monitoring can more explicitly respond to the needs of the large diversity of stakeholders involved in the management and conservation of high mountain ecosystems in Colombia.
We thank the Andean Forests Program, financed by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), for their financial support in the development of the proposal. We also thank the teams at CONDESAN, IDEAM, and IAvH for their support. The excellent comments by the journal editor Sarah-Lan Stiefel and two referees, Georg Gratzer and Daniel Ruiz, significantly improved the manuscript. The contributions of the following professionals were invaluable during the process: H. García, N.O. Vargas, M. García, N.C. Mayorga, A.P. Barbosa, J.L. Ceballos, J.F. Philips, C. Gómez, N. Norden, L. Sanchez, J.P. Romero, P. Ungar, J. Puentes, B.V. Rodríguez, A. Bolívar, S. González-Caro, J.C. Benavides, A. Varela, M.E. Gutiérrez, I. Goldstein, F. Cuesta and C. Sarmiento. Thanks also go to J.C. Berrio (University of Leicester) for his support and contributions for the workshop on monitoring in high Andean ecosystems and to the experts at IGAC, Ministerio del Ambiente y Desarrollo Social, National Parks of Colombia, Bogotá Botanical Garden, Observatorio de Bosques Andinos, Conservation International, Wildlife Conservation Society, the Páramo Project (Unión Europea-IAvH), Escuela de Ingenieros de Antioquía, Universidad Nacional at Medellín, Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, Universidad Jorge Tadeo Lozano, Universidad Distrital, UniAndes, and Universidad del Rosario for sharing generously and enthusiastically their knowledge and experience. Finally, we thank D. Cordoba and M.F. Batista for their assistance with the map of the high Andean belt (Figure 1) and A. Espinoza (Fibios–Comunicación Ambiental) for final artwork (Figures 3 and 4).