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1 February 2000 Books
Sally P. Horn
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Páramos: A Checklist of Plant Diversity, Geographyical Distribution, and Boatanical Literature by James L. Luteyn, with contributions from Steven P. Churchill, Dana Griffin III, S. Rob Gradstein, Harrie J. M. Sipman, and Mauricio Gavilanes A. Memoirs of the New York Botanical Garden 84. The New York Botanical Garden, New York, 1999. xv, 278 pp, 6 pp of plates, illustrations (some color). US$64.00. ISBN 0-89327-427-5.

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James Luteyn, botanist at the New York Botanical Garden, has spent the last two decades learning about the Andean páramos, studying especially the páramo flora (the richest high-elevation flora in the world), but also the tropical high alpine environments in which páramos occur. In 1986, he developed a plan (with Antoine Cleef of the Netherlands and Orlando Rangel Ch. of Colombia) to produce a generic flora and guide to the Andean páramos and, with the help of other páramo specialists, began assembling databases that would be critical to this ambitious project. He and his collaborators presented their plan for the flora at a 1991 symposium in Aarhus, Denmark, the proceedings of which (H. Baslev and J. L. Luteyn, editors, 1992: Páramo: An Andean Ecosystem Under Human Influence, Academic Press, London) make an excellent companion to the present volume. But for practical reasons, Luteyn decided that he could not produce the full flora. Instead, he turned his databases into this book: a checklist of páramo plants, localities, and literature that sets the stage for the later production of a full flora and meanwhile serves as a highly useful resource for all who are interested in páramo.

As this book explains, páramo vegetation is found above the uppermost continuous forests and below the permanent snowline between 8°S and 11°N, especially in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador, but with a few outliers in Panama, Costa Rica, and northern Peru. Some páramos bear evidence of a long history of human disturbance; most are today threatened by increasing human pressures in surrounding lowlands.

The book is organized into four sections. The “Introduction to the Páramo Ecosystem” begins with definitions and then reviews in turn geography, climate, soils, long-term history, plant adaptations and growth forms, floristic diversity and origins, páramo fauna, human influences (especially the effects of burning and grazing), and the future of páramo ecosystems. High-quality color and black and white photographs are included. Among these are a large number taken by the late José Cuatrecasas, a field botanist with special expertise in the Colombian páramos, who is recognized by Luteyn and others as the “father of modern páramo studies.” This introductory chapter also contains climate diagrams and tables on plant diversity and floristics. It is the most comprehensive overview of páramo research that I have seen; novice and expert alike should find things of interest.

Part 2 offers a checklist of páramo plants in four sections: lichens (Sipman), mosses (Churchill and Griffin), hepatics (Gradstein), and vascular plants (Luteyn). Short commentaries preceding each checklist explain sources of information (herbarium specimens, literature), decisions about which collections to include, difficulties and shortcomings (incomplete collections, differing species concepts, inadequately labeled specimens), and selected taxonomic, biogeographical, and ecological aspects of the group under consideration. In all, 1298 nonvascular plant species and 3339 vascular plant species are listed, each with its authority, countries of occurrence, and altitudinal range. Taxonomic references follow each checklist, and an appendix provides further details on taxonomic representation of different plant families in páramo. This is an incredible resource for anyone trying to identify páramo plants or to make comparisons between páramo and other habitats.

Part 3 is a gazetteer of 2100 páramo localities, arranged by country (but with Costa Rica and Panama appropriately considered together). Luteyn has here attempted the Herculean task of trying to make geographical sense of localities used on herbarium sheets and in the literature. For each locality, he gives the highest elevation, latitude and longitude, primary and secondary political divisions (eg, province, canton for Costa Rica), and notes about place names. In putting together the gazetteer, Luteyn had to grapple with the familiar difficulties of place names and asks that errors be brought to his attention.

The last part of the book is a bibliography of botanical literature on p´ramo that includes the citations from the introductory chapter, along with many others, including unpublished theses in libraries of Andean countries. A subject code (19 categories) follows each entry. I would have categorized a few references differently (including a few of my own), but overall, this is an excellent contribution that I will use often and recommend to others.

In an electronic book review for the Mountain Forum ( in August 1999, Fausto Sarmiento criticized Luteyn's failure to more strongly articulate the role of humans in creating and maintaining páramo, which Sarmiento sees as an important determinant of the high biological diversity of páramo landscapes. For one site I know well (the Buenavista páramo in Costa Rica), I think Luteyn may have erred in the opposite direction, describing the vegetation as “páramo-like” and “man-made” (p 138) when in fact evidence points to rather similar vegetation having existed in the area for tens of thousands of years. My reaction to this and other statements by Luteyn on human disturbance is that the larger story of human influence in the páramo, and especially its possible link with high diversity (Sarmiento's intriguing idea), has simply yet to be written. Luteyn's new book will greatly help whoever takes on that task and all others interested in treeless landscapes of the neotropical high mountains.

Sally P. Horn "Books," Mountain Research and Development 20(1), 100, (1 February 2000).[0099:B]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 February 2000
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