This major habitat type includes high elevation (montane and alpine) grasslands and shrublands, including the puna and paramo in South America, subalpine heath in New Guinea and East Africa, steppes of the Tibetan plateaus, as well as other similar subalpine habitats around the world.
They are tropical, subtropical, and temperate.The plants and animals of tropical montane paramos display striking adaptations to cool, wet conditions and intense sunlight. Around the world, characteristic plants of these habitats display features such as rosette structures, waxy surfaces, and abundant pilosity.
The paramos of the northern Andes are the most extensive examples of this major habitat type. Although ecoregion biotas are most diverse in the Andes, these ecosystems are highly distinctive wherever they occur in the tropics. The heathlands and moorlands of East Africa (e.g., Mt. Kilimanjaro, Mt. Kenya, Rwenzori Mts.), Mt. Kinabalu of Borneo, and the Central Range of New Guinea are all limited in extent, extremely isolated, and support highly endemic plants and animals.
Drier, yet distinctive, subtropical montane grasslands, savannas, and woodlands include the Ethiopian Highlands, the Zambezian montane grasslands and woodlands, and the montane habitats of southeastern Africa.
The montane grasslands of the Tibetan Plateau still support relatively intact migrations of Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsoni) and kiang, or Tibetan wild ass (Equus hemionus). A unique feature of many tropical paramos is the presence of giant rosette plants from a variety of plant families, such as Lobelia (Africa), Puya (South America), Cyathea (New Guinea), and Argyroxiphium (Hawai’i) – these plant forms can reach elevations of 4,500-4,600 meters above sea level.
These habitats may display high beta diversity, particularly between isolated montane areas and along altitudinal gradients; local and regional endemism can be pronounced in some regions.
Large natural landscapes required in some regions because larger vertebrates track widely distributed seasonal or patchy resources; water sources and riparian vegetation important for wildlife in drier regions.
Sensitivity to Disturbance
These fragile habitats are highly sensitive to plowing, overgrazing, and excessive burning due to their challenging climatic and soil conditions; larger vertebrates sensitive to even low levels of hunting.