Noel Kempff Mercado National Park World Heritage Site
Parc national Noel Kempff Mercado, Bolivia, Plurinational State Of
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Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is a national park in northeast Santa Cruz Department, Province of José Miguel de Velasco, Bolivia, on the border with Brazil.
Noel Kempff Mercado National Park covers 750,000 hectares of land, much of which consists of the Serrania de Huanchaca. The park is located on the Brazilian Shield in the northeast Santa Cruz Department in Bolivia. The Rio de Itenez is its eastern and northern border separating it from the neighboring Brazil. It is situated in a transition zone where the Amazonian rain forests and the dry forest and savannas of Cerrado meet. The park is made up of five distinct habitats, including upland evergreen forest, deciduous forest, upland cerrado savanna, savanna wetlands, and forest wetlands. As a whole, the region can be described as having a marked dry season in the winter and a mean annual precipiation of 1,500 mm.
In 1908, Percy Fawcett first explored the area that is now the national park. It was not until almost 70 years later that the area was looked at again. In the 1970s geologists were sent to the area to survey the rock formations of the Precambrian Shield region in Bolivia. They published on the geology and landforms and produced the first maps. This expedition attracted the attention of Noel Kempff Mercado, an esteemed conservation biologist of the time. Mercado recognized the global significance of the area enough to propose a campaign to preserve it. Unfortunately, Mercado was murdered by drug traffickers and never saw his dream become a reality. Many of his fellow citizens responded. The government established the park and named it in his honour. It came into existence in 1988 as a 750,000 hectare area of undisturbed land.
Climate in NKMNP is distinctly seasonal with approximately 1400-1500mm of mean annual precipitation. There is a dry season of about 4–6 months (May to September), when rainfall declines. Precipitation occurs mostly in the austral summer, originating from deep-cell convective activity over the Amazon Basin and southerly extension of ITCZ (Intertropical Convergence Zone). Mean annual temperature is 25-26 C but during the dry season temperatures can drop to 10 degrees C for several days when cold dry Patagonia air masses (surazos) reach the park. Since the mid-Holocene, there has been a progressive vegetation succession from savanna to semi-deciduous forest to evergreen rain-forest in NKMNP attributed to increased annual precipitation and a shorter dry season. This expansion of rainforest occurred over the last three millennia.
Global climate change caused by anthropogenic increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide will most likely reverse the expansion of tropical rainforest in NKMNP. This process will cause mature trees of considerable size to have an increased mortality, creating more gaps within the forest and making the rain forest more vulnerable to the effects of increasing droughts. A drier rainforest also leads to an increase in fire frequency, allowing for an ecological shift of rainforest to dry forest. Many of the rainforest species may as a consequence, become extinct in NKMNP within the next 100 years, following the predictions made by GCC models. Furthermore, movements of birds and rainforest species northward towards the Amazon would be greatly limited due to loss of forest within the park.
The Huanchaca Plateau (within NKMNP) is 600–900 m above sea level and is composed of pre-Cambrian sandstone and quartzite of the Brazilian Shield. There are patches of evergreen forest on the soils that are deep and nutrient rich in the Plateau. Deep fertile soils support forest, while heavily weathered sandstone rocks with a thin layer of soil sustain open savannah. The adjacent low land plain to the west is blanketed by Cenozoic alluvial sediments and dominated by wet rain forests which transition into dry forests at the southern border of NKMNP.
It is estimated that the park is home to approximately 4.000 species of vascular plants, including bromeliads, passion flowers, heliconias, aroids, and palms. There are also important woods like the "Mara" (mahogany). The area encompasses five important ecosystems ranging from Amazonian rain forest, gallery forest and semi-deciduous tropical forest to flooded savanna and dry cerrado. The diversity among vascular plant species in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park is noteworthy. So far, 2705 different species of plants have been identified. Because there is such a wide range of different habitats that exist in the park, this number is split into different sections of the park. 1500 of the 2705 plants exist in moist forest, 800 in cerrado, 700 in dry forest, 500 in savanna wetlands, and another 500 in aquatic and disturbed habitats, and rock outcrops. In addition to the 2705 plants that have already been identified, there are still 6000 being evaluated (RAP 1998). The most diverse family out of all the taxa in the national park is the Leguminosae family. This family occurs in all ecosystems and in virtually all life forms except as epiphytes. As mentioned before, there are many different habitat ecosystems encompassed within the national park. This means that there are certain families of species that thrive in all habitats such as the Rubiaceae, Melastomataceae, Bignoniaceae, and the Apocynaceae. Other species do better in specific habitats such as the cerrado (Gramineae, Cyperaceae, Labiatae, and Compositae) or in savanna wetlands (Lythraceae, Stercurliaceae, Onagraceae, Eriocaulaceae, and Xyridaceae). Most species reach their greatest diversity in evergreen forests (RAP 1998). A study on pollen cores has shown though that the evergreen forests found in Noel Kempff Mercado National Park did not always exist in that form. Data collected from pollen core samples has shown that what is now semideciduous/evergreen forest used to be savanna/semideciduous forest. The reason for this change in the mid-holocene was due to a gradual increase in mean annual precipitation and a decrease in the length and severity of the dry season.
The park is also home to more than 130 species of mammals (rare river otters, river dolphins, tapirs, spider and howler monkeys, the giant armadillo, giant anteaters and endangered jaguars, including a population of black jaguars), 620 species of birds (nine species of macaw, possibly the highest number of species in any one protected area), and more than 70 species of reptiles, including the black caiman (Melanosuchus niger).
The amphibians and reptiles of NKMNP are among the most diverse in the Americas. There are approximately 127 species known from the park and adjacent areas and with a greater collecting effort, this number is very likely to increase. The large diversity in species is attributable to the location(borders Brazil to the north) of and the intricate pattern of diverse habitats it contains. About half of the amphibians and reptiles are mostly Amazonian species with the remaining species associated primarily with southern and eastern open formations. There are several reptile species listed by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) including species that are endangered in their home ranges. These include such species as Eunectes murinus(Green Anaconda), Eunectes notaeus(Yellow Anaconda), Caiman crocodilus yacare (Yacare Caiman), Melanosuchus niger (Black Caiman), Podocnemis unifilis (Yellow-Spotted River Turtle), Podocnemis expansa (Charapa Turtle), Geochelone carbonaria (Red-Footed Tortoise) and Geocheolone denticulate (Brazilian Giant Tortoise)
The cliffs of Huanchaca Plateau (also Caparu Meseta) rise up to 300 m tall and in many locations there have formed waterfalls. The best known are the 88 m tall Arcoiris Falls, 25–45 m tall Frederico Ahlfeld Falls, approximately 80 m tall El Encanto Falls and many others.
NKMNP is of global importance, designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 2000. Its importance is partially because the vegetation in NKMNP is essentially “pristine”, with only minor human impacts from minimal logging activity experienced in the 1980s. NKMNP encompasses the Huanchaca Plateau, which is one of the largest protected tracks of undisturbed cerrado (upland) savannahs in the Neo-tropics. This area has some of the most threatened mega-fauna in the Americas, including Ozotoceros bezoarticus (Pampas Deer), Blastocenus dichotomus (Marsh Deer), Chrysocyon brachyurus (Maned Wolf), Rhea americana (Greater Rhea), and Myrmecophaga tridacyla (Giant Anteater)
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