refers to one of the world's eight terrestrial ecozones
This ecozone includes South and Central America, the Mexican lowlands, the Caribbean islands, and southern Florida, because these regions share a large number of plant and animal groups.
It is sometimes used as a synonym for the tropical area of South America, although the ecozone also includes temperate southern South America. The Neotropical Floristic Kingdom excludes southernmost South America, which instead is placed in the Antarctic Kingdom.
The Neotropics is delimited by similarities in fauna or flora. Its fauna and flora are distinct from the Nearctic (which includes most of North America) because of the long separation of the two continents. The formation of the Isthmus of Panama joined the two continents 2 to 3 million years ago.
The Neotropic includes more tropical rainforest (tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests) than any other ecozone, extending from southern Mexico through Central America and northern South America to southern Brazil, including the vast Amazon Rainforest. These rainforest ecoregions are one of the most important reserves of biodiversity on Earth.
These rainforests are also home to a diverse array of indigenous peoples, who to varying degrees persist in their autonomous and traditional cultures and subsistence within this environment. The number of these peoples who are as yet relatively untouched by external influences continues to decline significantly, however, along with the near-exponential expansion of urbanization, roads, pastoralism and forest industries which encroach on their customary lands and environment. Nevertheless amidst these declining circumstances this vast "reservoir" of human diversity continues to survive, albeit much depleted. In South America alone some 350-400 indigenous languages and dialects are still living (down from an estimated 1,500 at the time of first European contact), in about 37 distinct language families and a further number of unclassified and isolate languages. Many of these languages and their cultures are also endangered. Accordingly, conservation in the Neotropic zone is a hot political concern, and raises many arguments about development versus indigenous versus ecological rights and access to / ownership of natural resources.
Major ecological regions
The WWF subdivides the ecozone into bioregions
, defined as "geographic clusters of ecoregions that may span several habitat types, but have strong biogeographic affinities, particularly at taxonomic levels higher than the species level (genus, family)."
The Amazonia bioregion is mostly covered by tropical moist broadleaf forest
, including the vast Amazon rainforest
, which stretches from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean, and the lowland forests of the Guyanas
. The bioregion also includes tropical savanna
and tropical dry forest
Eastern South America
Eastern South America includes the Caatinga xeric shrublands
of northeastern Brazil, the broad Cerrado
grasslands and savannas of the Brazilian Plateau
, and the Pantanal
grasslands. The diverse Atlantic forests
of eastern Brazil are separated from the forests of Amazonia by the Caatinga and Cerrado, and are home to a distinct flora and fauna.
Southern South America
The temperate forest ecoregions of southwestern South America, including the temperate rain forests
of the Valdivian temperate rain forests
and Magellanic subpolar forests
ecoregions, and the Juan Fernandez Islands
and Desventuradas Islands
, are a refuge for the ancient Antarctic flora
, which includes trees like the southern beech
, the alerce
), and Araucaria
pines like the monkey-puzzle tree (Araucaria araucana
). These magnificent rainforests are endangered by extensive logging and their replacement by fast-growing non-native pines and eucalyptus
South America was originally part of the supercontinent of Gondwana
, which included Africa
, New Zealand
, and Antarctica
, and the Neotropic shares many plant and animal lineages with these other continents, including Marsupial
mammals and the Antarctic flora
. After the final breakup of the Gondwana, South America drifted north and west, and was later joined with North America by the formation of the Isthmus of Panama
, which allowed a biotic exchange between the two continents, the Great American Interchange
. South American species like the ancestors of the Virginia Opossum
) and the armadillo
moved into North America, and North Americans like the ancestors of South America's camelids
, including the llama
), moved south. The long-term effect of the exchange was the extinction of many South American species, mostly by outcompetition by northern species.
Endemic animals and plants
families are endemic to the Neotropic ecozone, over twice the number of any other ecozone. They include rheas
, and toucans
. Bird families originally unique to the Neotropics include hummingbirds
(family Trochilidae) and wrens
Mammal groups originally unique to the Neotropics include:
Examples of groups that are entirely or mainly restricted to the Neotropical region include
Plant families that originated in the Neotropic include Bromeliaceae
, and Heliconiaceae
Plant species originally unique to the Neotropic include:
Neotropic Terrestrial Ecoregions
- Map of the ecozones
- Eco-Index, a bilingual searchable reference of conservation and research projects in the Neotropics; a service of the Rainforest Alliance
- Cox, C. Barry; Peter D. Moore (1985). Biogeography: An Ecological and Evolutionary Approach (Fourth Edition). Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
- Dinerstein, Eric; David Olson; Douglas J. Graham; et al. (1995). A Conservation Assessment of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean. World Bank, Washington DC.
- Schultz, J.: The Ecozones of the World, Springer, Berlin Heidelberg New York, 2n ed. 2005. ISBN 3540200142
- Udvardy, M. D. F. (1975). A classification of the biogeographical provinces of the world. IUCN Occasional Paper no. 18. Morges, Switzerland: IUCN.