Neotropical realm

The Neotropical realm is one of the eight biogeographic realms constituting Earth's land surface. Physically, it includes the tropical terrestrial ecoregions of the Americas and the entire South American temperate zone.

The Neotropical realm
The Neotropical realm and its subdivisions


In biogeography, the Neotropic or Neotropical realm is one of the eight terrestrial realms. This realm includes South America, Central America, the Caribbean islands, and southern North America. In Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula and southern lowlands, and most of the east and west coastlines, including the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula are Neotropical. In the United States southern Florida and coastal Central Florida are considered Neotropical.

The realm also includes temperate southern South America. In contrast, the Neotropical Floristic Kingdom excludes southernmost South America, which instead is placed in the Antarctic kingdom.

The Neotropic is delimited by similarities in fauna or flora. Its fauna and flora are distinct from the Nearctic realm (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 two to three million years ago, precipitating the Great American Interchange, an important biogeographical event.

The Neotropic includes more tropical rainforest (tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests) than any other realm, 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 Neotropical realm is a hot political concern, and raises many arguments about development versus indigenous versus ecological rights and access to or ownership of natural resources.

Major ecological regions

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) subdivides the realm 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)."

Laurel forest and other cloud forest are subtropical and mild temperate forest, found in areas with high humidity and relatively stable and mild temperatures. Tropical rainforest, tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests are highlight in Southern North America, Amazonia, Caribbean, Central America, Northern Andes and Central Andes.


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 Guianas. The bioregion also includes tropical savanna and tropical dry forest ecoregions.

Central Andes

The Central Andes lie between the Gulfs of Guayaquil and Penas and thus encompass southern Ecuador, Peru, western Bolivia, and northern and central Argentina and Chile.[1]

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 and Chaco 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.

Northern Andes

North of the Gulf of Guayaquil in Ecuador and Colombia, a series of accreted oceanic terranes (discrete allochthonous fragments) have developed that constitute the Baudo, or Coastal, Mountains and the Cordillera Occidental.[2]


The Orinoco is a region of humid forested broadleaf forest and wetland primarily comprising the drainage basin for the Orinoco River and other adjacent lowland forested areas. This region includes most of Venezuela and parts of Colombia, as well as Trinidad and Tobago.

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 Fernández Islands and Desventuradas Islands, are a refuge for the ancient Antarctic flora, which includes trees like the southern beech (Nothofagus), podocarps, the alerce (Fitzroya cupressoides), 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, Australia, India, 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 about 110 million years ago, South America was separated from Africa and drifted north and west. 66 million years ago, the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event altered local flora and fauna.[3][4] Much later, about two to three million years ago, South America was 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 (Didelphis virginiana) and the armadillo moved into North America, and North Americans like the ancestors of South America's camelids, including the llama (Lama glama), 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


There are 31 bird families that are endemic to the Neotropical realm, over twice the number of any other realm. They include tanagers, rheas, tinamous, curassows, antbirds, ovenbirds, toucans, and seriemas. Bird families originally unique to the Neotropics include hummingbirds (family Trochilidae) and wrens (family Troglodytidae).

Mammal groups originally unique to the Neotropics include:

There are 63 fish families and subfamilies are endemic to the Neotropical realm, more than any other realm.[5] Neotropical fishes include more than 5,700 species, and represent at least 66 distinct lineages in continental freshwaters (Albert and Reis, 2011). The well-known red-bellied piranha is endemic to the Neotropic realm, occupying a larger geographic area than any other piranha species. Some fish groups originally unique to the Neotropics include:

  • Order Gymnotiformes: Neotropical electric fishes
  • Family Characidae: tetras and allies
  • Family Loricariidae: armoured catfishes
  • Subfamily Cichlinae: Neotropical cichlids
  • Subfamily Poeciliinae: guppies and relatives

Examples of other animal groups that are entirely or mainly restricted to the Neotropical region include:


Plant families endemic and partly subendemic to the realm are, according to Takhtajan (1978), Hymenophyllopsidaceae, Marcgraviaceae, Caryocaraceae, Pellicieraceae, Quiinaceae, Peridiscaceae, Bixaceae, Cochlospermaceae, Tovariaceae, Lissocarpaceae (Lissocarpa), Brunelliaceae, Dulongiaceae, Columelliaceae, Julianiaceae, Picrodendraceae, Goupiaceae, Desfontainiaceae, Plocospermataceae, Tropaeolaceae, Dialypetalanthaceae (Dialypetalanthus), Nolanaceae (Nolana), Calyceraceae, Heliconiaceae, Cannaceae, Thurniaceae and Cyclanthaceae.[7][8]

Plant families that originated in the Neotropic include Bromeliaceae, Cannaceae and Heliconiaceae.[9]

Plant species with economic importance originally unique to the Neotropic include:

Neotropical terrestrial ecoregions

Alto Paraná Atlantic forests Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay
Araucaria moist forests Argentina, Brazil
Atlantic Coast restingas Brazil
Bahia coastal forests Brazil
Bahia interior forests Brazil
Bolivian Yungas Bolivia, Peru
Caatinga enclaves moist forests Brazil
Caquetá moist forests Brazil, Colombia
Catatumbo moist forests Venezuela
Cauca Valley montane forests Colombia
Cayos Miskitos–San Andrés and Providencia moist forests Colombia, Nicaragua
Central American Atlantic moist forests Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama
Central American montane forests El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua
Chiapas montane forests Mexico
Chimalapas montane forests Mexico
Chocó–Darién moist forests Colombia, Ecuador, Panama
Cocos Island moist forests Costa Rica
Cordillera de la Costa montane forests Venezuela
Cordillera Oriental montane forests Colombia, Venezuela
Costa Rican seasonal moist forests Costa Rica, Nicaragua
Cuban moist forests Cuba
Eastern Cordillera Real montane forests Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
Eastern Panamanian montane forests Colombia, Panama
Fernando de Noronha-Atol das Rocas moist forests Brazil
Guayanan Highlands moist forests Brazil, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela
Guianan moist forests Brazil, French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela
Guianan piedmont and lowland moist forests Brazil, Venezuela
Gurupa várzea Brazil
Hispaniolan moist forests Dominican Republic, Haiti
Iquitos várzea Bolivia, Brazil, Peru
Isthmian–Atlantic moist forests Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Panama
Isthmian–Pacific moist forests Costa Rica, Panama
Jamaican moist forests Jamaica
Japurá–Solimões–Negro moist forests Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela
Juruá–Purus moist forests Brazil
Leeward Islands moist forests Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Montserrat, Nevis, Saint Kitts, British Virgin Islands
Madeira–Tapajós moist forests Bolivia, Brazil
Magdalena Valley montane forests Colombia
Magdalena–Urabá moist forests Colombia
Marajó várzea Brazil
Maranhão Babaçu forests Brazil
Mato Grosso tropical dry forests Brazil
Monte Alegre várzea Brazil
Napo moist forests Colombia, Ecuador, Peru
Negro–Branco moist forests Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela
Northeastern Brazil restingas Brazil
Northwestern Andean montane forests Colombia, Ecuador
Oaxacan montane forests Mexico
Orinoco Delta swamp forests Guyana, Venezuela
Pantanos de Centla Mexico
Paramaribo swamp forests Guyana, Suriname
Pernambuco coastal forests Brazil
Pernambuco interior forests Brazil
Peruvian Yungas Peru
Petén–Veracruz moist forests Mexico
Puerto Rican moist forests Puerto Rico
Purus várzea Brazil
Purus–Madeira moist forests Brazil
Rio Negro campinarana Brazil, Colombia
Santa Marta montane forests Colombia
Serra do Mar coastal forests Brazil
Sierra de los Tuxtlas Mexico
Sierra Madre de Chiapas moist forests El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico
Solimões–Japurá moist forests Brazil, Colombia, Peru
South Florida rocklands United States
Southern Andean Yungas Argentina, Bolivia
Southwest Amazon moist forests Bolivia, Brazil, Peru
Talamancan montane forests Costa Rica, Panama
Tapajós–Xingu moist forests Brazil
Tepuis Brazil, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela
Tocantins–Araguaia–Maranhão moist forests Brazil
Trinidad and Tobago moist forests Trinidad and Tobago
Trindade-Martin Vaz Islands tropical forests Brazil
Uatuma–Trombetas moist forests Brazil, Guyana, Suriname
Ucayali moist forests Peru
Venezuelan Andes montane forests Colombia, Venezuela
Veracruz moist forests Mexico
Veracruz montane forests Mexico
Western Ecuador moist forests Colombia, Ecuador
Windward Islands moist forests Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Xingu–Tocantins–Araguaia moist forests Brazil
Yucatán moist forests Belize, Guatemala, Mexico
Apure–Villavicencio dry forests Venezuela
Atlantic dry forests Brazil
Bahamian dry forests Bahamas
Bajío dry forests Mexico
Balsas dry forests Mexico
Bolivian montane dry forests Bolivia
Cauca Valley dry forests Colombia
Cayman Islands dry forests Cayman Islands
Central American dry forests Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua
Chaco Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay
Chiapas Depression dry forests Guatemala, Mexico
Chiquitano dry forests Bolivia, Brazil
Cuban dry forests Cuba
Ecuadorian dry forests Ecuador
Hispaniolan dry forests Dominican Republic, Haiti
Jalisco dry forests Mexico
Jamaican dry forests Jamaica
Lara–Falcón dry forests Venezuela
Lesser Antillean dry forests Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Montserrat, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Magdalena Valley dry forests Colombia
Maracaibo dry forests Venezuela
Marañón dry forests Peru
Panamanian dry forests Panama
Patía Valley dry forests Colombia
Puerto Rican dry forests Puerto Rico
Revillagigedo Islands dry forests Mexico
Sierra de la Laguna dry forests Mexico
Sinaloan dry forests Mexico
Sinu Valley dry forests Colombia
Southern Pacific dry forests Mexico
Trinidad and Tobago dry forests Trinidad and Tobago
Tumbes–Piura dry forests Ecuador, Peru
Veracruz dry forests Mexico
Yucatán dry forests Mexico
Bahamian pineyards The Bahamas
Belizian pine forests Belize
Central American pine–oak forests El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua
Cuban pine forests Cuba
Hispaniolan pine forests Haiti, Dominican Republic
Miskito pine forests Honduras, Nicaragua
Sierra de la Laguna pine–oak forests Mexico
Sierra Madre de Oaxaca pine–oak forests Mexico
Sierra Madre del Sur pine–oak forests Mexico
Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine–oak forests Mexico
Juan Fernandez Islands temperate forests Chile
Magellanic subpolar forests Argentina, Chile
San Félix–San Ambrosio Islands temperate forests Chile
Valdivian temperate rain forests Argentina, Chile
Beni savanna Bolivia
Campos rupestres Brazil
Cerrado Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Clipperton Island shrub and grasslands Clipperton Island is an overseas territory of France
Córdoba montane savanna Argentina
Guianan savanna Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela
Gran Chaco Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia
Llanos Venezuela, Colombia
Uruguayan savanna Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay
Argentine Espinal Argentina
Argentine Monte Argentina
Humid Pampas Argentina, Uruguay
Patagonian grasslands Argentina, Chile, United Kingdom (Falkland Islands)
Patagonian steppe Argentina, Chile, United Kingdom (Falkland Islands)
Semi-arid Pampas Argentina
Central Mexican wetlands Mexico
Cuban wetlands Cuba
Enriquillo wetlands Dominican Republic, Haiti
Everglades United States
Guayaquil flooded grasslands Ecuador
Orinoco wetlands Venezuela
Pantanal Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay
Paraná flooded savanna Argentina
Southern Cone Mesopotamian savanna Argentina
Central Andean dry puna Argentina, Bolivia, Chile
Central Andean puna Argentina, Bolivia, Peru
Central Andean wet puna Bolivia, Peru
Cordillera Central páramo Ecuador, Peru
Cordillera de Merida páramo Venezuela
High Monte Argentina
Northern Andean páramo Colombia, Ecuador
Santa Marta páramo Colombia
Talamanca Paramo Costa Rica, Panama
Southern Andean steppe Argentina, Chile
Zacatonal Mexico, Guatemala
Chilean Matorral Chile
Araya and Paria xeric scrub Venezuela
Aruba–Curaçao–Bonaire cactus scrub Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao
Atacama desert Chile, Peru
Caatinga Brazil
Cayman Islands xeric scrub Cayman Islands
Cuban cactus scrub Cuba
Galápagos Islands xeric scrub Ecuador
Guajira–Barranquilla xeric scrub Colombia, Venezuela
La Costa xeric shrublands Venezuela
Leeward Islands xeric scrub Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, British Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Saint Barthélemy, Saba, US Virgin Islands
Malpelo Island xeric scrub Colombia
Motagua Valley thornscrub Guatemala
Paraguana xeric scrub Venezuela
San Lucan xeric scrub Mexico
Sechura desert Peru
Tehuacán Valley matorral Mexico
Windward Islands xeric scrub Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago Brazil
Alvarado mangroves Mexico
Amapá mangroves Brazil
Bahamian mangroves Bahamas, Turks and Caicos Islands
Bahia mangroves Brazil
Belizean Coast mangroves Belize
Belizean reef mangroves Belize
Bocas del Toro–San Bastimentos Island–San Blas mangroves Costa Rica, Panama
Coastal Venezuelan mangroves Venezuela
Esmeraldas–Pacific Colombia mangroves Colombia, Ecuador
Florida mangroves United States
Greater Antilles mangroves Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico
Guianan mangroves French Guiana, Guyana, Suriname, Venezuela
Gulf of Fonseca mangroves El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua
Gulf of Guayaquil–Tumbes mangroves Ecuador, Peru
Gulf of Panama mangroves Panama
Ilha Grande mangroves Brazil
Lesser Antilles mangroves Lesser Antilles
Magdalena–Santa Marta mangroves Colombia
Manabí mangroves Ecuador
Maranhão mangroves Brazil
Marismas Nacionales–San Blas mangroves Mexico
Mayan Corridor mangroves Mexico
Mexican South Pacific Coast mangroves Mexico
Moist Pacific Coast mangroves Costa Rica, Panama
Mosquitia–Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast mangroves Costa Rica, Honduras, Nicaragua
Northern Dry Pacific Coast mangroves El Salvador, Guatemala
Northern Honduras mangroves Guatemala, Honduras
Pará mangroves Brazil
Petenes mangroves Mexico
Piura mangroves Peru
Ría Lagartos mangroves Mexico
Rio Negro–Rio San Sun mangroves Costa Rica, Nicaragua
Rio Piranhas mangroves Brazil
Rio São Francisco mangroves Brazil
Southern Dry Pacific Coast mangroves Costa Rica, Nicaragua
Tehuantepec–El Manchón mangroves Mexico
Trinidad mangroves Trinidad and Tobago
Usumacinta mangroves Mexico


  1. "Central Andes mountains, South America". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  2. "Northern Andes mountains, South America". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. "Dinosaur-killing asteroid strike gave rise to Amazon rainforest". BBC News. 2 April 2021. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  4. Carvalho, Mónica R.; Jaramillo, Carlos; Parra, Felipe de la; Caballero-Rodríguez, Dayenari; Herrera, Fabiany; Wing, Scott; Turner, Benjamin L.; D’Apolito, Carlos; Romero-Báez, Millerlandy; Narváez, Paula; Martínez, Camila; Gutierrez, Mauricio; Labandeira, Conrad; Bayona, German; Rueda, Milton; Paez-Reyes, Manuel; Cárdenas, Dairon; Duque, Álvaro; Crowley, James L.; Santos, Carlos; Silvestro, Daniele (2 April 2021). "Extinction at the end-Cretaceous and the origin of modern Neotropical rainforests". Science. 372 (6537): 63–68. Bibcode:2021Sci...372...63C. doi:10.1126/science.abf1969. ISSN 0036-8075. PMID 33795451. S2CID 232484243. Retrieved 9 May 2021.
  5. van der Sleen, Peter, and James S. Albert, eds. (2018) Field Guide to the Fishes of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Guianas. Princeton University Press, 2017. ISBN 9780691170749
  6. "Treehoppers: Aetalionidae, Melizoderidae, and Membracidae (Hemiptera)".
  7. Тахтаджян А. Л. Флористические области Земли / Академия наук СССР. Ботанический институт им. В. Л. Комарова. — Л.: Наука, Ленинградское отделение, 1978. — 247 с. — 4000 экз. DjVu, Google Books.
  8. Takhtajan, A. (1986). Floristic Regions of the World. (translated by T.J. Crovello & A. Cronquist). University of California Press, Berkeley, PDF, DjVu.
  9. "Neotropic Ecozone". July 2009.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)

General bibliography

  • Albert, J. S., and R. E. Reis (2011). Historical Biogeography of Neotropical Freshwater Fishes. University of California Press, Berkeley. 424 pp. ISBN 978-0-520-26868-5.
  • Bequaert, Joseph C. "An Introductory Study of Polistes in the United States and Canada with Descriptions of Some New North and South American Forms (Hymenoptera; Vespidæ)". Journal of the New York Entomological Society 48.1 (1940): 1-31.
  • Cox, C. B.; P. D. Moore (1985). Biogeography: An Ecological and Evolutionary Approach (Fourth Edition). Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford.
  • Dinerstein, E., Olson, D. Graham, D. J. et al. (1995). A Conservation Assessment of the Terrestrial Ecoregions of Latin America and the Caribbean. World Bank, Washington, D.C.
  • Olson, D. M., B. Chernoff, G. Burgess, I. Davidson, P. Canevari, E. Dinerstein, G. Castro, V. Morisset, R. Abell, and E. Toledo. 1997. Freshwater biodiversity of Latin America and the Caribbean: a conservation assessment. Draft report. World Wildlife Fund-U.S., Wetlands International, Biodiversity Support Program, and United States Agency for International Development, Washington, D.C.
  • Reis, R. E., S. O. Kullander, and C. J. Ferraris Jr. 2003. Check List of the Freshwater Fishes of South and Central America. Edipucrs, Porto Alegre. 729 pp.
  • Udvardy, M. D. F. (1975). A classification of the biogeographical provinces of the world. IUCN Occasional Paper no. 18. Morges, Switzerland: IUCN.
  • van der Sleen, Peter, and James S. Albert, eds. Field Guide to the Fishes of the Amazon, Orinoco, and Guianas. Princeton University Press, 2017.
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