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Animals and Ecosystems of Latin America.
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Data Sources

Sources of data in InfoNatura can be divided in to two classes:

  Classification Sources: The taxonomic sources InfoNatura
   relies on for species names and the methods used for classifying ecological systems.

  Distribution Sources: The sources InfoNatura relies on for
   documenting the distribution of animals and ecological systems.

Classification Sources


InfoNatura reports standard vertebrate names as defined by NatureServe zoologists who use a set of major references generally accepted by researchers working on a given taxonomic group. However, many of these major references are updated infrequently, typically only every 10 years. Because taxonomy is a dynamic field, NatureServe’s central zoologists review numerous journals and monographs each year for taxonomic and nomenclatural changes, and they may accept these changes before the major source(s) for each group are updated to reflect them. The English and Portuguese common names in InfoNatura come from these standard texts. There are no standard Spanish common names, and these differ from one country to the next. InfoNatura provides a sampling of Spanish common names from selected countries across the range of each species. InfoNatura does not provide Portuguese names for species that do not occur in Brazil or Spanish names for species that do not occur in any Spanish-speaking country.

InfoNatura lists search results in taxonomic order. For birds, the order follows the American Ornithologists' Union North and South American Check-Lists to the extent possible. The higher taxonomy (down to the family level) of mammals follows the order listed in Wilson and Reeder (2005). Because there is no recognized taxonomic order for mammalian species, InfoNatura lists species within families in alphabetical order. Similarly, InfoNatura lists the higher taxonomy (orders and families) of amphibians in the sequence used by Savage (2002) and lists species within families in alphabetical order.

Major References for Species Names

Class Mammalia (Mammals)

  • American Society of Mammalogists. 1969 -2000. Mammalian species accounts. Lawrence Kansas: Allen Press. Cumulative index available online: [ASM publishes 25-30 species accounts each year; each summarizes the current understanding of a species' biology.]
  • Da Fonseca, G., G. Herrmann, Y. Leite, R. Mittermeier, A. Rylands, and J. L. Patton. 1996. Lista anotada dos mamíferos do Brasil. Washington, DC: Conservation International.
  • Emmons, L. H. and F. Feer. 1997. Neotropical rainforest mammals, a field guide. 2nd ed. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Reid, F. A. 1997. A field guide to the mammals of Central America and southern Mexico. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Wilson, D. E., and D. M. Reeder, editors. 2005. Mammal species of the world. 3rd ed. John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Class Aves (Birds)

  • American Ornithologists' Union (AOU). 1998. Checklist of North American birds. 7th ed. Washington, DC: American Ornithologists' Union. [as modified by annual supplements].
  • Monroe, B. L. Jr, and C. G. Sibley. 1993. A world checklist of birds. New Haven: Yale University Press. [Used only for scientific and common names for birds occurring in South America; higher taxonomy for South American birds follows the AOU checklist.]
  • Ridgely, R. S. and G. Tudor. 1989. The birds of South America. Volume 1. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
  • Ridgely, R. S. and G. Tudor. 1994. The birds of South America. Volume 2. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
  • Willis, E. O. and Y. Oniki. 1991. Nomes gerais para as aves Brasileiras. Brazil: Gráfica da Região, Américo Brasiliense. [For Portuguese common names.]

Class Amphibia (Amphibians)

  • Frost, D.R. 2002. Amphibian species of the world: an online reference. V2.21 (15 July 2002). American Museum of Natural History, New York. Accessible at
  • Lee, J. C. The amphibians and reptiles of the Yucatán Peninsula. Comstock Press, Ithaca, New York.
  • McCranie, J. R. and L. D. Wilson. 2002. The amphibians of Honduras. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Ithaca, New York.
  • Savage, J. M. 2002. The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica. Chicago University Press, Illinois.
Ecological Systems

In addition, InfoNatura reports information on ecological systems as defined in Ecological Systems of Latin America and the Caribbean: A Working Classification of Terrestrial Systems (Josse et al. 2003).

Developed by NatureServe, collaborators from the region, and The Nature Conservancy, this classification is a systematic way of describing and assessing ecological diversity. It fills the need for national and international classification standards for ecological communities, while allowing for classification at a scale fine enough to be used to understand, manage, and protect natural resources on a site-by-site basis. Although the standards can be applied to define terrestrial ecological communities anywhere in the world, the classification serviced through InfoNatura currently consists of vegetation types that occur in the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean.

NatureServe's terrestrial ecological system classification defines groups of plant communities that tend to co-occur within landscapes with similar ecological processes, substrates, and/or environmental gradients. They are intended to provide a "meso-scale" classification unit that is readily mappable, often from remote imagery, and readily identifiable in the field. Approximately 800 terrestrial ecological system units are described in a comprehensive classification for the Latin American and Caribbean portion of the Hemisphere, and over 600 systems units have been described for the lower 48 United States and adjacent Canada (Comer et al. 2003), and are served on NatureServe Explorer.

Standard References

Defining the Ecological System Classification

Meso-Scale Ecosystems

Diagnostic Classifiers

Understanding ecological system names

Development status of the International Terrestrial Ecological System Classification and NatureServe Explorer Data

Summarizing across the range of natural variation of the nearly 800 ecological systems that currently are classified and described for Latin America and the Caribbean, some 477 ecological systems types (69%) are from uplands, 199 types (29%) wetland, and 17 types (2%) are complexes of uplands and wetlands. Considering prevailing vegetation structure, 512 types (71%) are predominantly forest, woodland, or shrubland, and 198 types (28%) are predominantly herbaceous, savanna, or shrub steppe. Seventeen types (2%) are sparsely vegetated.

Ecological system units tend to be readily mapped using aerial photographs or satellite imagery, especially when combined with ancillary data, such as soil maps, elevation-derived landform models, and hydrography or wetland map layers. Given their utility for standardized mapping, the ecological systems classification lends itself to a wide range of mapping activities and subsequent assessments of habitat diversity and conservation planning tasks. NatureServe ecological system units have become established as map legends for several Ecoregional Plans in the region (e.g. The Nature Conservancy programs), also the Conservancy working together with NatureServe, produced a map of the modeled distribution of ecological systems across South America. Recently NatureServe and project partners finished a field validated map of Ecological Systems of the Amazon Basin of Peru and Bolivia and likely, in the short term ecological systems will be used as the standard unit for an expert validated map of the Andean region from Venezuela to Bolivia.

Distribution Sources


Distribution data in InfoNatura come from many sources. The primary sources are scientific literature, especially books, and websites. Many of the same sources used for taxonomy and nomenclature are consulted for mammal distribution information (see Classification). For birds, distribution data are based on the following:

  • Parker III, TA, DF Stotz, and JW Fitzpatrick. 1996. Ecological and distributional databases for Neotropical birds. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. (For mainland countries)
  • Raffaele, H, J Wiley, O Garrido, A Keith, and J Raffaele. 1998. A guide to the birds of the West Indies. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press. (For the West Indies)
  • Ridgely, R. S., T.F. Allnutt, T. Brooks, D.K. McNicol, D.W. Mehlman, B.E. Young, and J.R. Zook. 2003. Digital Distribution Maps of the Birds of the Western Hemisphere, verion 1.0. NatureServe, Arlington, Virginia, USA.
In turn, much of the published information is based on museum specimen records and, for birds, documented observational records. Published information on the distribution of many Latin American species is still poor and sometimes difficult to locate. We encourage visitors to this site to send us updates via the Comments page to improve the distribution information provided here.
Ecological Systems
National and Subnational Distribution

Ecological Divisions, country, subnational and ecoregional distribution information is an inherent part of the development of the International Terrestrial Ecological System Classification. NatureServe ecology staff and other collaborating experts review distributional data and assign communities to ecological divisions, country and lower political jurisdictions if known, as well as ecoregions based on their knowledge of the local flora, analyses of vegetation data, and consideration of more qualitative information on vegetation patterns. However, absence of a country or ecoregion from the distributional data cannot be interpreted as a definitive statement that the community does not occur there.

Ecological Divisions

Ecological Divisions are sub-continental landscapes reflecting both climate and biogeographic history. Continent-scaled climatic variation, reflecting variable humidity and seasonality (e.g. Mediterranean vs. dry continental vs. humid oceanic) are reflected in these units, as are broad patterns in phytogeography (e.g. Takhtajan 1986, Cabrera and Willink 1980). The division lines were modified by using ecoregions established by The Nature Conservancy and World Wildlife Fund throughout the Western Hemisphere. All ecological systems are attributed to one or more ecological divisions, and the names of the systems include the divisional 'center of distribution' as detailed in Josse et al. (2003) and Comer et al. (2003).

The World Wildlife Fund Ecoregions

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) developed a map and a conservation status of Ecoregions to identify geographic priorities for biodiversity conservation; the ecoregion base map has been widely used for conservation planning and priority setting exercises across Latin America and the Caribbean. Since ecological systems are units of greater spatial resolution, they can be "nested" within ecoregions and therefore for Latin America and the Caribbean, most ecological systems have been attributed to WWF ecoregions. These data are reviewed and refined continually as ecosystems mapping and conservation planning efforts proceed. For more information about ecoregions, see:

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Version 5.0 (10 April 2007)
Data last updated: April 2007