Status and Trends of Biodiversity
Natural grasslands cover more than 70% of Uruguay and constitute a significant portion of one of the last extensive temperate grassland ecoregions in South America . Different types of native woodlands cover over 700,000ha. Lakes and lagoons occupy approximately 3,500km2, and a further 4,000km2 by permanent and temporary wetlands. There are two wetlands of international importance under the Ramsar Convention: Bañados del Este (also a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, which comprise some of the most important freshwater and coastal ecosystems of the Neotropical Region) and Esteros de Farrapos & Islas del Río Uruguay. The marine areas of Uruguay consist of the Plata River Estuary and the adjacent shelf and slope, which form part of the Subtropical Convergence Ecosystem; they are amongst the most productive ecosystems in the world (NASA).
To date 2,750 higher plant species have been registered in 140 families. With over 553 species of grasses (native and naturalized), Uruguay is one of the richest areas in Gramineae worldwide. In terms of fauna, some 1,300 species of vertebrates have been identified, of which 668 are fish, 47 amphibians, 66 reptiles, 446 birds, and 111 mammals. About 35% of the country's bird species are migratory, with at least three different migratory routes.
Number and Extent of Protected Areas
26 areas have been afforded certain legal protection status, and have very heterogeneous characteristics and objectives. They cover about 300,000ha, approximately 1.7% of Uruguay’s total national territory. These areas do not include a complete representative sample of the country’s biodiversity, thus many elements of significant value (mainly grasslands and marine ecosystems) lie outside protected areas.
Percentage of Forest Cover
Native woodlands cover over 700,000ha, equivalent to 4% of the territory (Nebel, 2004). These forests are protected by the Forestry Law (1987).