The forests in Paria are considered relictual. The flora is related with vegetation found far south in the Amazonia and Guyana regions of Venezuela and with that of Trinidad and Tobago (Steyermark 1973, Steyermark 1974). Compared to adjacent areas, endemism levels are high (MARN 2000), with 29 endemic species exclusive to the cloud forests, including orchids, bromeliads and ferns (Steyermark 1979, Michelangeli 2003).
Evergreen wet forests occur between 400 and 800 masl, with tree species such as the guiana chesnut (Pachira aquatica), erizo (Sloanea guianensis), Licania heteromorpha, Laplacea fruticosa, laurelillo (Aniba sp.) and carapa (Carapa guianensis). Among shrubs, the most abundant include Psycotria poeppigiana, Meriania longifolia, Mabea sp., Clidemia debilis, Witheringia solanacea and Tabernaemontana undulata. Also abundant are herbs such as Becquerelia cymosa, Calathea casupito, Nautilocalyx sp. and Begonia humilis, as well as epiphytes growing in all forest canopy strata (Fernández and Michelangeli 2003).
Cloud forests in the region are influenced by the humid winds coming from the sea, which condense forming clouds as they ascend along the mountain flanks. These forests occur at the summits of El Humo and El Patao Hills and in a small sector of La Cerbatana Hill. Because of the steep slopes, trees tend to be relatively sparse and not very tall. However, in narrow mountain valleys and next to river banks, some trees may reach heights of up to 25 m. This vegetation has high levels of species richness, harboring endemic species and plants that can only be found in the Venezuelan Amazon or in Trinidad and Tobago (Fernández and Michelangeli 2003).
The cloud forests of the Serrania de Paria start around 750 masl, at lower altitudes than in the rest of the country (Steyermark and Huber 1978). This has been explained in terms of the phenomenon known as the “Massenerhebung Effect” (Grubb 1971), which links local conditions in isolated mountain ranges with the altitudinal displacement of vegetation belts.
The most common trees and shrubs in these forests include: hayo (Erythroxylum sp.), Aniba megaphylla, Schoenobiblos grandiflora, Dussia martinicensis, Tocota broadwayii, Chrysoclamys membranacea, Tovomita sp. and palms such as palmillo (Prestoea pubigera), cubarro (Bactris sp.), Geonoma sp. and Asplundia moritziana. Among ferns we find Polybotrya cervina, Danaea moritziana, Trichomanes fimbriatum, Asplenia serra, Dryopteris leprieurii and several species of Selaginella and Hymenophylum. Some frequent herbs and small shrubs in the understory include Mapania pycnocephala, Besleria mortoniana, licorice pepper (Piper dilatatum) and terrestrial orchids (Fernández and Michelangeli 2003).
Among the endemic species found are the orchids Epidendrum dunstervilleorum and Lephanthes pariensis, the palm Aristevera ramose, several Rubeaceae such as Ixora agustiniana and Psychotria pariensis, the Ciclantaceae Asplundia pariensis, the Bromeliad Guzmania membranacea and the tree fern Trichipteris steyermarkii (Steyermark 1973, Steyermark 1979). Interestingly, several species thought to be endemic of Trinidad and Tobago were later found in the park, including Selaginella hartii, Anthurium aripoense, Tococa broadwayii, Cyphomandra tobagensis and Solanum ierense (Steyermark 1973, Steyermark 1979).
In some cases, species from the Amazon-Guyana region are found at hill summits in the peninsula. Examples include the Melastomataceae shrub Platycentrum clidemioides and the orchid Scaphyglottis grandiflora. In other cases, Paria species belong to genera whose main distribution center is located in the Amazon-Guyana region, but which have undergone subsequent speciation in Paria. These include genera such as Elvasia, Mapania, Mouriri, Quina, Marilla and Cespedezia. Other group of species considered relictual, occurs in other countries but has not been reported in other locations outside of Paria in Venezuela. These include the fern Dryopteris leprieurii, the orchid Triphora cubensis and the bromeliad Aechmea aripensis (Steyermark 1973, 1974, 1979).
The park’s flora includes several threatened species. In the vulnerable category we find species such as the carapa (C. guianesis), palmillo (Prestoea pubigera), macanilla (Bactris setulosa), palmita (Geonoma interrupta) and Stephanopodium venezuelanum, all of which can only be found in the cloud forests of the Coastal Cordillera. In the endangered category are Selaginella hartii and Aechmea aripensis, with distributions restricted to the Paria peninsula. In both cases, the expansion of the agricultural frontier constitutes the main threat for conservation (Llamozas et al. 2003).
The park’s fauna is varied and species-rich, especially for birds: 359 species have been reported in the national park and its adjacent areas (Sharpe 1997). This represents 27% of the total number of bird species in the country (Lentino 1997). The geographic isolation of the Serrania de Paria from the rest of mountain areas in Venezuela turns the park into a “mainland island”, favoring the development of endemism (Fernandez and Michelangeli 2003). In fact, together with the Turimiquire Massif, the Serrania de Paria is considered one of the most important areas for bird endemism in the world (BirdLife International 2003).
Among the group of species found only in Paria are the scissor-tailed hummingbird (Hylonympha macrocerca) and the Paria redstart (Myioborus pariae). There is another group of endemic species whose habitat is restricted to the Paria and Turimiquire sierras in the eastern massif and to the central section of the Costal Cordillera. These include the white-tailed sabrewing (Campylopterus ensipennis), the venezuelan flower-piercer (Diglossa venezuelensis), the tepuy parakeet (Nannopsittaca panychlora), the white-throated barbtail (Premnoplex tatei) and Pripeola formosa. Three of these species are endangered: the Paria redstart, the venezuelan flower-piercer and the white-throated barbtail (Rodriguez and Rojas-Suárez 1999).
Regarding mammals, many different species shared with the Guyana region stand out, the Orinoco delta serving as a connecting bridge between both regions. Among these we find the two-toed and three toed sloths (Choloepus didactylus and Bradypus tridactylus) and the silky anteater (Cyclopes didactylus) (Linares 1998). Other common species include the southern tamandua (Tamandua tetradactyla), the armadillo (Dasypus novemcitus), the howler monkey (Alouatta seniculus), the weeper capuchin (Cebus olivaceus), the collared peccary (Tayassu tajacu), the red brocket deer (Mazama americana) and the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus). There are numerous species with nocturnal habits such as the paca (Agouti paca), the brazilian agouti (Dasyprocta leporina), the rice rat (Oryzomys capito), the spear-nosed bat (Phyllostomus hastatus) and the sharp-nosed bat (Rynchonycteris naso). Among felids we find the jaguarondi (Herpailurus yagouaroundi), the ocelot (Leopardus pardalis) and the jaguar (Panthera onca). Near the park’s coasts, cetaceans such as the South American dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis), the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) and the sperm whale are common (Physeter catodon) (Bisbal et al. 1994).
Regarding amphibians, 40 species have been reported in the park and its adjacent areas, with 10 more considered “likely to be present” (La Marca 1992, Bisbal et al. 1994). This represents 20% of the 275 species reported for Venezuela. There are three endemic species which have been found in the cloud forests of El Humo Hill: the Castroviejo crystal frog (Cochranella castroviejoi), the Paria crystal frog (Cochranella vozmedianoi) and a toad species (Mannophryne riveroi) (La Marca 1992).
About 63 species of reptiles have been found in the region, representing 20% of the Venezuelan reptiles. Of these, a gecko species (Gonatodes ceciliae) and a viper (Bachia heterotopa) have only been reported in Paria and Trinidad, while the snake Mastigodryas amarali is restricted to northeastern Venezuela (La Marca 1992). Beaches in the peninsula are the main nesting area in the country for five sea turtle species: the green turtle (Chelonia midas), the hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), the olive ridley (Lepidochelys olivacea), the loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta) and the leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea). They are also nesting grounds for the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) (Guada and Vernet 1989, 1991). All six species are classified as threatened (Rodriguez and Rojas-Suárez 1999). However, most of the nesting beaches in the northern coast of the peninsula are outside the national park (Guada and Vernet 1989, 1991).
The fish fauna of the Paria region is very diverse. However, the park does not include marine sectors. The geographic location of the peninsula, dividing the waters of the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, determines the presence of a diverse array of marine environments (Fernández and Michelangeli 2003). Two fish species found in these waters are endangered: the chameleon blenny (Protemblemaria punctata) and the Venezuelan grouper (Mycteroperca cidi) (Rodríguez and Rojas-Suárez 1999).
This table (PDF) summarizes the threatened species present in the park and their threatened status in national and international endangered species lists.