Although páramos cover extensive areas in the northern Andean countries, this tropical alpine ecosystem, which evolved without large mammals, is almost unique in the world. The ecological processes of the páramos ecosystem on volcanic soils are to a large extent controlled by low temperatures and phosphorous limitation.Páramos are considered an important ecosystem because of the high degree of endemism and because of their regulative function in the hydrology of the northern Andes. Their economic value reflects their function as a drinking water reserve and their role in agriculture. Grazing and burning have a large impact on the structure of the vegetation and soil, but nutrient concentrations remain almost unchanged owing to the large nutrient immobilization capacity. The high aboveground biomass and complete coverage of the soil is of the utmost importance for the ecosystem. The management and conservation of the ecosystem is difficult if the various functions of the páramos are to be respected. If plant diversity and water storage are to be protected, but if the same production of beef and milk is to be achieved, grazing should be concentrated in a few areas only. In these areas, which must be flat and have good ground coverage, production can be sustained by an input of organic and inorganic fertilizers (phosphorus). Many other areas can remain ungrazed and left for recovery of the natural, tall vegetation with its high endemism. In the future, tourism might play an important role in the conservation of some páramos areas.