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Biodiversity in the Andean Chocó: Quito’s forests

How many times have you read or heard that Ecuador is a megadiverse country? No matter where we go in the country, we will always be surrounded by an endless number of species swamped in their daily activities to obtain nutrients and energy. Perhaps, it could be hard for us to notice how those species interact with each other, and even more challenging if they are not visible to our eyes (bacteria, small insects, etc).

By Paula Iturralde

Foto: Estefanía Bravo

Photographer: Estefanía Bravo

However, we must be aware that thanks to the complex ecological interactions we have the opportunity to be amazed by a collage of different colors, representing ecological landscapes that provide us with the most essential services: water, food, and oxygen to breathe.

With one quick search on google about “megadiverse nations” we could find Ecuador in the list. Forests, rivers, mountains, beaches; and in each place a great diversity of plants, fungi, insects, vertebrates, and millions of microorganisms. A lot of what we already are familiar with, but probably larger amounts of what we are yet to discover, and protect. Thinking of Ecuador’s biodiversity- the first thing that might come to our minds, are the tropical rainforests in the Amazon. That is obvious due to the well-known diversity of plants and animals that these forests shelter. Nonetheless, such diversity is primarily related to the confluence of two other biogeographic regions that provide seasonal and environmental variability, added up to the imposing altitudinal gradient of our mountains. The Tropical Andes split up the country in the center, and the region of Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena goes across the coast from North to South.

Broadly speaking, these three regions separate Ecuador in Coast, Highlands, and the Amazon, but each one is divided into “mini regions” with subtle (or not very subtle) environmental differences. The weather defines a mixture of vegetation classes that become the leading characters of 91 different “worlds”, better known as ecosystems. Each one has unique characteristics to shelter only the species capable of adapting to that specific conditions; that can interact with other occurring species, and that depend on each other to keep the required balance of nutrients and energy that fill the forest with life. The term biodiversity, refers to the variety of organisms on earth (plants, animals, virus, bacteria), but it also ecompasses the space where they inhabit, that is, the ecosystems. The geographic and environmental conditions in Ecuador, allowed an extraordinary arrangement of life that we are lucky to witness, and the responsibility to protect.

Foto: Diana Troya

The Andean Chocó is very special, because it is located at a strategic zone where the Tropical Andes and the Chocó meet. It covers an area that goes from 360 to 4480 meters above sea level and comprises dry forests, pre-montane forests, cloud forests, andean forests and the páramo. This region remains as a terra incognita where new species and records are frequently reported. It is a limitless natural sanctuary, sheltering species that exist only in this area, and others that we are yet to discover. A small fragment of a protected area in the Andean Chocó that represents less than 1% of the country’s territory could harbor up to 12% of the whole biodiversity.

We still need to be aware that, like every ecosystem, The Andean Chocó is vulnerable to human impacts: over exploitation, water pollution from livestock and extractive activities, illegal logging, infrastructure construction, and the accelerated expansion of human settlements, decrease the natural areas. Nearly the third part of Pichincha province corresponds to the Andean Chocó, which was declared as Biosphere Reserve in 2018. This title brings along the responsibility of finding a balance between biodiversity and human presence through sustainable activities.

The Mashpi Reserve and Tayra Reserve from Fundación Futuro are crucial to recover and conserve disturbed areas. Together, both reserves protect 2500 hectares of native forest, and with them, all the wildlife that inhabits there. In that piece of land, we can encounter thousands of plant species, where more that 100 are orchids, nearly 400 species of birds, more than 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, and almost the same number of mammals, being the Andean Bear the most iconic species. Fundación Futuro is also an important support to the adjacent lands. Those that are considered as “buffer zones”, where sustainable and responsible economic activities are promoted. It is worth mentioning the help and assistance to the Mashpi Women’s Circle Garden, and the Association of Women Entrepreneurs of Guayabillas. These projects ensure access and production of quality products. The goal is to boost the recovery and conservation of the nearby natural areas and to enhance the commitment of keeping forest vitality.

Healthy ecosystems purify the air and water, keep the functionality of the soil, and regulate climate, and nutrient cycles that are essential to grow products from which we obtain food. Is as simple as saying that we depend on ecosystems to survive. Let’s observe that mosaic of different colors as more than mere spectators. As humans, we are part of that vast variety of landscapes and its biodiversity. It is everyone’s responsibility to support every effort to protect it.

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