Have you ever thought about going in one single trek from Mashpi to the North towards the Cotacachi-Cayapas National Park, or to the Southeast towards the Mindo-Nambillo Reserve?
Por Paula Iturralde-Pólit
The andean bear and other big mammals could take advantage of this trail, but they actually depend on it because their life takes place in large areas of natural forests.
Road construction, agricultural expansion, and extractive activities are responsible for the loss of millions of hectares of natural forest that have split in pieces the home range of many animals. These activities reduce forest area and its functionality with cascade effects in which the biodiversity is forced to adapt to smaller spaces, or to disperse to new places, increasing risk of survival.
A fragmented area loses connectivity and becomes like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces; essential pieces that give animals a free dispersal capacity within their home range.
Try to imagine yourself riding a bike across Quito city; when suddenly, you find a cliff that blocks your way. If this happens, you have two options: turn around without reaching your destination, nor achieving your plans for the day; or go around the cliff until you find an alternative way, considering the risks that it entails. This is exactly what occurs to animals when fragmented areas are too small, and when they encounter barriers that are impossible or risky to cross through.
There are only a few intact natural spaces left, and the first thing we need to think of is the size of those remnants. Clearly, the bigger the better, because it is not the same to protect a patch of 2500 hectares than protecting 250 patches of 10 hectares each. Although the total area is the same, small fragments turn into “empty forests” where the suitable conditions that keep stable diversity cannot arise. Finally, it is also fundamental to have links between patches, and here comes in the concept of connectivity, better known as biological corridors.
Building ecological corridors is like playing tetris: although we have lost some pieces of our jigsaw puzzle, we could recover degraded land by driving strategic sustainable projects to fill the “empty” spaces, and re-connect the pieces. Such activities could take advantage of the land, and use the soil for economic purposes while protecting it, and benefiting local people. Thereafter, human settlements will endure in time to protect buffer zones and natural areas. Biological corridors bring together benefits like increasing species dispersal capacities, improving forest functionality, increasing land resilience to disturbances, avoiding soil erosion, enhancing agriculture, and strengthening turism.
Reconnecting forests increases the possibility to reconnect ourselves with nature, to synchronize the urban and the rural in one single corridor of experiences in which we all can be part of the healing process of the natural environment that we must protect.
1) Castellanos, A. (2011). Andean bear home ranges in the Intag region, Ecuador. In Ursus (Vol. 22, Issue 1, pp. 65–73). https://doi.org/10.2192/URSUS-D-1000006.1