Select Page
We connect forests, people, and stories

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

Foto: Estefanía Bravo

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.

In Ecology, every animal has a specific home range that varies according to the animal size, the type of food that it consumes, and their dispersal abilities. The home range is the space that animals use to eat, to mate, and to find shelter and protection. The andean bear, for example, occupies a large area. Females could cover up to 1500 hectares, and males up to 6000 hectares in one year 1 . This is the minimum suitable space needed to fulfill the species’ ecological activities. In other words, the remnants of natural forests are rarely big enough to allow biological interactions that give life to the forest. Animals may need to cross the edges of natural forests while looking for food and shelter, aiming to protect their offspring, and to maintain interactions among individuals from different herds. The latter is crucial to reduce kinship, and illnesses prevalence in order to have a strong offspring.

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.

Natural barriers certainly exist (mountains, rivers, cliffs, weather). They restrict the distribution range of species, and also trace out the differences of vegetation mosaics that determine ecosystems and landscapes. Fragmentation, on the other hand, generates artificial barriers that interrupt species’ distribution. Unfortunately it has been happening for so long already, that we have become used to seeing it as part of the landscape. This affects our condition of being a megadiverse country, but above all, it hampers our possibility of obtaining the benefits from ecosystem services that we depend on.

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.

The construction of ecological corridors is like revitalizing the arteries of a forest, and giving it back the diversity flow and ecological equilibrium. Is a key step to prevent natural areas from becoming floating islands surrounded by a sea of human activities. Ecological corridors strengthen forest health; their function is to reconnect patches, and give to the species the possibility to migrate to new areas when they need to adapt to changes in weather or when their home range exceeds the natural area. To construct corridors, we have the opportunity to be smart, creative and responsible in order to make proper connections. This is the main goal of Fundación Futuro, who wants to give back the forests of the northwest of Quito their original functionality.
It’s important to highlight that a biological corridor is not synonymous with restoring trails of forests within a selected area. Actually, it can be built through sustainable land use activities. To achieve the objective, one strategy is to consider rivers and riverbanks as ideal connecting paths, the so-called riparian forests. Furthermore, it is a collective effort encompassing villages, local people and land owners along the area, and transforming it into a buffer zone through multiple sustainable activities that are compatible with connectivity: namely agroecology, and agroforestry, among many others.

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).

Share This