Establishing biocorridors in Ecuador’s Amazon will protect humans as well as endangered species

Jul 23, 2021 | 5 comments

Author’s note: Time is running out for Ecuador to save its Amazon rainforests — areas which have 10,000 times the biodiversity of the Galapagos islands. Ethno-ecologist  Adam Gebb looks at the problems and possibilities in a seven-part series. This article explores Ecuadors critical opportunity to create a biocorridor network that  could conserve the country’s legendary biodiversity.

By Adam Gebb

The immense and enduring wealth of the pristine Amazon rainforest is far greater than any profit from the destructive removal of oil and minerals.

Red higueron trees, a part of Ecuador’s legendary biodiversity. (Photo by Adam Gebb)

As the world’s environmental deterioration accelerates, countries focused on conservation will be notably successful and be rewarded by the health of their people, vastly improved quality of life and rising economies.

This will require conserving a network of at least three biocorridors in order to maintain the Ecuadorian Amazon’s biodiversity. They must be protected immediately. Millions of acres of virgin rainforest still exist, but the roads and human development that follow have unintended consequences that are disastrous for this ecosystem.

A biocorridor can be described as a geographically defined area providing connectivity between landscapes, ecosystems and habitats. It ensures the maintenance of biodiversity and ecological and evolutionary processes — which, when allowed to continue,  drive increasing biodiversity.

What future do the children of the Ecuadorian Amazon have?  (Photo by Adam Gebb)

Protecting rare and endangered species and conserving ecological hot spots where they live is vital and is the current norm of conservation activity. However, the absence of larger efforts to reconnect distant wild areas is like a doctor alleviating symptoms but never providing a cure. The real cure is to maintain the ancient wildlife migrations and evolutionary processes that created the region’s biodiversity over millions of years.

The rare and endangered species list will drastically expand unless entire forest communities are given enough space to migrate long distances. Having diverse ecological and geographic settings with habitats able to fully satisfy complex forest communities life cycle needs is essential in an ever-changing climatic environment. The only cure is biocorridors.

A successfully designed biocorridor allows for migrational patterns similar to the ancient rhythms that originally created an area’s biodiversity. Ecuador’s Sangay Podocarpus biocorridor is a fantastic conservation project, but it will not maintain the majority of Ecuador’s biodiversity alone. At least two other biocorridors are critically needed.

The Ecuadorian Amazons biodiversity allows for great architecture and handicrafts. (Photo by Adam Gebb)

With the acceleration of climatic change we are seeing right now, many species will become extinct unless they can migrate to cooler areas. If two percent of the species in a given natural community become extinct, other species will inevitably follow due to the interrelationships that complex communities forge. In many areas around the world, this is the start of an extinction cascade.

Conserved areas that cannot maintain their ancient migrational rhythms will lose biodiversity quickly. There is a much higher return on investment of conservation when a protected landscape offers resiliency during climate change. In Ecuador this means that the current ecological hot spots in the Amazon lowlands have to be allowed to repeat their ancient migration back into the lower Andes mountains. Historical evidence shows that global temperatures were up to seven degrees hotter than now during warm periods. But now our atmosphere has even higher global warming gas content than any previous warm epoch over the last million years.

Balancing resource extraction and biodiversity. (Photo by John Keeble)

The upcoming warm period is very likely to be even hotter. The deep valleys at the base of the Andes offer cool microclimates that have many times over the last 100 million years been vital refuges for the region’s biodiversity. That refuge is needed again now.

Ecuador’s biodiversity hot spots have to move or perish. They are a key part of this small nation’s wealth and will vanish unless leaders take a major change of course.

There are solid reasons to believe that conservation investments in the western Amazon’s super biodiverse forests would have a large payback in other ways as well.

Ecuador has huge biotechnology opportunities. It’s been reported that more than 120 prescription drugs sold worldwide and more than two thirds of all plants found to have cancer fighting properties come from the rainforest.

On the hot topic of biomimicry, where manufactured products mimic natural biological entities and processes, Greenbiz says that “Nature’s 4-billion-year-old R&D lab offers a bottomless treasure-trove of energy efficient, low-toxic and time-tested innovations.”  Ecuador’s rainforests have much to offer if they are protected now.

The fast-growing international adventure tourism market offers Ecuador another great opportunity. (The subject of the next article in this series.) Costa Rica and Peru have been extremely successful in creating economies based on ecotourism. Ecuador has indigenous cultures and fantastic landscapes that can easily compete with these successes if protected.

As more and more ecosystems around the world are fragmented into total collapse or just boldly exterminated, governments that respond to the extinction crisis and make real positive change will bring great wealth to their people. It’s now time to stop choosing environmental destruction resulting in great riches for the few and poverty for the many. If Ecuador chooses to focus on biodiversity, biotechnology and ecotourism, it will be a much richer nation – but this window of opportunity is closing fast.

The overall biodiversity that could be maintained between the Amazon flatlands and the high volcanic peaks of the Andes is more than 10,000 times that of the Galapagos Islands. The natural wealth of Ecuador’s rainforests and its global reputation for biodiversity can be used to create a second major attraction that weans it from its dependence on mining and oil. There is no better move for the country to make and it must be made now.

In the next article we will look at Ecuador’s big opportunity in the global adventure tourism market


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