FOR816 Biodiversity and Sustainable Management of a Megadiverse Mountain Ecosystem in South Ecuador
Speaker of the research unit:
Project description: The Andes of Ecuador are considered one of the "hottest" hotspots of vascular plant biodiversity worldwide (Brummitt and Lughada 2003, Barthlott et al. 2005, Jørgenson and Ulloa Ulloa1994) while at the same time the country suffers the highest annual rate (4%) of deforestation in South America (Miller 1998). Forest clearing for conversion to agricultural land is the main threat to Ecuador’s biodiversity. Mainly due to the use of fire as an agricultural tool, the gained areas, mainly pastures, cannot be used sustainably as they are overgrown by persistent weeds like the bracken fern (Pteridium arachnoideum, Hartig and Beck 2003). Reforestation and repastorization of the abandoned agricultural areas must therefore become central elements of a sustainable development strategy for the country. Because of a lack of knowledge (and indigenous material), reforestation efforts that have been and still are financially supported by international organizations and mainly rely on monocultures of exotic tree species have shown only temporary and, at best, moderate success. In this situation, the livelihood of settlers (colonos) is endangered while the (illegal) destruction of natural forests continues. Land use strategies for the protection and sustainable use of the remaining natural forests and for the regeneration of abandoned areas by reforestation with indigenous tree species or by repastorization must consider the ecological situation of the particular area. Environmentally adjusted measures will contribute to rehabilitate and sustain the extraordinary biodiversity of the Ecuadorian Andes. As indicated above, the design of sustainable strategies and effective measures requires a profound knowledge of the relevant ecosystem and of its human users. The planned Research Unit (RU) endeavors to generate this knowledge for a specified area in South Ecuador (the San Francisco Valley) and to make it available in an appropriate form. The research into the natural ecosystem, a tropical mountain rain forest and its anthropogenic replacement systems already starts from a high level of basic knowledge.