Ecuador, A Biodiversity Laboratory

Geography and Climate

Located in the north-west of South America, Ecuador shares borders with Colombia (north), Peru (south and east) and the Pacific Ocean (west). Its area is 283,561 km2, and the country receives its name from the equatorial line that goes through its territory. The Andes mountain range runs along Ecuador from north to south, and gives rise to the three natural regions in continental Ecuador: the Coast, the Sierra (the Highlands) and the Amazon. Within 1,369 km from the Ecuadorian coast we encounter the Galapagos Islands1.

Inherent factors, such as geography and location, influence the climate in Ecuador. The difference in altitude throughout the country produces temperature variations ranging from 0 to 26 °C. From the month of July, the Humboldt cool water current inaugurates the dry season in the Coastal region. In the month of January, the El Niño warm water current laps the shores of the country, and the warm, humid season begins. The mountains influence the rain levels and climate, which results in the creation of areas like the icy “paramos” (wastelands) and desert lands. Given its location right on the equatorial line means Ecuador receives 12 hours of daylight throughout the entire year 2.

Biodiversity: Flora, Fauna and Genetic Resources

The biodiversity found per square kilometer in the Ecuadorian territory, in proportion to its size, makes of this area the most megadiverse on the face of the Earth. There are 91 ecosystems in continental Ecuador; 24 of those belong to the Coastal region, 45 to the Sierra and 22 to the Amazon. Additionally, there are 21 marine ecosystems3.

18,198 plant species have been recorded, where 17,748 are native species. Ecuador is home to 7.6% of all vascular plants that are known on the planet. Most plant species are grass species followed only by the epiphytical kind. 1,300 fern species are found as well as 134 palm and 4,300 orchid species4.

In regard to the fauna, calculations show that there are 4,801 vertebrate species, 833 saltwater and 951 freshwater fish species; 540 amphibian species; 432 reptile species; 1,642 bird species and 403 mammal species. There are only approximate numbers regarding invertebrate species. Just in the Yasuni National Park alone, there is an average of 100,000 arthropod species per hectare. The variety of butterflies exceeds 4,000 species5.

The biological diversity of the country is reflected in its genetic richness as well. Further research should be carried out in this field, where only a small portion of its potential has been exploited to improve only a few species for agricultural ends. However, there is very little known about the genetic resources of wild fauna and flora6.

Cultural Diversity and Ancient Techniques of Land Management

Ecuador’s cultural diversity is represented by its native languages, ethnic groups and Pre-Columbian cultures. 77.4% of the Ecuadorian population is of mestizo origin, influenced by both indigenous and European cultures. Furthermore, 13 indigenous nationalities have been recognized, along with the montubios (farmers of mestizo origin living on the coast) and Afro-descendant peoples 7.

The legacy of these people can also be found in the ancient knowledge of land management, such as: terraces or agricultural platforms8 (the purpose of this technique guarantees that soil nutrients are not washed away by rain); ridges (canals are dug out, and the removed soil is used to build “beds” above ground level to plant crops9); chacras10 (people from the Amazon cultivate diversified species in the same area, like native trees, bushes and pasture for cattle) and the lunar calendar11 (ancient knowledge about the influence of the moon on the growing of crops and harvests).

1 Varela, L. A., Ron, S. R. 2018. Geografía y clima del Ecuador. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. Access on 10.012021 2 Id.
3 Ministerio de Ambiente. 2015. Quinto Informe Nacional para el Convenio sobre la Diversidad Biológica. Quito, Ecuador. pp. 30 – 63
4 Id.5 Id.6 Id.
7 Foros Ecuador. 2019. diversidad-cultural-del-ecuador-%C2%BFqu%C3%A9-es-definici%C3%B3n-y-ejemplos. Access on 05.02.2021
8 Ministerio de Educación. 2011. Prácticas Agrícolas. content/uploads/downloads/2013/05/Sociales_6.pdf. pp. 12-19. Access on 03.02.2021
9 Id.10 Id.11 Id.