Biodiversity loss is one of the biggest challenges nature faces. In the context of examining man-made changes in the environment, scientists studied flora and fauna in Ecuador. Llanganates, the Cloud Forest and Finca Palmonte gave them valuable insights. They discussed their findings in a meeting with local professors.
Anthropogenic impact on biodiversity and landscape change
Humans put their mark on planet earth. Greenhouse gas emissions, plastic pollution and biodiversity loss are our footprints in the world. That is the topic of the Expedition Anthropocene: Six German scientists from Die Junge Akademie came to Ecuador in order to research the human’s impact on its environment. Apart from studying the glacier retreat and climate change in Ecuador the team also addressed the country’s biodiversity and landscape change.
Biologist Christian Hof wants to find out how biodiversity differs between anthropogenic and natural places at different altitudes. Due to its wide variety of flora and fauna and its different levels of height Ecuador is the perfect location for this research. Additionally, the scientists want to see how humans changed the landscape. Therefore, the team went to one of the most impressive locations of Ecuador: The Llanganates national park.
The Llanganates national park
A sense of mystery and adventure encases the Llanganates national park. On one hand that’s because of its inaccessible terrain. It consists of forests and moorlands. Fog often veils the scenery. On the other hand it’s because a legend tells that the Incas hid a huge treasure of gold and silver artifacts in Llanganates. It says that the Inca general Rumiñahui wanted to use the riches to ransom his king Atahualpa. However, he concealed the treasure after hearing that Atahualpa was killed. Lots of adventurers who came to Llanganates filled with hope to find the treasure eventually got lost in the confusing topography.
The real treasure of Llanganates is probably its magic scenery and biodiversity. The vegetated mountainous landscape is the habitat of various plants and animals. In Llanganates you feel like you are in another world.
Llanganates is divided into two zones: western and eastern. The western zone is a deserted landscape with mountains and high valleys. The eastern one is known for its rich biodiversity. However, this area is very hard to access. That’s the reason why the biodiversity of Llanganates has been studied very little.
Research in Llanganates
Medical doctor Martin-Immanuel Bittner performs a qualitative study regarding the local population’s perception of climate and climate change. In this context, he conducted a range of interviews with inhabitants of the Llanganates area, including a ranger of the national park. In addition, Christian Hof observed the birds of the reservoir together with the Ecuadorian ornithologist Carlos Díaz. They were able to spot some interesting species. The conservation rules in Llanganates are very strict. Nevertheless, nature suffers from illegal wildlife hunting, extraction of timber and progressing agriculture. As a result, the group saw radical changes in the landscape. A big part of the terrain that is naturally occupied by woods was transformed for farming.
The scientists also visited another part of Llanganates: The Cloud Forest. This jungle in Ecuador is known for its huge biodiversity. Although the Cloud Forest occupies only a tiny part of the world’s surface, it’s the habitat of a big proportion of all existing bird species. Where does that diversity come from? First, from the climatic conditions in Ecuador. Second, the jungle stands on a slope. That allows the sunrays to come deeper into the forest and support a larger variety of life forms. For biologist and bird expert Christian Hof the Cloud Forest was ideal to study Ecuador’s diverse flora and fauna.
Cooperation with local university
An important part of scientific progress is the exchange of knowledge with other experts. That’s why the members from Expedition Anthropocene met professors from their official partner: The Universidad Estatal Amazónica in Puyo. Together with Andean Summit Adventure the university organized the application for the national park permits.
Moreover, it supported the expedition team by sharing their research and understanding of Ecuador’s environment. At a meeting at the hotel La Chimenea in Baños de Agua Santa the scientists talked about several topics. Some of them were the observed glacier retreat of Chimborazo, immense plastic usage and the resulting pollution and Ecuador’s biodiversity. Besides, they discussed further collaboration for the interpretation of the collected data.
In addition, the expedition team also met researches from the Universidad Católica del Ecuador and Universidad San Francisco de Quito to discuss their observations. As a result, the close collaboration will allow the scientists to put their findings on climate and land-use change in a wider context.
Investigations at Finca Palmonte
Even after having seen the incredible nature of Llanganates and the Cloud Forest, the Finca Palmonte in the CELS (Corridor Ecológico Llanganates Sangay) impressed the scientists. The name “Palmonte” is derived from the palm trees and mountains that surround the finca. This isolated place in the middle of nowhere was perfect for the expedition´s research.
The team studied colorful butterflies, birds, orchids and interesting insects. Moreover, they spoke to Fausto Recalde from the EcoMinga Foundation about how climate change affects the Candelaria Reserve. Besides, Dirk Pflüger used the opportunity to take panoramic photos in order to analyse the different forms of landscape.
Humans and the environment
Humans are a strange species. We exist on this planet for a relatively short amount of time. Nonetheless, we dramatically changed the world. That presents nature with heavy challenges. As our lives are embedded into the environment, we depend on it. Thus, it’s in our best interest to conserve it.
The Expedition Anthropocene did a lot of research in Ecuador. Packed with glacier samples, photos from flora and fauna, answers from the interviews and good relationships to local professors the team of scientists returns to Germany. Back home the analysis of the collected data starts. Being aware of the importance that the environment has for us, Andean Summit Adventure hopes that the results from Expedition Anthropocene help in the process of protecting nature.
All Photos: © Die Junge Akademie – Expedition Team