Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Ecosystem Services in Cerro Candelaria, Ecuador

Site location and ownership

The Fundación EcoMinga Cerro Candelaria Reserve occupies a 2,750 hectare area in a gap between two large national parks, Sangay to the south, and Los Lianganates to the north, on the Eastern Andes in Central Ecuador in the province of Tungurahua.

Fundación EcoMinga is based in Baños, Ecuador, close to the Cerro Candelaria Reserve. The organisation’s aim is to preserve biodiversity in Ecuador by a mixture of innovative and traditional approaches. It works closely with local communities and international tourists to raise awareness about the value of Ecuador’s biodiversity.

Biodiversity value

Cerro Candelaria supports both cloud forest and páramo, a high-elevation alpine grassland habitat.

The area is a rich centre for plant endemism, with over 190 plants found nowhere else on Earth. New species continue to be discoverered. A new orchid found at Cerro Candelaria has flowers measuring just over 2mm, making it the world’s smallest orchid.

In recent years, Fundación EcoMinga biologists have uncovered one of the most spectacular plant radiations in South America at Cerro Candelaria, in the Teagueia orchid genus. Prior to this discovery, just six species of this genus were known world-wide.

Field workers have now discovered 28 orchid species new to science on four neighbouring mountains in the Upper Pastaza watershed, 16 of which were found within the Cerro Candelaria reserve, at elevations ranging between 3100 – 3800m.

It is not just plants that make the region important, it is also home to a wide variety of birds and animals such as the Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) classified as vulnerable and endangered by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Conservation action

Many land parcels here have previously been farmed and therefore WLT and Fundación EcoMinga are working together to protect standing forest and reforest degraded agricultural land around the Cerro Candelaria Reserve. The Ecosystem Services Team has supported work at Cerro Candelaria through both its Carbon Balanced and Reforestation programmes, described below.

Carbon Balanced Programme

Carbon Balanced activities at Cerro Candelaria are supported by specialist birdwatching, botanical and natural history holiday operator Naturetrek. Since 2007, Naturetrek has been making contributions to the Carbon Balanced programme which are going some way towards offsetting the carbon dioxide emissions of its customers’ and staffs’ flights.

WLT reforestation programme

During 2008 – 2009 Fundación EcoMinga carried out a small pilot at the Cerro Candelaria Reserve to determine the best approach to reforstation. Following the success of this trial Fundación Ecominga was contracted by WLT over 2009 and 2010 to establish 5,000 trees on 5 hectares of abandoned pastures.

The abandoned pastures were dominated by invasive African grasses and bamboo and it was essential to reduce these aggressive plants before attempting to reforest the area. Work began in April 2009 to remove these grasses.

Due to the remote location of the planting sites, Fundación EcoMinga did not create a nursery, preferring instead to collect native tree seedlings from the surrounding forest.

Around 30 different species were collected and a special effort is made to include trees such as Zapoteca aculeata, an endemic to Baños.

Trees favoured by frugivorous birds such as Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (Rupicola peruviana) were included. Collected seedlings were planted in plastic bags and filled with local soil before being placed in the shade on the forest edge. Periodic weeding around each sapling reduces competition and ensures they get off to a good start.

Community benefits

The neighbouring community are strongly supportive of this project and some adjacent landowners have started planting ‘bird pastures’ (hillsides covered with trees for nectar feeding birds and fruit eating tanagers) to attract birds, and also in order to show visitors the wildlife of the area.

The reserve falls within the Upper Pastaza Watershed, which is important for water security in the province of Tungurahua.

The future

Together with other EcoMinga reserves, the plan is, ultimately, to create a corridor of protected forest habitat between the northern and southern ranges of the eastern Andes, ensuring that wildlife can continue to move between these larger forest tracts. This is very important as many species, especially large mammals, require large areas to live.

Limited infrastructure is being provided, with future plans including development of a trail and basic cabins.

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