Saving threatened habitats worldwide

Ecosystem Services in Laipuna, Ecuador

View of Laipuna Reserve

Site location and ownership

Laipuna lies within the Tumbesian region of lowland forest in northern Peru and western Ecuador between the Pacific Ocean and the foothills of the Andes.

Laipuna Reserve is located 150 kilometres southwest from Loja city in Macara County, in southern Ecuador.

The reserve protects approximately 5,200 acres (2,100 hectares) of deciduous dry forest located at the upper part of the Catamayo Canyon.

Laipuna is part of a larger area of some 247,100 acres (100,000 hectares) of well conserved dry forest located in south Ecuador and Northwest Peru. It is one of the largest and best conserved remnants of this kind of forest.

Since 2002 the reserve has been owned and managed for conservation and research by Naturaleza y Cultura Ecuador (NCEcuador), one of the Ecuadorian conservation partners of World Land Trust (WLT).

Biodiversity value

Laipuna lies in the rain‐shadow of the Andes with low annual rainfall, seldom more than 500 mm per year, but concentrated in January‐February. This cycle of extreme aridity punctuated by a short, intense wet season has produced a very special tropical dry forest composition. Above, to demonstrate the contrast between seasons, are two views of Laipuna Reserve, one after the rainy season (top) and the other during the dry season.

Land in the reserve ranges widely from 480 to 1,500 metres above sea level.

The reserve’s geophysical situation allows for the gradual flow of species and genes between the Pacific Coastal forests and those of the Andean Amazonian slopes to the east. This gradual mixing of flora and fauna over time influences the character of the native Tumbesian Dry Forests, resulting in the evolution of a more diverse variant of dry forest than found elsewhere across the Tumbes region.

So, although not a classic example of dry forest, it is nonetheless exceptionally interesting for biodiversity. 

The Catamayo Canyon is classified by Birdlife International as an Important Bird Area, and is home to 14 bird species on IUCN’s Red List of threatened species including Grey-cheeked Parakeet (Brotogeris pyrrhopterus) and Blackish-headed Spinetail (Sinallaxis tithys).

The reserve is home to 55 endemic birds in total, and protects populations of Rufous-headed Chachalaca (Ortalis erytrhoptera), Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner (Hylocryptus erytrhocephalus) and Rufous-necked Foliage-gleaner (Syndactyla ruficollis).

Mammals recorded include White-necked Peccary (Tayassu tajacu), White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Puma (Puma concolor) and Neotropical River Otter (Lontra longicaudis).

An endemic subspecies of Boa Constrictor, which is highly threatened, is also present in the reserve.

Since 2003 NCEcuador researchers have being monitoring the growth and seed production of 13 tree species with a view to furthering knowledge about the ecosystem and ways to promote the restoration of degraded areas.

Conservation action

Following a long history of human cultivation and exploitation just 1 per cent of the original forest cover survives. Traditionally, the area has been occupied by small holders cultivating land in the Rio Catamayo valley to feed their families. However, in recent years, due to fluctuations in global food prices, it has become economic to clear areas of dry forest on sloping land away from the valley bottom to produce maize for local markets. The forest has also been to some extent degraded by small holder cattle grazing.

In the face of these pressures, WLT has been working with NCEcuador to purchase and enlarge key forest sites in the Tumbesian lowlands.

Carbon Balanced Programme

In early 2012, NCEcuador identified 670 acres (271 hectares) of privately owned land neighbouring the pre-existing reserve boundaries. A mix of well-preserved mature forest, lesser areas of degraded forest and 22 acres (9 hectares) of previously cleared arable land, this site was at risk of sale for conversion to corn cultivation. NCEcuador staff used their close relationships with local land owners to intervene and eventually negotiate sale of the property for incorporation into Laipuna Reserve. 

This action was funded through WLT’s Carbon Balanced programme. The site has now been fenced, and a conservation management regime put in place.

By preventing future deforestation and by creating conditions for degraded forest and pre-existing cultivated areas to recover, NCEcuador’s actions reduce future greenhouse gas emissions and will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as vegetation grows. These emissions reductions and removals will mitigate unavoidable emissions by corporate supporters of the Carbon Balanced programme.

Community benefits

NCEcuador has developed good relations with local farmers and residents in the area purchased with funds from WLT's Carbon Balanced programme. Through dialogue and consultation it has become clear that locals are reluctant to clear forest, but that economic pressure is driving them to do so. With NCEcuador's support the farmers have started a conservation group to sustainably manage areas of forest outside the reserve, which is relieving pressure on forest inside the reserve.

The future

Future plans for Laipuna Reserve include expanding the existing scientific and educational facilities to increase understanding of the native biodiversity and to engage further with local communities to ensure the reserve's protection.

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