Where We Work

The Tropical Andes host exceptionally high levels of diversity and endemism (species which occur there and nowhere else). They also support culturally diverse human populations which often depend upon natural resources for their livelihood.

As a consequence, there is often a tension between socio-economic development and conservation of diversity and natural resources. FCAT works at this intersection, with a focus on the western slope of the Andes, which forms part of the Chocó bioregion.


Chocó Biogeographic Zone


The Chocó contains 100,000 km2 superhumid rainforest in southern Panama, western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. Running between the Pacific Ocean to the West and the cordillera of the Andes mountains to the East, it receives extraordinary levels of rainfall and humidity. The Andes cordillera and deserts to the South separate the Chocó from the rest of South America. This has led to extreme levels of endemism (when a species occurs only in one area and nowhere else on the planet). This endemism is coupled with exceptional levels of biodiversity and habitat loss by a population with few viable alternatives to habitat destruction. For these reasons, the Chocó is an internationally recognized conservation priority.

Choco

The Ecuadorian Chocó is restricted to the northwestern portion of the country. As one moves southward, the Chocó grades into the drier Tumbasian Biogeographic Zone, which is also extremely rich biologically. Ecuador’s Chocó region is relatively densely populated and has come under strong pressure in recent years from road building and land clearing for agriculture (banana, oil palm, cacao, cattle, and subsistence crops). The Ecuadorian Chocó is currently protected by four major reserves which struggle with enforcement because of limited resources.


Mache Chindul Reserve (REMACH)


We work throughout the Chocó, but the focus of our efforts is the Mache-Chindul Reserve, Bilsa BiologicalStation, run by our partners Jatun Sacha Foundation, and surrounding areas. REMACH is the second largest protected area in northwest Ecuador, and it has been designated an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International. Although established as an ‘Absolute Reserve’ by the Ecuadorian government, REMACH contains a large human population that contributes to ongoing deforestation and defaunation. Much of FCAT’s work is focused on building capacity and empowering thislocal human population to achieve wise stewardship of its natural resources.

REMACH is located in the southwest portion of Esmeraldas province and northern portion of Manabí province,northwest Ecuador. This area straddles the equator and is bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the West,where the cold Peruvian current from the South and warm Equatorial counter current from the North meet, and by the Andes cordillera to the East. These geographical and oceanographic features are responsible for abrupt changes in rainfall and temperature along both latitudinal (i.e., North-South) and altitudinal (i.e., East-West) gradients. These conditions, in combination with significant barriers to dispersal in historical and contemporary times, are associated with exceptional diversity and endemism in birds and other organisms.

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REMACH, which was created in 1996 with an area of 119,172 ha, represents the northernmost extent of an isolated, coastal mountainchain that begins approximately 250 km to the South in the provinces of Santa Elena and Guayas. The reserve extends from 0–800 m a.s.l. and is bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the West and, to the East, by a plain approximately 50 km wide which separates REMACH from the Andes proper. Average annual rainfall in the reserve ranges from 2–3.5 m per year, with the majority occurring January–May; the dry season extends from October–December and is marked by cloudy and misty conditions. Rainfall is highest in the most elevated portions of the reserve, and also in the northern, Chocóan portions of the reserve. The most common habitat types are humid and sub-humid evergreen forest. Dominant tree families include Arecaceae, Lauraceae, Rubiaceae, Myristicaceae, and Moraceae, and canopy height of primaryforest is typically 30–40 m.

The habitat in REMACH is a mix of pristine and secondary forest fragments with agricultural lands, with the proportion of agricultural lands increasing rapidly over the past 30 years. REMACH contains approximately 6,500 human inhabitants living in50 communities of mestizo, Afro-Ecuadorian, or indigenous (Chachi, Awa) descent separated by forest fragments of varying size and isolation. Mestizos and Afro-Ecuadorians typically work 20–50 ha farms with approximately two-thirds of the land under agriculture (cacao, pasture for cattle, corn, beans, rice, plantain, and African oil palm are the principal crops) and one-third consisting of primary or secondary forest; indigenous groups subsist primarily from hunting and timber extraction.

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Bilsa Biological Station, a private reserve of 3,500 ha established in 1994 and operated by Fundacion Jatun Sacha, is the largest contiguoustract of forest remaining in REMACH. Bilsa is approximately two-thirds primary forest and one-third secondary forest, regenerating 15–25 years. It is located at the eastern border of REMACH, approximately in the center of the Reserve, near the border of Esmeraldas and Manabí provinces, and contains the highest point in the reserve. Outside of Bilsa, other forest fragments of varying size and quality, up to approximately 500 ha in size, are scattered through out the reserve.