A spatial analysis to strategize wildlife corridors in coastal Ecuador
Coastal Ecuador, a biodiversity hotspot, has experienced upwards of 96% deforestation in the past few decades. The severe loss of forest habitat has led to the critically endangered status of species like the endemic Ecuadorian White-Fronted Capuchin. IUCN NL assisted its partner Third Millennium Alliance (TMA) with GIS research to prioritize conservation and restauration of areas along a spatially modelled wildlife migration corridor in order to increase species’ recovery and long-term survival.
Large-scale deforestation of forested lands in the tropics leave many landscapes with only minor isolated remnants of what were vast undisturbed forests only decades ago. One such landscape is found in the northern Manabí province of Ecuador, which spans from the highly biodiverse Ecuadorian Chocó forests in the North to the coastal dry forests in the South. The area is also home to the critically endangered monkey ‘White-Fronted Ecuadorian Capuchin’ (Cebus aequatorialis).
While the Ecuadorian Andes and Amazon rightfully receive a lot of attention and financial support for nature conservation, the coastal region of Ecuador is severely underfunded and remains largely unprotected. This poses a serious threat to the unique ecological niche this region serves at the transition zone from the highly biodiverse Ecuadorian Chocó forests in the North to the coastal dry forests in the South.
The lack of attention to the biodiversity in this study area has resulted in widespread deforestation, fragmentation of the landscape, and an almost total lack of knowledge concerning the remaining biodiversity, forest quality and wildlife migration opportunities. Leaving the remaining forest patches isolated would make the area inhabitable for various species, including the White-Fronted Ecuadorian Capuchin, which could eventually lead to their extinction.
In order to increase the habitat for the White-Fronted Ecuadorian Capuchin, it was needed to identify land areas within the landscape that could function as a suitable wildlife migration corridor. However, up-to-date spatial population data of the monkey has been lacking.
To get more information, IUCN NL collaborated with TMA to use satellite imagery to create a highly detailed land cover map that showed suitable habitats for the monkey species. As a trusted and effective partner of the IUCN NL land acquisition fund, TMA provided the necessary local expertise and field information to verify and complement the technical analysis.
Together with weighted dynamic parameters, such as ecological pressure factors, conservation priorities, deforestation risk and projected climate change, these spatial data formed the basis for a predictive model to calculate the most suitable linear wildlife migration corridor through the study area.
Based on the analysis of all variables, a wildlife migration corridor was calculated from the South to the North of the study area, resulting in a 100km connection. The combined analyses clearly show there potential for conservation success in the North of the study area by reconnecting the three principal reserves in the region (Jama-Coaque, Pata de Pajaro, and Mache-Chindul). This particular area shows lower levels of fragmentation and fewer roads, and better preserved forest than the South of the study area.
The calculated corridor and land cover maps are now being used by TMA to strategize and plan their future conservation activities, including land purchase and reforestation activities aimed at protecting habitat and building connectivity for a diverse set of threatened species that live in the landscape.
The insights gained from this study will also be used to inspire other local actors to improve their conservation strategies through GIS analysis, which will hopefully lead to more conservation outcomes.