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Flora & Fauna

Located in the foothills of the Andes, between the lowland Amazon basin and the towering Llanganates mountains, Sumak Kawsay In Situ is perfectly situated for studies involving animals and plants. 

During the last ice age large amounts of water was locked up in glaciers at the poles, sea levels were lower, and much of the Amazon was transformed into tropical savanna. With the changing environment, many plant and animal species became extinct. However, diversity remained high in the region along the lower eastern slopes of the Andes, one area that did not experience significant drought. This area experienced (and continues to experience) a heavy rain shadow effect, a climatic phenomenon in which atmospheric moisture moving across the lowlands encounters mountains, stalling the weather movement and causing the moisture to precipitate and fall.

Due to this effect, in conjunction with being situated on the equator, the upper Amazon is the most biodiverse place on earth!

 However, there are many other factors at play leading to the rise of such immense biodiversity. The Río Anzu region, in particular, is characterized by a high endemism of plants, much of which can be attributed to the area’s unique geology. Limestone cliffs, underground rivers, and deep caverns infiltrate the landscape, contributing to its rugged and exceptional composition. Many interesting plant species have evolved to live on these limestone features. A rare genus of orchid, named Quechua, was recently discovered in the gorged out river basin.

Another beautiful species of orchid, the lady slipper orchid (Phragmipedium pearcei), can be commonly seen growing on the rock outcroppings that line the Río Anzu. Growing on these same rocks, a rare species of liverwort in the genus Fossombronia was recently discovered. 

Some 50 species of endemic plants (found nowhere else in the world) are present in this region! Furthermore, there are surely many more undiscovered endemics and rare species, as this area has yet to be studied closely, particularly along the cliff faces and in the forest canopy.

 New species of animals continue to be discovered in the region as well. A stunning new species of Hylid frog was recently found in the mountains to the east of the Anzu. Additionally, while on a three month expedition at SKIS and in the surrounding areas a team of scientists in the company of our research director, Alex Bentley, found several frogs of the genus Pristimantis which may be new species.

During those three months, the team documented 40 species of frogs (385 individuals), 2 species of caecilians (5 individuals), 7 species of lizards (94 individuals), and 14 species of snakes (49 individuals). This area of Ecuador is thought to have the greatest diversity of Pristimantis frogs in the world. The exact number of Pristimantis species is not known, however 205 species are documented in Ecuador alone!

Although the Herpetofauna at SKIS is more than enough to occupy one’s time and scientific efforts, many other fascinating and little understood animals call this area home. From Jaguars to Neotropical River Otters and Anteaters, a diversity of mammals have been observed around SKIS. Using motion activated camera traps we’ve been able to document cryptic mammals and species that were previously not known to inhabit the area. 

Ecuador has over 1600 species of birds, many of which live in the upper Amazon. Because this region is geographically and altitudinally situated in between the lowlands and mountains, species from both ecosystems converge in the foothills. This phenomenon is particularly apparent in birds, which are more mobile across large areas than many other taxon. At SKIS you can observed birds, like Macaws and Toucans, that come up from the Amazon basin. Meanwhile you can also see Eagles and Owls, which are typically found at higher elevations. Furthermore, this is an important wintering region for many birds that migrate along the pacific flyway!

Other critters, such as insects, abound in the rivers, tree tops, and rocks around SKIS. Millions of insect species are native to this region, and scientists assert that only a fraction of the total diversity has been documented. Although much of the jungle around the Anzu has been traversed by humans at some point, scientifically the region remains largely unscrutinized and unknown.

Because of the Río Anzu region’s unique geology, climate, altitude, geographic location, and ecology, there is truly nowhere else on earth like it!

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