Reaching from the southeastern portion of Mesoamerica to the northwestern corner of South America, the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena biodiversity hotspot encompasses the western coastal flank of the Andes mountains. One of the most well-known features of this hotspot are the Galapagos Islands, 13 islands along the equator off the coast of Ecuador.
This hotspot hosts a rich variety of habitats, including mangroves, beaches, rocky shorelines and coastal wilderness. It also contains the world’s wettest rain forests, as well as South America’s only remaining coastal dry forests.
Small mountain systems punctuate this otherwise flat coastal region all of which contain species which are found nowhere else, contributing to the hotspot’s incredible biodiversity.
This combination of flat coastal plains interspersed with small mountain ranges, has fostered the development of unique species making this one of the most biologically diverse regions of the planet. For example, 25 percent or 2,750 of the plants found here are found nowhere else.
The region boasts and impressive diversity of birds with almost 900 regularly occurring species, 112 of which occur nowhere else.
283 species of mammals reside here with 10 known only to this region. Three types of spider monkeys, and variety of tamarins dot the forest canopies, and a fur seal known only to the Galapagos makes its home on the islands shores.
The colorful but toxic poison arrow or dart frogs are known in this area, and one of the 204 species of amphibians. The Galapagos marine iguana is a rare example of the 325 reptile species in this hotspot.
Today, only 24 percent of the hotspot’s original habitat remains in pristine condition, much of that in the Colombian Chocó and parts of the Darién. Threats to the region include slash-and-burn for large and small scale agriculture, hunting for bushmeat as well as poaching of some of the larger mammal and bird species, cutting of trees for fuel wood and timber, development and construction of roads, dams, and canals both proposed and current is creating extensive habitat fragmentation and subsequent loss.
Ecuador’s portion of the hotspot is under the greatest pressure with only 2% of its forests intact and shrimp agriculture damaging coastal mangroves. Panama and Colombia on the other hand retain the greatest portions of their hotspots.
The area has long been recognized as a top priority for global conservation which has led to a wide variety of conservation projects and involvement of international conservation groups. One effort is the Chocó-Manabí biodiversity conservation corridor, which spans more than 60,000 square kilometers in Colombia and Ecuador. Most of the region’s intact forests are located in the Colombian Chocó and parts of Panama’s Darién Province. The Chocó region is globally recognized as one of the world’s most important zones for the conservation of biological and cultural resources. The vast majority of the Galapagos Islands are recognized as World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve.
Other initiatives include community-supported conservation, purchasing of logging rights, and sustainable development of forest products for community income.
Header photo courtesy of Christian Ziegler. [CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Map courtesy of http://www.cepf.net/resources/maps/Pages/default.aspx