COS 10-6
A student-driven research partnership for building neotropical conservation capacity, centered on the Podocarpus region of Southern Ecuador

Monday, August 5, 2013: 3:20 PM
L100A, Minneapolis Convention Center
David Roon, Ecology and Conservation Biology, University of Idaho
Lisette Waits, Fish and Wildlife Sciences, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
Janet Rachlow, Department of Fish and Wildlife, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
Frank Wilhelm, Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID
David Tank, Forest and Rangeland Sciences, University of Idaho
Sandra Pinel, Conservation Social Science, University of Idaho
Rodrigo Cisneros, Biological Sciences, Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Loja, Ecuador
Fausto Lopez, Biological Sciences, Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Loja, Ecuador
Veronica Iniguez-Gallardo, Biological Sciences, Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Loja, Ecuador
Carlos Espinoza, Biological Sciences, Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Loja, Ecuador
Carlos Iñiguez Armijos, Biological Sciences, Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja, Loja, Ecuador
Ecuador is one of the world’s megabiodiverse countries, with a dynamic culture rooted in a vibrant range of indigenous communities. As with many neotropical countries, Ecuador’s natural and human heritage is threatened by processes ranging from land conversion to climate change. These threats are exacerbated by a lack of basic data about many systems and taxa within Ecuador, coupled with limited in-country research capacity. Although the Ecuadorian government is working proactively to rectify this deficiency, partnerships with international collaborators will be key, especially in the short term. We describe success and challenges related to a National Science Foundation funded partnership between the University of Idaho (UI) and the Universidad Tecnica Particular de Loja (UTPL), dedicated to building conservation research and educational capacity at both institutions, but focused on UTPL’s evolution towards international status as a center for research in conservation biology. Regionally, the collaboration is focused on promoting conservation through partnerships with regional indigenous groups (the Shuar and Saraguro, as two examples), with a particular focus on threats to ecosystem integrity within the páramo, a high altitude, shrub-steppe community with a complex hydrology, increasing human encroachment, and high levels of threat from climate change.

Since 2011, 24 students from UI (18 undergraduates, 6 graduates) have travelled to UTPL to conduct summer research. These students have worked in interdisciplinary teams with ten UTPL faculty and ten UI faculty on three areas of investigation: population ecology and genetics of plants and animals in the Southern Ecuadorian páramo, ecology and hydrology of páramo watersheds, and stakeholder attitudes towards conservation in communities ecologically linked with Podocarpus National Park and surrounding region. This collaborative effort will enhance progressive management of a linked system of parks, protected areas, and multi-use regions in Southern Ecuador, and will directly contribute to conservation education and capacity building at both UI and UTPL. We have successfully formed partnerships with regional indigenous stakeholders- some of our collaborative results include an ecological profiling of an undisturbed stream within a Shuar reservation and a comprehensive survey of public-lands attitudes within a Saraguro-dominated community. We will describe a range of clear challenges to such collaborations (ranging from overlapping land tenure designations to limited baseline biological information), but will also highlight the importance of such efforts to research capacity building and landscape-scale conservation in Ecuador.