Ecuador’s Fragile Páramo Ecosystem Threatened by Climate Change

The “páramos” or high plateaus of Ecuador, a crucial source of water, are showing signs of extreme fragility and a troubling loss of capacity to conserve this vital resource and sustain the survival of numerous species found nowhere else on earth.

The páramo is a high mountain ecosystem situated between 3,200 and 4,200 metres above sea level, and one of the most vulnerable in Ecuador. The threats that it faces are the result of climate change, deforestation and changes in land use.

The jambato toad (Atelopus ignescens) has already disappeared from the páramos, and there are fears for the survival of various species of mammals.

These high plains grasslands function like a sponge, absorbing and storing large volumes of freshwater which are then released continuously and gradually, feeding river systems and preventing abrupt variations in their flow.

But the páramo ecosystem has a limited capacity for recovering its original structure and biodiversity once these are altered, warned the founder of the non-profit scientific organisation EcoCiencia, Patricio Mena.

The páramos are disappearing and vital water resources are being absorbed by the highly permeable volcanic soils beneath them.

One particularly delicate issue is that of oil exploration and drilling in the páramos. This is why it is crucial to “preserve these ecosystems in light of their water and energy resources and biodiversity, above and beyond economic and political interests”.

The páramos supply water to indigenous communities and large cities alike. “Quito depends almost 100 percent on the water produced and stored in the surrounding páramos”.

A study conducted as part of the Andean Páramo Project (PPA) found that these high plateau ecosystems are found in 18 of Ecuador’s 24 provinces. The most important are those of Napo, in north-central Ecuador, and Azuay and Morona-Santiago, in the south.

Source: Leisa Sanchéz | IPS News