While descending from the Andes into the warm, moist Pacific air that forms a near-constant blanket of mist over Western Ecuador, our view of the surrounding country was completely nonexistent. It probably comes as no surprise that the North-Western coast of Ecuador (commonly known as the Chocó region, which stretches north, far into Colombia) is one of the wettest regions on Earth.
In order to reach our eventual destination (the Jocotoco Conservation Foundation’s reserve at Canandé) required an 8-hour 4×4 journey along winding, bumpy dirt roads and across several rivers. During this drive the level of human destruction is obvious on Ecuador’s Chocó; the flat, fertile land is incredibly tempting to anyone wanting to farm cash crops such as Oil Palm, for those who wish to mine it, and especially for those who want to extract timber from the ancient forests. Well under 10% of this forest remains, which is tragic given the fact that it is a Biodiversity Hotspot, with many species from all groups found absolutely nowhere else (and many only being found within a single valley). This is exactly why reserves which contain pristine areas such as Canandé are critical for the conservation of the Chocó.
Much of our work was focused around collecting as many plants from the Canandé reserve as possible, in order to create a checklist and a guide to the local flora. In addition, I was collecting data on one of my study species- Ecuadendron acosta-solisianum (pictured below), an endangered tree which is only found in four small populations, solely on the West coast of Ecuador (until those in Canandé were discovered, Ecuadendron was only known from three populations). We were collecting demographic and locality data in order to furnish future work I hope to undertake in my PhD. In addition to this, we tried to use camera traps to determine the potential pollinators of Ecuadendron; their long, white, hanging flowers (see below) strongly suggest that they are bat-pollinated (unfortunately, this ambitious venture was unsuccessful- those pesky bats are just too quick!) Eventually, I hope to study the conservation biology of this species and inform on conservation actions, given its limited range, Endangered status and the fact that it is favoured by loggers.