The dry tropical forests of Ecuador are located in two distinct areas: on the central Pacific coastline in the Cordillera de la Costa Mountains and on the southern coast near the Peruvian border in Tumbes-Piura area. Ecuador’s dry tropical forests lodge globally important remnants of unique habitats and species, as native flora and fauna have had to specially adapt to extreme annual cycles of rain and drought. The dry tropical forests of South America are considered a conservation priority at a global scale. In Ecuador, less than 25% of the original dry-forest coverage remains across the entire country.
The dry tropical forests of Ecuador harbor extraordinarily high biological diversity and unique species. In some areas, such as Machalilla National Park, experts have counted more than 270 bird species. Among the bird species that occur in the area are the little woodstar, Esmeraldas woodstar and saffron siskin. There are also healthy populations of pale-browned tinamou, gray-cheeked parakeet and ochraceous Attila. All of these species are only found in Ecuador's dry forests and are at risk of extinction.
Mammal species include the black howler monkey, white-fronted capuchin, collared peccary and the Sechuran desert fox. Reptiles and amphibians have been little studied, which gives fantastic opportunities for researching. There is the presence of a species of poison arrow frog and a species of viper which are only found in this part of Ecuador.
One in five plant species in Ecuador's coastal dry forests can be found nowhere else on Earth. Most all native trees lose their leaves in dry season. There are several species of kapok trees (ceibas), which have a special adaptation: when the tree is young it develops thorns around its trunk that protect the water it harbors inside it from animals. When the trees are mature, they lose the thorns.
Why the Conservancy Works Here
Dry tropical forests are one of the most threatened habitats in the world and are considered a high priority for conservation. Their situation has reached a critical state due to pressures from agriculture and cattle ranching activities, mainly because of their highly fertile soils. Because they are not as diverse and visually spectacular as rainforests, dry forests have been historically absent from national conservation policies. The Conservancy is working to protect Ecuador’s dry tropical forests because they harbor important remnants of this habitat type that remain in relatively good condition.
What the Conservancy Is Doing
Through the support of the Parks in Peril program, the Conservancy and local partner Fundación Natura Ecuador have supported Machalilla National Park through facilities construction to strengthen park infrastructure, ecotourism initiatives to minimize environmental impacts of visitors, and scientific studies to gather information about the conservation status of critical “buffer zones” that surround the park.
Furthermore, the Conservancy and a team of local partner organizations recently carried out a scientific assessment of the dry tropical forests of Ecuador and northern Peru. This assessment identified the most important areas for conserving dry forests in both countries, including the Machalilla National Park "buffer zone", the Chongón-Colonche mountains and the Tumbes Piura dry forests along the border with Peru. The Conservancy’s strategy for conserving these forests includes working with private landowners to develop environmentally friendly productive activities and creating new privately owned reserves.