Project Ecuador Orchid Gap Analysis

The aim of this project, performed by Joe Meisel of the Ceiba Foundation for Tropical Conservation, is to develop a method for identifying good candidate areas for future orchid reserves. Ecuador, for example, has many areas that have lots of orchids. Given limited resources for land acquisition, where should one think about siting a new reserve? Ideally one would simply survey the entire country and choose the area that had the most rare and endangered orchids. This project is an approach to dealing with the reality that the time and effort involved in making a good survey of the entire country is prohibitive. There are several steps:

  • Using herbarium specimens and other orchid location data, these were mapped onto a map of Ecuador. In all, over 7000 records were mapped.
  • These location data were combined with weather and topographic data to correlate orchid richness with geographic and meteorological data. The result is an orchid richness map of Ecuador.
  • At the same time two other maps were prepared. One maps the areas of Ecuador that are currently protected in some form; national park, private reserve, etc. The other maps areas of Ecuador which are unlikely to have orchids because of human activity; agriculture, cities, roads, mines, etc.
  • The three maps were then combined to identify and score areas of predicted orchid richness that are neither already protected nor already damaged. The resulting map is shown below, with 38 areas of potential orchid reserves outlined in red.

These steps identify four areas of greatest interest, highlighted on the map by white circles. Three of the areas are close to areas that are already protected; thus the fourth, EOR1, relatively isolated in the south, is currently of highest interest. We are inquiring of people in Ecuador if they have any personal information to add about these areas. Eventually we expect to visit Ecuador to visit the indicated areas, to assess first hand whether the predicted scores are borne out by actual observation, and to begin to assess the possibilities for new reserve development.