economic sustainability within biodiversity conservation programs in ecuador

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Ecuador is considered one of the 17 richest countries in diversity of species and ecosystems around the world, being classified as a megadiverse country. The wide range of physical and environmental conditions results in an impressive diversity of natural ecosystems (i.e. wet and dry inter-andean vegetation, rain forest, dry forest, mangroves, wetlands, dry heathland, etc.). Different species and varieties of plants and animals have adapted to these ecosystems and environmental conditions, resulting in a high degree of endemism.It holds 387 mammal species, 1,592 bird species, 422 reptile species, 467 amphibian species (MAE, 2009), and approximately 16,087 native vascular plants of which 4,173 are endemic equivalent to 27% of native flora providing environmental goods and services to humans (Jørgensen and León-Yánez, 1999). Ecuador's Amazon region alone has registered 4,857 plant species, and 307 tree species found in a single hectare of forest in the Cuyabeno Reserve. Highlands and the Andean slopes have dramatically different but equally rich plant and animal life.

Ecuador is part of the South American countries with the greatest proportion of protected areas (PAs), with 45 protected areas among which 11 are National Parks, 4 are Biological Reserves, 9 are Ecological Reserves, 1 is a Geo Botanical Reserve, 4 are Fauna Production Reserves, 10 are Wildlife Refuges, 2 are Marine Reserves, and 4 are National Recreation Areas. These areas represent an important tool to protect the natural heritage of the country and some of the services needed to achieve environmental and human development, such as watershed protection, power generation, food provision, agricultural heritage, and tourism development.

Ecuador is an important centre of origin and diversity of genetic resources. The Andean region in particular is one of the main centers of domestication of crop plants worldwide (Mujica, Jacobsen, & Ortiz, 2003). Currently, at least 45 species cultivated (i.e. wild tomatoes, potatoes, cacao, cassava, groundnuts) are considered of regional or global significance, representing—if regulated with the proper mechanisms—a potential opportunity for the country to rely on more sustainable economic growth.

The national economy is based mainly on oil extraction, natural gas and mining, which contribute to 26.8% of the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Commercialization of agricultural products (including fisheries) is another important source of economic income, representing 6.3% of the GDP (US Department of State, 2009).

However, the current economic development model has been based on unsustainable use of natural resources, resulting in depletion and degradation of natural resources and therefore increasing the vulnerability of national development. Impoverished, marginalized communities living in rural areas composed of indigenous people, afro-descendants or farmersare especially affected. Limited access to basic services, infrastructure, communication and transport is common in these areas. This combination increases pressures on the natural environment, the main source of livelihood for these populations.

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