Named after the Colombian state Chocó, the name originally referred to the lowland rain forest on the Colombian coast. This region is characterized by extremely high precipitation and extraordinary species diversity. It is part of the Chocó-Darién ecoregion which reaches up to Panama in the north. In the south it borders with another ecoregion, called the Moist Forests of Ecuador. Due to their similarity these two ecoregions are combined to one biodiversity hotspot, the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena Hotspot. This hotspot reaches from Panama down to Peru and from the Pacific coast up to an elevation of 1000m on the Andean flanks. At this elevation the worldwide most diverse ecoregion begins, the Tropical Andes. They cover the mountain range of the Andes, reaching from an elevation of 1000m in the west to an elevation of 500m in the east.
There is a fluent transition between the three mentioned ecoregions and various species live in more than one of the ecoregions. Although it doesn’t correspond with the scientific terms, nowadays all Ecuadorian forests reaching from the Pacific coast up to an elevation of 2200m are called Chocó.
What's the Chocó?
No matter how it is called, the northwest of Ecuador has an amazingly high biodiversity and is a home to numerous endemics. Approximately a quarter of all plant species found here are endemic, in the mountain ranges it’s almost the half! On the vertebrate level nearly 13% are endemic. Compared to other continental regions the highest concentration of endemic birds can be found here. Especially the mountain ranges are characterized by high amphibian diversity.
The fact that there is such a high endemism can be explained by the separation through the Andes. Due to their isolation, the forests on the western side of the Andes evolved entirely different than the ones on the eastern side.
Species richness and endemism
Unfortunately, there isn’t much left of the forests of West Ecuador. More than 90% have been deforested between 1938 and 1988. Where diverse forests once grew, you can now find banana plantations. And the last remnants of forest are also very threatened by illegal and legal logging, oil palm plantations and mining companies. That’s why the Chocó is considered as one of the areas with the highest conservation priority. It is one of the world’s 10 most important biodiversity-hotspots and one of the WWF´s Global 200.
Six nature reserves in Northwest Ecuador, which belong to the national system of conservation areas (SNAP), are managed by the Ministry of Environment. And there are several more public and private protected areas. However, the total protected surface area is still small. Un poco del Chocó is our personal contribution to the conservation of the Chocó and we hope that we can convince others of nature conservation, as well.