The Macizo del Cajas Biosphere Reserve contains a large number of ecosystems, ranging from high mountains to coastal and marine areas along the Pacific. It also includes El Cajas National Park, which features a tundra vegetation on a spectacular jagged landscape.
Macizo del Cajas Biosphere Reserve
Situated in southwestern Ecuador, the Macizo del Cajas Biosphere Reserve includes a large number of ecosystems ranging from high mountains down to coastal and marine areas along the Pacific.
Its surface area covers 976,600 ha (2,400,000 acres) and includes El Cajas National Park and the Quimsacocha National Recreation Area, which play an important role in water provision and regulation.
The Macizo del Cajas Biosphere Reserve contains four major ecosystem types:
The Páramo ecosystem is composed mainly of tufted grasses (bunch), mostly ranging between 3000 and 4000 amsl (above mean sea level). At its lower limit are found the ceja andina shrub (located in the transition between highland montane forest and páramo) and cultivated fields where Andean forest has been deforested. The dominant genera are Calamagrostis and Festuca.
The Montane forest ecosystem is one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It performs a number of important ecological functions, such as water harvesting and erosion control. It is also very fragile as its steep slopes make the forest extremely vulnerable to accelerated erosion under heavy rain conditions. The forests extend along the western slope of the Andes mountains.
Cloud forest is located on the western flank of the Western Andes. It is characterized by very irregular relief with steep slopes that result in significant topographic variability. The key feature is high rainfall and humidity with the constant presence of haze, interspersed with vegetation. These waters drain into creeks and streams, which function as important sources for the major water systems of the western region.
The mangrove ecosystem comprises tidal areas and depending on the location, may be either permanently flooded or subject to twice-daily floods. This gradient flood level and saline soil influences the structural and compositional characteristics of the vegetation. In the Pacific, the amplitude of tidal variation is greater than in the Caribbean and mangroves, therefore, extend far into the river deltas. This dynamic produces intense succession processes, resulting in the formation of almost monospecific communities.
Around 838 800 people live in the biosphere reserve: approximately 7% inhabit the buffer zone and approximately 93% live in the transition zone. The core zone is unpopulated.
The coastal territory is largely characterized by large and medium-scale agricultural and aquaculture activities, which function as important export items for the national economy. The expansion of arable soil and shrimp farming has absorbed remnants of forests in the foothills of the western mountains and mangroves.