Podocarpus National Park is located in southeast Ecuador in a megadiverse zone with a high level of endemic species that is a meeting point between four ecological systems: Northern Andes, Southern Andes, Amazonian, and Pacific.
Podocarpus National Park
Podocarpus National Park is in southeast Ecuador's Zamora Chinchipe and Loja provinces. It covers 146,300 ha (360,000 acres), from two spurs of the eastern range of the Ecuadorian Andes to the basins of the Nangaritza, Numbala, and Loyola rivers.
The area is categorized as a megadiverse zone with a high level of endemic species because it is a meeting point between four ecological systems: Northern Andes, Southern Andes, Amazonian, and Pacific.
The park is part of the Podocarpus-El Condor Biosphere Reserve. It comprises two primary areas: the upper premontane section with tropical cloud forests and the lower subtropical section. Large areas of virgin forest contain three specific species of the genus Podocarpus.
Podocarpus National Park spans the lower montane rainforests at 1,000 m (3,300 ft) up to high-elevation elfin forests at 3,000 m (9,800 ft). Páramo or subpáramo vegetation is found at elevations over 3,000 m (9,800 ft), where a complex of more than 100 lagoons exists, among the best known being the Lagunas del Compadre.
An estimated 3,000 vascular plant species are found here. Although considerable knowledge has been gathered about its biodiversity in parts of the area, only a minority of the species inhabiting the park have been discovered.
The park contains an exceptionally diverse flora and has been considered the 'Botanical Garden of America.' Its high and low mountain-forest ecosystems, located in the Nudo de Sabanilla pass, and its humid mountain and premontane forests in the basin of the Numbala River have more than 4,000 species of plants, including trees that can measure up to 40 m (130 ft), such as the romerillo (Podocarpus glomeratus) which gives its name to the park, and many other valuable species like the Cinchona (the national tree of Ecuador), and a wide variety of orchids.
Among the main species found in the region are chilca (Baccharis sp.), laurel, San Pedro cactus, uvilla, black elder, pumamaqui (Oreopanax sp.), sappanwood, arrayán, cashoco, alder, acacia, sage, guato blanco, cedar, castor oil plant, walnut, yumbingue (Terminalia guyanensis), and canelón (Swartzia littlei).
The enormous biodiversity here includes speckled bears, pumas, the Andean fox, giant armadillo, jaguar, mountain tapirs, Pudú, the smallest deer in the world, and a vast variety (as many as 500 registered species) of exotic birds.
Threatened species include the coppery-chested jacamar, the Equatorial graymail, the Peruvian antpitta, and the bearded guan.