Despite its relatively small size, Ecuador is gifted with more species than much larger countries. Because it is a tropical country, Ecuador is regarded as one of the most species-rich countries on the globe. This may be because of the 4 distinct regions of the country: highlands, jungle, coast, and the Galapagos. No what why, Ecuador is certainly a nature-lover's paradise.
According to the Holdridge Life Zones system
, which identifies 116 life zones on earth, Ecuador has about two dozen of them. Within each life zone, many different habitats may exist. Some of the most interesting will be discussed below.
At the coast, one of the most interesting life zones [and one of the most imperiled
] is the mangrove swamps
. The mangrove has developed an incredible capacity to be able to grow in salt water. Around its stilt roots live fish, mollusks, crustaceans and many other invertebrates. On the branches you'll find nesting and resting pelicans
and other sea birds. Sadly, these trees are being destroyed by the development of Ecuador's shrimp farms.
Tropical dry forest
is a disappearing habitat along the coast, where there are distinct wet and dry seasons. Like a northern winter season, the trees discard their leaves during the dry season. The best example of this habitat is in the Machalilla National Park
along the central coast.
Tropical cloud forests
are found in isolated valleys in the highlands. This is an uncommon type of tropical rain forest
. They are so named because the trees trap and create clouds which provide moisture allowing several types of plant species to survive.
The dense vegetation of this type of this forest allows rare species of mammals to survive, such as the woolly monkey
, andean spectacled bear
, and puma
Above this altitude lies the paramo
, or high altitude grasslands and shrublands. The soils are wet and peaty, and collect water which is eventually collected and used by people in the highland's towns and cities. You'll find mostly hard grasses, cushion plants and small herbaceous plants. One interesting adaptation is the development of curved leaves with waxy skins to deflect the harsh, ultraviolet-ladden sunlight common on cloudless days.
An interesting plant found on the central and southern paramo is the chuquiragua
. This plant resembles a thistle with orange flowers and a stem covered with spiky leaves. It has medicinal properties such as stopping coughs, and relieving liver and kidney infections.
Many hundred thousands Ecuadorians live on the various paramos. It has been used to grow potatoes and other tubers for centuries. There has been a large increase in cattle grazing, which leads to burning the old grasses to promote new, succulent root growth. This threatens the fragile habitat.