Although small in size, Ecuador is one of the most diverse countries on the planet. Located on the equator in northwestern South America, bordering the Pacific Ocean to the west, Colombia to the north and Perú to the south and east, Ecuador has 283,561 km². and has a diverse geography and scenery. Ecuador has four geographical regions:
The Coast is a region located west of the Andes Mountains and consists of 5 ecosystems: the northern tropical rainforests, the central and southwest tropical savannas, dry forests, mangroves and beaches and cliffs. Travelling along the “Ruta del Spondylus ” is the best way to experience the rich and diverse culture of the Ecuadorian coast. This region is known for the history and archeology of the pre-Columbian cultures of Ecuador, the original flora and fauna in its natural reserves, adventure in the local mountains, sandy beaches and excellent cuisine.
The Historic Center of Quito is the first World Heritage city since 1978. Quito is considered the best preserved historic center in Latin America. More than 300 blocks of colonial homes, parks, churches, monasteries and historical buildings lie within the city center. The Ecuadorian Andes are known for their impressive mountains, volcanoes and snowy peaks such as Chimborazo, Tungurahua, Cayambe, Pichincha, and Cotopaxi, one of the highest active volcanoes in the world.
“El Oriente”, as Ecuadorians call this region, is the largest of Ecuador, with more than nine reserves and national parks. Its lush fauna and flora includes many orchids, plants, trees, reptiles, mammals, fish, birds and wildlife in their natural habitat. More than 30 million species live within its mysterious virgin forests, 16000 tree species, 3000 species of vertebrates, 2000 freshwater fish, almost half the world’s 8500 bird species, and 1200 different types of butterflies. The legendary Amazon is the perfect mix of adrenaline and nature. Its numerous rivers, born in the Andes, rafting and canoeing offer a real experience.
There is literally no place on Earth like the Galápagos. Considered a paradise in the world, the Galápagos Islands are a unique experience in life. The flora and fauna of these islands have evolved resulting in many species not found anywhere else in the world, such as marine and land iguanas, giant tortoises, and Galápagos penguins. The Galápagos “Enchanted Isles” were declared a Natural Heritage Site by UNESCO, with 13 main islands. Also, the national government declared the islands a National Park, putting them under strict protection and necessary laws. Policies and standards for management have been created to preserve this paradise where the animals are not afraid of humans.
Do you want to see hundreds of species of orchids any time of the year? The only place would be at the equator, with 13 hours of sunlight, 365 days of the year, ECUADOR has hundreds of different micro-climates that contribute to its orchid biodiversity.
Ecuador is considered to have, by far, the highest biodiversity of animal and plant species in the world by surface area, being ranked #5 of the most biodiverse countries.
Over 17,000 species of plants have been classified and described in this country, where 4235 species are orchids. Just about every fourth species among the various plants in primary habitats, is an orchid. Ecuador has the largest amount of orchid species ever recorded -16% of the world’s total-.
Still, there are still many other orchids awaiting official recognition, promising as many as 1,000 new species. Approximately 35% of Ecuadorian orchid species are endemic to the region. It takes a trained eye to recognize an orchid in the wild. As many of them are so small, it takes a magnifying glass to see the flowers.
One of the contestants to be the smallest flower in the world is a especies in the genus Stelis, recently discovered in Saraguro, southern Ecuador, with flowers that measure only 2 millimeters. Other orchids might have very large flowers. One of the largest would be Phragmipedium wallisii. The petals extend to one meter, and if held from tip to tip, the flower is up to two meters. Different species of orchids may grow in any type of environment, preferably in areas of less competition with other plants and often in disturbed areas as roadcuts.
Orchids growing on other plants such as trees are known as epiphytes. If borne on steep cliffs or volcanic lava flows, they are known as lithophyte. There are also about 400 species that grow in soil and are considered terrestrial orchids. The proposed theme for the 22nd WOC “A Privileged Orchid Kingdom” reflects the historical background and the intrinsic dynamism of Ecuador.
A better understanding of both, global biodiversity dynamics and Ecuadorian past, will encourage participants, especially young scientists, to focus on developing sustainable models for a productive natural resource management to promote orchid conservation nationally and globally.