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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Long-term sustainability of water resources and biodiversity under scenarios of climate change in the Napo watershed, Ecuador  

PIs: Juan Manuel Guayasamin, Universidad Tecnologica Indoamerica, and Andrea Encalada, Universidad San Francisco de Quito
U.S. Partner: LeRoy Poff, Colorado State University
Project Dates: June 2012 - May 2015

Project Overview

Some of the most critical challenges faced worldwide are related to the conservation of freshwater ecosystems and their biodiversity, especially under the prospect of rapid climate change. Although most water sources are intertwined with human life, most rivers are within watersheds that have

Glass Frog

José Schrekinger gathering data at one of the field sites of the Napo watershed, Ecuador.

suffered uncontrolled and unplanned anthropogenic disturbances, including pollution, in-stream constructions, invasive species, and extractive uses. Climate change has the potential to magnify the risks that are already present by altering patterns of temperature, precipitation, and runoff, thereby disrupting biological communities and ecosystem processes.
This project will gather physiological, genetic, and environmental data generated by the National Science Foundation-funded EVOTRAC project in Ecuador, which predicts the vulnerability of organisms to rapid climate change, and will combine it with new information to produce a set of recommendations intended to improve the conservation and management practices of aquatic ecosystems in the Napo basin. This effort will represent an important first contribution to the long-term sustainability of water resources and biodiversity in this region. More specifically, in the Napo basin, this project has several major objectives. It will determine and map ecological integrity of streams along an altitudinal gradient, using environmental (water quality and quantity) and biological data generated by the EVOTRAC project. Land use and land cover maps of the Napo watershed will also be developed to help understand the main anthropogenic threats along an altitudinal gradient. This new information will then be applied to identify and determine priority areas within the basin for management and conservation and to develop a conservation portfolio for freshwater ecosystems that includes representation of biodiversity, ecosystems, and ecological processes and their vulnerability to climate change. The research findings and conservation portfolio will be communicated to local communities, governments, NGOs, and the academic community by means of publications in scientific journals, on the Web, and as practical guides and workshops aimed at local communities and a general audience. The ultimate aim will be promotion of new management practices in the Napo basin to advance freshwater ecosystem sustainability.
Summary of Recent Activities
During October through December 2013, the research team focused their work on determining and mapping the ecological integrity of streams along an altitudinal gradient and on developing land use and land cover maps of the Napo watershed. This new information was used to identify and determine priority areas within the basin for management and conservation. The team sent water samples for analysis at the Water Sciences Laboratory of the University of Nebraska, in order to determine levels of contamination resulting from oil extraction. Once the results become available, the team will have the data necessary to construct the biological, physical, and chemical layers of the sampled streams. Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) undergraduate María José Troya finished her study thesis, which focused on the analysis of the intensity and spatial distribution of anthropogenic threats to freshwater ecosystems in the Napo watershed through development and validation of a geographical model. The study results show that oil activity and roads are the best indicators of ecological integrity and that the two variablesoil activity and roadscan be used to create a model that predicts ecological integrity throughout the watershed, including those areas where no detailed information is available. These results are promising to establish priority conservation in large areas, such as the Napo watershed and the Amazon basin. GIS technician Janeth Lessman and María José Troya also finished gathering and processing the data on anthropogenic activities that impact the biodiversity and water resources of the Napo basin. The information includes human settlements, main roads, oil activity, mining concessions, hydroelectric plants, thermoelectric plants, agricultural land use, water consumption, and fisheries. The research team now has the necessary information to start generating diversity maps by using ecological modeling for amphibians of the Napo watershed. Significant progress has also been made in production of a guide of aquatic invertebrates, which will facilitate species identification, as well as help identify stream bio indicators.

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