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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 2016

Project Overview

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

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 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

By the time the project ended as of May 31, 2016, Dr. Encalada and Dr. Guayasamin had reported significant progress on all of their project objectives. An outline of their results and impacts is presented below, categorized by goal:

To determine and map ecological integrity of streams along an altitudinal gradient, using environmental (water quality and quantity) and biological data generated by the EVOTRAC
  • The team finished sampling 144 streams in the Río Napo watershed, taking both biological (aquatic invertebrates and amphibians) and physicochemical samples ((chemistry, width, depth, flow). They also characterized the general surroundings of each surveyed stream in terms of landscape use (for example, human populations, agriculture, cattle farming, forest, mining activity, oil extraction, etc.).
  • All amphibian samples were identified to the species or morphospecies level. The team is preparing papers describing two new species that they expect to submit by the end of July 2016.
  • Invertebrate samples have been identified to family level, with specimens from the order Ephemeroptera (mayflies) being identified to the morphospecies level. Dr. Encalada is working on an article describing the diversity pattern of mayflies that she plans to submit by August 2016.
  • Analyses of chemical variables show contamination in several streams, and USFQ researcher Dr. Valeria Ochoa is leading efforts to draft an article summarizing these results. They expect to have a manuscript ready by July 2016.
  • The team has finished a guide for aquatic invertebrates that will facilitate species identification and give information on stream bioindicators. The guide is part of a book on the rivers of the Andes and Amazon basin that will be published in 2016.
  • The main product related to this goal is a manuscript with a diversity map of the Napo watershed based on the ecological modeling of vertebrate and invertebrate diversity. The article was just accepted for publication in the journal Neotropical Biodiversity ( and should appear in the August 2016 issue. This paper represents the first time that freshwater species have been used to highlight diversity patterns and conservation priorities in Ecuador. The manuscript is entitled “Freshwater vertebrate and invertebrate diversity patterns in an Andean-Amazon basin: implications for conservation efforts (authors: J. Lessmann, J. M. Guayasamin, Eduardo Toral-Contreras, José Schreckinger, Kayce L. Anderson, I. Jácome-Negrete, and A. Encalada).
To develop land use and land cover maps of the Napo watershed to understand the main anthropogenic threats along an altitudinal gradient
  • GIS specialist Janeth Lessman and USFQ undergraduate student María José Troya have finished obtaining and systematizing 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 main results related to this goal are summarized in recently completed manuscript that builds upon maps with land use and land cover of the Río Napo watershed. The results show the impacts of oil activity and roads on ecological integrity, which was assessed using in situ information (macroinvertebrate community composition, riparian integrity, fluvial habitat quality, pH and conductivity). The two variables (oil activity and roads) can be used to create a model that predicts integrity throughout the watershed, including 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. A manuscript entitled “Validating GIS threat maps as a tool for assessing river ecological integrity: a case study in the Napo basin, Ecuador” (authors: Janeth Lessmann, María José Troya, Esteban Suárez, Andrea Encalada, and Juan M. Guayasamin) is being submitted in June 2016.
  • Three other manuscripts are in various stages of preparation, describing (1) spatial prediction of stream physicochemical parameters for the Napo River basin, (2) hydrocarbons and oil contamination in the Napo Basin, and (3) the Napo river classification system.
To use this new information to identify and determine priority areas within the basin for management and conservation
  • The team expects to submit a manuscript in October 2016 that integrates their findings in terms of freshwater diversity, human threats, and conservation priorities. Contributors to this study include Dr. Encalada, Dr. Guayasamin, and Ms. Lessmann.
To develop a conservation portfolio for freshwater ecosystems that includes representation of biodiversity, ecosystems and ecological processes, and their vulnerability to climate change, and communicate the research findings and conservation portfolio to local communities, governments, NGOs, and the academic community
  • The researchers developed a “Conservation Portfolio” that was discussed in a workshop about Amazonian Freshwater Ecosystems organized by the Wildlife Conservation Society in January 2016. They plan to show the improved portfolio again to government authorities and national and international NGOs during the meeting “Conferencia Internacional de Aguas Amazonicas,” which will be held in Lima July 15-16, 2016. The team expects that this document, together with their manuscript on Napo Conservation Priorities, could help guide conservation decisions and priorities in the Andean-Amazon regions.
  • The PIs and their group have finished writing their book “Los Ríos Andino-Amazónicos del Ecuador: Manual de biomonitoreo para evaluación de su integridad ecológica” and it is expected to be published in July 2016. The draft version of the book was used during the Workshop “Evaluación de la calidad del agua y la integridad ecológica de riachuelos de la Cuenca del Napo,” which drew 60 participants from various Andean-Amazon communities. The workshop was held at Tena, the capital city of Napo Province, in October 2015, and the discussions and feedback from the event were used to make revisions in the book.
Both Dr. Encalada and Dr. Guayasamin were honored in 2016 by the Secretary of Higher Education, Science, Technology, and Innovation of Ecuador as recipients of the Matilde Hidalgo Award, with Dr. Encalada being named a Consecrated Researcher and Dr. Guayasamin a Rising Researcher. Also this year, Dr. Encalada was invited to become a member of the Academy of Sciences of Ecuador. Although their PEER award has now ended, the team has built excellent relationships with community groups in some of the main towns and cities of the Napo watershed, and they have worked closely with members of the Oyacachi community (Andes) and with Amazonian communities. This interaction with local communities also includes the discussion, revision, and implementations of a guide for evaluating water quality, which will be published during 2016. The researchers also had initial contacts with government officials to discuss the importance of ecological flows in Andean-Amazonian streams and watershed during the 2016 workshop. They expect that communication will become more frequent as the results of their projects are further disseminated.