The tropical Andean climate and biodiversity observatory, community resilience through research


We will establish Santa Lucia Research Centre (SLRC) as a transdisciplinary regional Andean biodiversity and climate observatory (TRAN-BC Observatory), a globally networked research, capacity-building and educational hub addressing impact of climate change on Andean ecosystems and communities.

Global impacts from COVID-19 have been profound in Ecuador. In April 2020 the country was described as the epicentre of the Latin American pandemic with over 13,562 deaths. Pre-existing economic difficulties, a fall in oil prices, and the shutdown of its tourism sector has resulted in severe hardship. Ecotourism, contributing significantly to conservation efforts and the $6.6billion tourism sector, is particularly hard hit in this ‘megadiverse’ country, with 2509 endemic species threatened with extinction – the highest in the world (IUCN 2020). In parallel, COVID-19 has limited access to rural locations, impeding data collection and knowledge exchange for government and academia, who transform data into actionable policy. There is the urgent need to identify and support development approaches addressing both biodiversity conservation, human well-being and information flow to guide policy in the face of environmental shocks.

One such approach is demonstrated by the Santa Lucia Research Centre (SLRC) in the Andean forests of NW Ecuador. Established in partnership with the University of Sussex (UoS), and based on the ‘paraecologist’ model, it has continued to maintain unique regional biodiversity databases, critical to understanding impacts of land-use and climate change to Andean cloudforest ecosystems, in spite of the pandemic. This points to the resilience of researcher- community ‘Civic Science’ networks in the face of environmental and economic shocks, and to their important role in green recovery pathways benefitting communities, academia and policymakers.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 1 – No Poverty
    SDG 4 – Quality Education
    SDG 5 – Gender Equality
    SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
    SDG 8 – Decent Work and Economic Growth
    SDG 10  Reduced Inequalities
    SDG 11 – Sustainable Cities and Communities
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 15  Life on Land
    SDG 16 – Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions 
    SDG 17  Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

Research question: Understanding species-specific adaptation to climate change to determine whether Andean protected areas are climate-proof?

Foundations of the paraecologist model, and TRAN-BC Observatory, lie in addressing cutting-edge research questions. The existing avian monitoring dataset is the only long-term Ecuadorian biodiversity dataset representing a vertical kilometre of cloudforest (1500m-2500m). Our preliminary analysis on impact of climate change on altitudinal range changes of species suggest more complex patterns than models based on species-specific climatic envelopes, that suggest simplistic upward movements of species. A more complex picture, with climatic impacts mediated via precipitation change to forest resources (i.e. fruit production) from El Niño–Southern Oscillations (ENSO) appear to play a role, yet cloudforest altitudinal diversity and phenological data is currently lacking. Furthermore, tree species distributions and ecotones across an altitudinal transect could have significant impacts on carbon dynamics and response to changes in climate over short distances. This project establishes altitudinal hectare plots to provide required botanical datasets and expertise to address understand species adaptations to climate change and guide conservation management to understand species-specific adaptation to climate change to determine whether Andean protected areas are ‘climate-proof? The research process builds capacity by engaging with local communities by offering training as paraecologists and builds the scientific capacity of the research station. Networking workshops aim to engage more widely to identify synergies with other disciplines and expand the capacity of the reserve to address broader interactions between climate, biodiversity and society.

Timeline and funding


January 2021-July 2021


SSRP-IDCF funding

The team

Where we worked

Santa Lucia, Ecuador.