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Andean Amazon Research Institute

Good decisions require accurate and timely information in the service of clearly defined outcomes. For conservation efforts to be effective, and the best possible preparations made for climate change, decision-makers and the public rely on the fruits of research. FCT supports this need with its Andean Amazon Research Institute (AARI).



The AARI maintains the following fundamental objectives:


  • generate research-based data on the flora, fauna, ecology, hydrology, physical geography, and human-nature relationships of the tropical Andes, with special emphasis on the upper Amazonian watersheds of the Cordillera Real in Ecuador;


  • publish and otherwise disseminate among relevant state institutions, researchers, the public,       and non-government conservation organizations the information generated by the Institute;


  • use the results of research to achieve positive conservation outcomes in projects carried out by   FCT and other conservation organizations, and work to scale up these projects throughout the   Andean Amazon; and


  • create an international network of tropical mountain researchers.


To date, Fundación Cordillera Tropical has generated a large body of information centered on the Nudo del Azuay, a mountainous region in the Paute watershed of the Andean Amazon. Research objectives have encompassed the biological, physical, and social sciences.

Biological Sciences

Multiple studies have focused on the charismatic Andean bear, with emphasis on bear demography and habitat use. Inventories have been generated for birds (160+ species to date), amphibians (with the discovery of four new species to science), reptiles, mammals, aquatic invertebrates, and butterflies. The five watersheds of the Nudo del Azuay have been thoroughly studied via camera traps, creating a complete photographic inventory of the wild fauna.

Floral inventories have included montane forest trees and ferns. Various studies have helped define target species for silvopastoral initiatives, and researchers have carried out various time-series studies of vegetation change in the Nudo del Azuay and Sangay National Park.

Physical Sciences

Because rivers reflect the health of their watersheds and provide a valued service as hydroelectric energy sources, FCT has focused research on river hydrology and river geomorphology. Much work has been done, as well, in assessing the páramo habitat’s role in soil carbon processes, including storage, the effect of vegetation cover on those processes, and the hydrologic property of páramo soils under different land uses.

Social Sciences

Conservation in inhabited landscapes absolutely requires an understanding of and coordination with local residents. In response to this need, FCT researchers have investigated the potential role of ecosystem service payments in achieving conservation objectives, and in particular the factors that would motivate participation in such programs. FCT has also contributed to the understanding of native camelids (alpacas and llamas) as low-impact grazers in páramos.

AARI offers an array of services to researchers from Ecuador and abroad:


  • an office in Cuenca with Internet access, a physical library, digital map library, conference space, secretarial support, and GIS capabilities;


  • a scientific station (including housing), currently under construction (early 2020), located in the southern tier of Sangay National Park in grass páramos at 3435 m. elevation (at 2034’13”S 78044’34”W);


  • standing and potential cooperative agreements with local universities and institutions, among them the Universidad Politécnica Salesiana, University of Cuenca, University of Azuay, ETAPA (the local water company, responsible for the operation of Cajas National Park), FONAPA (the local watershed management trust), and HidroAzogues (a governmental hydroelectric production company), with other agreements fashioned as required by researchers;


  • working relationships with other conservation organizations in southern Ecuador and throughout the country, and with the Ministry of the Environment and Sangay National Park, located in the Cordillera Real;


  • access to an array of scientists who have worked in the Nudo del Azuay (including FCT’s Research Team) and from whose experience valuable insights into new research projects can be gained and relationships forged with local scientists; and


  • an intimate knowledge of the Cordillera Real, and the ability to meet the logistical and administrative needs of researchers.

FCT researcher Stuart White offers a field course in páramo ecology and etiology to students of the University of Vermont.

See the Resources/Publications page for details on research carried out under FCT auspices.

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