Research and Conservation at Wildsumaco Biological Station

Located at about 4,500 feet above sea-level on the eastern crest of the magnificent Andes Mountains, above the Amazon River basin in Ecuador, the Wildsumaco Biological Station was officially opened in March 2012 by the Francis Marion University of South Carolina, USA. The establishment of the new research center is the result of seven years of fundraising and will be used to promote the study and conservation of the incredibly rich biodiversity of this region of Ecuador.

Newly appointed director of the Wildsumaco Biological Station, FMU associate biology professor Travis Knowles noted that Ecuador is referred as a “mega diverse country” with regard to its flora and fauna species. He also pointed out that the research station is located in one of the most diverse forests on the earth, where minimal scientific study has been done. Professional scientists, as well as Students, undergraduates and graduates from the Francis Marion University and its partner institution the University of North Carolina, will have the opportunity to explore this pristine reserve, with the very real possibility of discovering new species to add to the already astounding numbers found in this fascinating country.

Accommodation at the Wildsumaco Biological Station is basic, with the daily fee including three meals per day. Spare accommodation may be booked out to budget-conscious eco-tourists as an alternative to the more luxurious Wildsumaco Wildlife Sanctuary nearby. The idea for a research station reportedly came about through a chance meeting of Professor Knowles and the owners of the lodge while on a birding trip in Peru. Their common goal of conservation through knowledge eventually led to the biological station.

Eco-tourism is becoming more popular in Central and South American countries, and is slowly catching on in Ecuador. It has the potential of offering rural Ecuadorians an income related to conservation, rather than the current trend of deforestation for cultivation of edible crops. Once the crops have been harvested and the soil depleted of nutrients, rural farmers clear a new patch of land to cultivate, stripping it of its natural resources. In addition to attracting tourists and researchers to the area, the Wildsumaco Biological Reserve will create jobs for locals.

Discovering new species in the unexplored areas of Ecuador is not simply an academic exercise. As Knowles points out, about twenty-five percent of prescription medications current in use were originally discovered in some type of wild species of plant or fungus. The first class of Francis Marion University students plans to spend two weeks at the Wildsumaco Biological Reserve in July 2012.