Ecuador is one of the biodiversity hotspots. Concerning its extent, this country has more species per unit area than any other country on earth [1]. Ecuador has 91 types of ecosystems. This classification uses biophysical variables (temperature, precipitation, humidity, seasonality) and biogeography elements (geomorphology and altitude) [2]. Thus, the coastal region has 24 types of ecosystems, while the Los Andes region and the Amazon have 45 and 22 types of ecosystems, respectively. Ecuador has 12 marine and 12 coastal ecosystems [3]. This unique biological richness is linked to the development of the country’s indigenous cultures through a variety of managements [4]

Biodiversity plays a critical role in the provisioning of ecosystem services and their maintenance over time [5]. Maintenance of these high-biodiversity areas thus has a disproportionately positive impact on the lives of poor and rural populations. A global wealth valuation reported that Ecuador’s per capita wealth was $102,451 in 2014, with an average of 29 percent ($30,007) related to the country’s natural capital which links directly to ecosystems services and biodiversity. From this capital, 22.7% relates to protected areas, 11.1% to pasturelands, 10.8% to cropland, 4.9% to non-timber forest products, and 1.8% to timber resources [6]. Such figures show the cultural and economic relevance of ecosystem services and the unique biodiversity in Ecuador.

Regarding the species, Ecuador has an estimated 18,198 plant species, from which 17,748 are native and 4,500 endemics [2], [7]. The Ecuadorian plant diversity represents 7.6% of registered vascular plants throughout the planet [7], [8]. Ecuador has 833 species of marine fish [9], 951 species of freshwater fish [10], 558 species of amphibians [11], 450 species of reptiles [12], 1,642 species of birds [13], and 424 species of mammals [14]. Based on these figures, Ecuador ranks first in the world in vertebrate species per 1,000 km² [15].

Concerning the conservation status of its species, Ecuador has Red Books and a list of threatened species: (1) Ecuador’s red book of endemic plants [7], (2) Ecuador’s red book of the mammals [14], [16], (3) Ecuador’s red book of the birds [17], and (4) Ecuador’s red list of reptiles [18].

However, red books have a limitation because they do not include information on the status of the conservation of species in protected areas or different geographical units (provinces or parishes). The lists assume that the status threat is the same in the entire country, which is uncertain [19]. Despite this assumption, it is reported that most of the endemic plant species (3,504 species – about 78%) face some degree of threat because 353 species (8%) are Critically Endangered, 1,071 (24%) are Endangered, and 2,080 (46%) are Vulnerable [5]. Moreover, after more than a decade since the first Red Book of endemic plants of Ecuador was published [20], despite conservation efforts in the country, the situation has not improved mainly because of the destruction and degradation of habitats [1]. The conservation status of the species in Ecuador is only known for the largest groups of animals. In summary, of the 23,056 best known species (vertebrate animals and plants), more than 80% have not been evaluated, or there is no information [1]. Missing information for other groups is also a key problem to assess the current trends of species’ population.


The reduction of species populations and the decrease in their distribution are two of the most important drivers of biodiversity loss in Ecuador. Biodiversity loss is related to unsustainable management (subsistence and commercial), hunting and fishing, wildlife trafficking, invasive species, environmental pollution, and climate change [1], [11], [16], [21].

Another economic sector that highly impacts biodiversity is oil extraction. It is believed that the oil industry only affects the specific points destined for operations, but exploration activities also include road openings, noise from platforms, and spills of oil and toxic waste into freshwater systems, which affect large areas beyond wells and camps [22].


Key policies and governance approach

The main policies for biodiversity management in Ecuador are the National Development Plan 2021-2025, the Plan for Biological Diversity 2011-2020, the National Biodiversity Strategy 2015-2030, and the National System of Protected areas [1].

The National Biodiversity Strategy 2015-2030 aims to enhance biodiversity conservation while eradicating poverty. The strategy comprises four targets, 19 results, and 51 national goals linked to the international Aichi targets. The targets are 1) to incorporate biodiversity and ecosystem services in the public management, 2) to reduce pressures and inappropriate use of biodiversity to levels that ensure its conservation; 3) to fairly distribute the benefits of biodiversity and ecosystem services, and 4) to strengthen the knowledge and capacities to ensure innovation in the sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services [1].

The national goals focus on citizen knowledge about good environmental practices, increasing waste sorting, environmental awareness in education at different levels, augmenting the public funding for environmental issues, restoration of mangroves and forests, and participation of communities in programs. Moreover, the national goals include eliminating subsidies and perverse incentives that stimulate land use change in priority areas for conservation, genetic erosion of cultivated varieties, the importation of fertilizers, insecticides, herbicides and fungicides, and overexploitation of fishery resources. Other goals include that Ecuador will have at least 90% of energy from renewable sources, reduction of non-oil imports of primary goods, support of green certifications, and decrease of the deforestation. Finally, there are goals included to improve the management of conservation areas and enhance the resilience of terrestrial and marine ecosystems [1].

In 2007, Ecuador approved a new constitution in which the concepts of “Good Living” (Sumak Kawsay) and “Rights of Nature” were incorporated into the new Ecuadorian Constitution in 2008. The recognition of the rights of nature is currently a debate in the legal, sociological, and ethical fields. In Ecuador, the Mother Earth (Pachamama) has legal rights. This legal concession is promoted in parallel with alternatives to global capitalism related to the indigenous worldviews known as good living or living well. Such legal approach has some challenges to the socio-legal research and highlights the increasing acknowledgment of the rights of nature [23].


Successes and remaining challenges

The recognition that Ecuador has given to nature as a legal subject with rights has some legal and philosophical challenges. For example, not only ecosystems but individuals are subject to the right. Ecuadorian courts have settled precedents by protecting individual animals and their intrinsic values [24].

The Constitutional Court of Ecuador not only recognized animals as subjects of rights protected by the rights of nature but also outlined the rights that apply to all or some groups of animals. Rights given by the Ecuadorian constitution are the right to exist and the right not to be hunted, fished, captured, collected, extracted, kept, detained, trafficked, traded, or exchanged. Nonhuman beings have the right to free development. Besides, animals must be guaranteed sufficient space and social conditions to ensure the possibility of their natural behavior. Living beings have the right to freedom and good living, and animals have the right to freedom of movement. Living beings have the right to food according to the species’ nutritional requirements, and animals must have access to adequate food and water to maintain their health and habitat. Among other rights, animals have the right to live in harmony, access to health and physical integrity, and the right to physical, mental, and sexual integrity. These unprecedented rights established by a constitutional court in 2022 could face some challenges and tradeoffs for sustainable development [24]. Some tradeoffs include agricultural production and forestry management, and rights of ecosystems to be maintained without intervention.

Ecuador played a pioneering role in recognizing the rights of nature globally, yet the country has not been able to slow their environmental degradation. Though a few court decisions rested on the rights of nature have resulted in positive outcomes for the environment, the country still has environmental issues that challenge biodiversity conservation, sustainable management and social welfare and justice [25]. Ecuador’s courts have held more than three dozen lawsuits in the name of nature. Many have been successful, but verdicts have not always been enforced on the ground [26].


Initiatives and Development Plans

Ecuador has developed specific plans and strategies to protect, manage and recover populations of key species: a) parrot of Guayaquil, b) coast crocodile, c) Harpy eagle, d) Andean condor, e) tapirs, f) spectacled bear, g) jaguar, h) migratory species of animals, i) albatrosses and petrels, j) sharks, k) aquatic mammals of the Amazon, and l) sea turtles [1].


  • Ecuador is a unique country that is a pioneer in environmental legislation based on the inclusion of the Pachamama (Mother Earth). The Constitutional Court of the country, at the beginning of 2022, ratified the legal rights of living beings such as ecosystems, communities, species, and individuals. This phenomenon expanded the ethical sphere and the legal representation of nonhuman beings. This approach and perspective can lead to alternative ways of environmental and social development, which do not necessarily have their bases in the economic value and the international market. The following years will be critical to see the impact of this legal approach on the country’s sustainable pathways.
  • Ecuador has opportunities to improve its biodiversity database of many groups through populations monitoring.
  • Moreover, the country could reinforce the awareness of environmental knowledge focusing on the importance of biodiversity and ecosystem services. These topics should be integrated in elementary and secondary education. Ecuador could also enhance the promotion and environmental awareness carried out by NGOs and social organizations to promote the rights of nature and the paradigm of Good Living.
  • The country could also improve the insertion of the economic value of biodiversity and its strategic role in ensuring sustainable production. Moreover, Ecuador can reinforce the incentives of funding and investment to support sustainable agroforestry and ecotourism to promote biodiversity conservation.

[1] Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador (MAE), 2016. "Estrategia Nacional de Biodiversidad 2015-2030, 1st Edition, Quito-Ecuador.

[2] Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador. 2013. Sistema de Clasificación de los Ecosistemas del Ecuador Continental. Subsecretaría de Patrimonio Natural. Quito.

[3] Hurtado, M. & T. Rodríguez. 2012. Caracterización de los ecosistemas marinos y su conectividad. Presentado en el taller ecosistemas marinos y su conectividad. MAE-GIZ, Manta-Ecuador.

[4] Penafiel, D., Vanhove, W., Espinel, R.L. et al. Food biodiversity includes both locally cultivated and wild food species in Guasaganda, Central Ecuador. J. Ethn. Food 6, 25 (2019).

[5] Harrison, P., Berry, P., Simpson, G., Haslett, J., Blicharska, M., Bucur, M., Dunford, R., Egoh, B., GarciaLlorente, M., Geamana, N., Geerstema, W., Lommelen, E., Meirsonne, L., and Turkelboom, F. 2014. “Linkages Between Biodiversity Attributes and Ecosystem Services: A Systematic Review.” Ecosystem Services 9:191-203. DOI:

[6] Lange, Glenn-Marie; Wodon, Quentin; Carey, Kevin. 2018. The Changing Wealth of Nations 2018 : Building a Sustainable Future. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

[7] León-Yánez, S., R. Valencia, N. Pitman, L. Endara, C. Ulloa Ulloa & H. Navarrete (eds.). 2011. Libro rojo de las plantas endémicas del Ecuador, 2ª edición. Publicaciones del Herbario QCA, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito.

[8] Neill, D. A. & C. Ulloa-Ulloa, 2011. Adiciones a la Flora del Ecuador: Segundo suplemento, 2005-1010. Fundación Jatun Sacha, Quito. 202 pp.

[9] Jiménez, P. & P. Barez. 2004. Peces Marinos del Ecuador Continental, clave para la identificación de peces, Tomo I. SIMBIOE, NAZCA, IFEA. Quito. 124 pp.

[10] Barriga, R. 2012. Lista de peces de agua dulce e intermareales del Ecuador. Revista Politécnica - Serie Biología. Quito.

[11] Ron, S. R., J. M. Guayasamin, M. H. Yanez-Muñoz & A. Merino-Viteri. 2013. AmphibiaWebEcuador. Version 2013.1. Museo de Zoología, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador.

[12] Torres-Carvajal, O., D. Salazar-Valenzuela & A. Merino-Viteri. 2013.  ReptiliaWebEcuador. Versión 2013.1. Museo de Zoología QCAZ, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador.

[13] McMullan, M. & L. Navarrete. 2013. Fieldbook of the Birds of Ecuador, including the Galápagos Islands. Fundación Jocotoco. Quito.

[14] Tirira, D. 2007. Guía de campo de los mamíferos del Ecuador. Ediciones Murciélago Blanco. Quito. 576 pp

[15] Boada, C. & R. Carrillo. 2013. Gestión de la vida silvestre en el Ecuador continental. Informe de consultoría. Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador y ECOFONDO. Quito. 72 pp.

[16] Tirira, D. (ed.). 2011. Libro Rojo de los mamíferos del Ecuador. 2ª edición. Fundación Mamíferos y Conservación, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador y Ministerio del Ambiente del Ecuador. Quito. 398 pp.

[17] Granizo, T., C. Pacheco, M. B. Rivadeneira, M. Guerrero & L. Suárez (eds.). 2002. Libro rojo de las aves del Ecuador. SIMBIOE, Conservación Internacional, EcoCiencia, Ministerio del Ambiente y UICN. Quito. 462 pp

[18] Carrillo, E., S. Aldás, M. Altamirano, F. Ayala, D. Cisneros, A. Endara, C. Márquez, M. Morales, F. Nogales, P. Salvador, M.L. Torres, J. Valencia, F. Villamarín, M. Yánez & P. Zárate. 2005. Lista Roja de los Reptiles del Ecuador. Fundación Novum Milenium, UICN-Sur, UICN-Comité Ecuatoriano, Ministerio de Educación y Cultura. Quito. 46 pp.

[19] Campos, F. 2014. Diseño de la agenda de investigación y modelo de gestión para el Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad. Producto 1 de consultoría: Línea base de la investigación sobre biodiversidad en el Ecuador. MAECAF. Quito. 70 p.

[20] Valencia, R., N. Pitman, S. León-Yánez & P. M. Jorgensen (eds.). 2000. Libro Rojo de las plantas endémicas del Ecuador 2000. Publicaciones del Herbario QCA, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador. Quito. 489 pp.

[21] Albuja, L., A. Almendariz, R. Barriga, L. D. Montalvo, F. Cáceres & J. L. Román. 2012. Fauna de Vertebrados del Ecuador.Instituto de Ciencias Biológicas, Escuela Politécnica Nacional. Quito. 490 p.

[22] O'Rourke, D. and Connolly, S., 2003. Just Oil? The distribution of Environmental and Social Impacts of Oil Production and Consumption. Annual Review of Environment and Resources, 28(1): 587-617.

[23] Berros, M. V. (2021). Challenges for the Implementation of the Rights of Nature: Ecuador and Bolivia as the First Instances of an Expanding Movement. Latin American Perspectives, 48(3), 192–205.

[24] Sentencia de la Corte Constitucional del Ecuador. 2022. No. 253-20-JH/22. Derechos de la Naturaleza y animales como sujetos de derechos). Caso “Mona Estrellita”.

[25] Ordóñez, M.F., Shannon, K. & d’Auria, V. The materialization of the Buen Vivir and the Rights of Nature: Rhetoric and Realities of Guayaquil Ecológico urban regeneration project. City Territ Archit 9, 1 (2022).

[26] Vernaza, D., and Cutié D. 2022. Los derechos de la naturaleza desde la mirada de los jueces en Ecuador. Revista IUS, 16(49), 285-311. Epub 06 June 2022.