Ecuador: The world’s laboratory


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Ecuador is a scientist’s paradise. From the possibility of witnessing the eruption of a volcano and measuring the earth’s movements to explain tectonic displacement at a global level; to understanding the real-time evolution of species in places like Galapagos; to exploring expanses that have seldom been visited by the world’s scientists, like Cerro Plateado or the Cordillera del Cutucú; Ecuador impassions the international scientific community like few other places in the world. Its forests, its glaciers, its mountains, its lakes, its highlands, its tropics… its fauna, its flora, its geology, its equatorial location…

The Jesuit Juan de Velasco had put forward the evolutionary process almost 100 years before Wallace and Darwin started catching on. Eugenio Espejo was already suggesting microbiology before Pasteur. The country has always lent itself to curiosity. Simply by sparing a little attention to their fascinating reality, the most intrepid Quiteños began to come up with notions that at the time were considered nothing short of absurd. La Condamine and his geodesic colleagues, apart from better understanding the form of the Earth, were bewildered by meteorological phenomena, properties of plants that they couldn’t believe real, and the magic of the Andes.

Humboldt went deeper into what had piqued the interest of the French savants, and described climatic altitudinal ranges and oceanic movements. These great scientists have taught us how, through the natural and ecological diversity of Ecuador as a source of inspiration, one can learn more about how our Earth works.

Through its natural spectrum, Ecuador offers, in such a small surface area, something that no other place could offer. To study what our planet encompasses between the tropics and the poles, we would have to create innumerable expeditions covering tens of thousands of kilometers. But in just one country, we can start to understand a significant percentage of the questions that we have about our planet. Ecuador is a unique laboratory of nature, a place to study the world.

For years the diversity of birds in Ecuador has astonished the best-travelled ornithologists, who do not understand how so many species can exist in such a small area. The same is true for orchids, for example. More than 4,000? What place offers so much material for study on one single type of plant? And that is not to mention insects, or microscopic life…

Places like Yasuní or Cuyabeno reveal such a vast diversity of reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants and trees that biologists arrive, stay for years, and still calculate that they will need decades of study before really understanding the fascinating ecological dynamics of the fabulous Amazon Basin. There are still hundreds of medicinal plants to discover; there are still hundreds of symbiotic processes between species to understand. There is still so much to learn, and science is certainly grateful for the inspiration.

“Ecuador begins at the heart of our planet: a hotspot born in the Earth’s mantle, which rises into the great Pacific Ocean, is carried by the oceanic plate to the edges of a continent that rises with the magnificent Andes mountains – with its volcanoes and icy glaciers – and then falls again in the form of a hundred rivers into the green expanses of the Amazon… an entire planet in one country…”

– Jean-Mathieu Nocquet

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