Sunset over Pitalala Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon Sunset over Pitalala Reserve in the Ecuadorian Amazon

Creating Pitalala, a new reserve at the world’s “biodiversity vertex”

Double your gift! Thanks to a generous donor, all donations to Pitalala Reserve are matched up to $110,000 until February 29, 2024. Your support is vital for securing the most biodiverse 100x100 km2 quadrant of the planet. Every dollar saves a frog.

$338,327 raised of $966,562 goal.


41 backers. 54 days to go.

What is the world’s biodiversity vertex?

Between 2007 and 2013, the upper Amazon basin became known as the world’s most biologically rich region. With the information available at the time, it seemed like no-other region on the planet held a higher conservation priority than the upper Amazon basin (Bass et al. 2010; Jenkins et al. 2013). But the “upper Amazon” is a term used to define a broad area including the entire foothills of the Andes where these meet the Amazon lowlands (Fig. 1).

Where exactly is the center of species richness within this broader area? If we had to narrow it down to a 100x100 km quadrant, where would it be located?

Using the most detailed and comprehensive geographic information of Ecuador’s reptiles, biologist Alejandro Arteaga has built a model (Fig. 2) that depicts upper-Amazon species richness. Curiously, the model suggests that the most species-rich segment of the upper Amazon basin is the 400–900 m elevational fringe immediately adjacent to the foothills of the Andes, slightly below the equatorial line at the headwaters of the rivers Napo and Pastaza (yellow polygon in Figs 2, 3).

Building on data compiled for other groups of vertebrates (mammals and birds in addition to reptiles; Jenkins et al. 2013), the interactive Map of Life (MOL) project suggests a similar pattern. This map subdivides the globe into 100x100 km quadrants and provides a “biodiversity score” for each one. The quadrant having the highest (=100) score corresponds almost exactly with the area identified in Fig. 1. A recent study focused on butterflies suggest a similar pattern (Doré et al. 2021).

Although high resolution data is not available for plants and for all animal groups, a rough pattern is emerging. One that points out to the equatorial foothills of the Andes as being the world’s “biodiversity vertex.”

What is the goal of the project?

The goal of this project is the creation of Pitalala Reserve (meaning “viper” in Kichwa), a protected area in the heart of the “biodiversity vertex” and to establish the region as a world-wide hub for biodiversity study and protection.

Specific objectives

Create a 130-hectare rainforest reserve under Khamai Foundation.

Plan and carry out a BioBlitz (rapid biological inventory) survey to evaluate the state of the region’s biodiversity and disseminate the results on through a documentary.

Create an ecotourism project to maintain the reserve and establish a capacity building network of “protectors of the vertex.”

Why is this project urgent?

The creation of Pitalala Reserve seeks to slow down the advance of gold mining in the upper Amazon of Ecuador beginning with the protection of four rainforest land lots totaling 130 hectares. Khamai Foundation has the opportunity to acquire this of land before the miners do, but only if we act quickly as the current landowners are in an urgent need to sell and are under pressure from the miners.

Figure 1: This map* shows that there are more terrestrial vertebrate species in the upper Amazon than anywhere else on the planet. But where exactly in the Amazon? Map by Mannion et al. 2014.

Figure 2: Gradient of biodiversity in the upper Amazon basin. Darker shades of red correspond to higher number of species per unit area. Map based on unpublished data by Arteaga et al. (in press). White polygons represent the current system of protected areas. Yellow polygon represents the “biodiversity vertex,” the single most biodiverse stretch of land on the planet, where Pitalala Reserve will be established (curently unprotected).

Figure 3: Location of the project area (red polygon) within the broader “biodiversity vertex” (yellow polygon). The red polygon includes the Pitalala Reserve, Jatun Sacha Reserve, and the proposed corridor connecting the two.

Figure 4: Aerial view of the cliff of Pitalala Reserve along the Río Anzu, including the first 17 hectare land lot protected through the current fundraiser.

Figure 5: Aerial view of the Anzu River valley across Pitalala Reserve including the second 13 hectare land lot protected through the current fundraiser.

Figure 6: Aerial view of the Anzu River valley across Pitalala Reserve including the second 56 hectare land lot targeted for protection through the current fundraiser.