Conservation status


Fourteen species, one
subspecies, and one variety of palms are endemic to Ecuador.
Of these, four are found in western Ecuador; nine in the
Andes, mostly in the south-eastern part of the country south
of the Río Paute Valley; and one in the eastern
lowlands. One species, Geonoma tenuissima, is
threatened by immediate extinction if no measures are taken
to prevent this. It is known only from the Montañas
de Ila, a low mountain range in the Andean foothills,
south-east of Santo Domingo de los Colorados in western
Ecuador, which has suffered severe deforestation during the
last twenty years. At present
time only three small forest fragments, with a total area of
less than five hectares, housing the palm are known. A
second species, Aiphanes eggersii, endemic to the dry
forests of western Ecuador, has suffered severe reduction of
its distribution following deforestation and cattle grazing
in its natural habitats. That species may constitute a
valuable resource for alternative land use systems in
semi-arid areas, where other palm species are unable to
thrive. It has fruits resembling those of the related
Aiphanes aculeata, which are known to be extremely rich in
carotene and vegetable oil, and its palm heart is edible, with a taste resembling
that of the ‘chontaduro palm’, Bactris gasipaes. The
species is able to survive for quite sometime in disturbed
surroundings due to its clustering habit and vegetative
propagation, but populations are likely to experience a
dramatic decline in the future, unless recruitment of new
seed plants is secured in some areas. A third west
Ecuadorian endemism, the economically important ‘tagua’ palm
(Phytelephas aequatorialis), is currently being
managed in many parts of its distribution area, and may be
on the course towards domestication. It is unlikely to
become threatened in any immediate future, but still it is
of great importance to protect its natural genetic variation
through conservation measures.

The Andean endemisms are
probably not facing any immediate danger, but continuing
deforestation may soon change that image. With the exception
of Aiphanes chiribogensis and perhaps Aiphanes
, none of them have large known populations
within the existing National Parks or other protected areas
of Ecuador. Especially in the south-east increasing human
settlement and developing infrastructure may soon become a
danger to the five endemic palm species found there.