The Maquipucuna Reserve is located in the transition of two global ‘hotspots’ of biodiversity (Chocó-Western Ecuador and the Tropical Andes) and has representative characteristics of both bioregions, making it a hyperdiverse area in both plants and animals. This is due to the combination of the Andes cordillera and its location on the Tropical Interconvergence Zone, which causes a great diversity of habitat heterogeneity and microclimatic variation, resulting in not only high rates of diversity, but also high rates of endemism (>20%). It was characterized by Dr. David Neill as the most well-studied Reserve in the western Andes, and Dr. Alwyn Gentry described it as conservationally significant due to its preservation of pristine cloud forest in close proximity to urban centers. Despite numerous scientific studies at the Reserve, new species of flora and fauna are still found every year, many new to the Reserve and some new to science.
In 1988, the Foundation legally acquired what is now the Maquipucuna Reserve and Protected Forest (ca. 6,000 ha). Several years later, the Foundation and Ministry of Agriculture declared adjacent lands the Upper Guayllabamba Watershed Protected Forest (13,880 ha). This recognition by the Ecuadorian government protects primary cloud forest in close proximity to Quito, where rates of deforestation and landscape conversion to agriculture are the highest in the country.
According to the classification of Harling (1979), this area could be called ‘cloud forest’, a term commonly used for areas across Tropical America, but that should be divided into two categories of ‘lower montane wet forest’ and ‘high montane cloud forest. The first of these two covers the majority (80%) of the Reserve, from 900-2500 masl and is the vegetation type on the north side of the Reserve where the Scientific Station is located. This location allows easy access to pristine forest at all elevations below 2,000 masl, through a large network of trails of varying difficulty. The high humidity and more or less constant precipitation and cloud cover, especially at higher elevations, causes the characteristic moss and epiphyte cover associated with this forest type. Webster points out that the percentage of hemiepiphytic climbers is especially high for this forest type. These forests appear to be most diverse at mid-elevations (Gentry’s ‘mid-elevation bulge’), but more quantitative studies are necessary. The high montane cloud forest occupies the highest areas of the Reserve (2,500-2,900 masl) and is the most undisturbed area primarily due the difficulty in accessing the steep Andean slopes. Only one trail from the southern side of the Reserve connects to this part of the Reserve. Due to lower temperatures and higher cloud cover, these higher elevation forests have a shorter canopy and less diversity than the lower montane forests.
The true ecological value of this forest type is poorly known at the Reserve because few studies have been carried out there.
No communities exist within the borders of the Reserve, however, there are several along its borders whose economies are agricultural and cattle based. These communities play an important role in the development of participatory conservation projects initiated by the Foundation. Almost all the employees for the Field Station and Ecotourism facilities are from these local communities. These people have lived in the area all their lives and know the local natural history and diversity unlike visitors from Quito.