The future of Yasuni

Yasuni National Park is a UNESCO biosphere reserve in the Amazon lowlands of Ecuador and, arguably, the most biodiverse place on Earth

We use Costing Nature (v. 2.46) to ask:

How important is Yasuni and what might be the future of Ecuador's Amazon forest if deforestation rates continue as they are now? What if new roads are built to support oil developments such as the ITT (Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini) project?

How important is Yasuni?

For Ecuador:

The map below shows the top 12% of areas in Ecuador for species richness and endemism for IUCN redlist Amphibians, Mammals, Reptiles and Birds. The peak area sits very clearly over Yasuni. The top 12% of areas for potential ecosystem services (those which may not be being used now because local populations are low but which will be important in the future) clearly coincide with Yasuni, whereas the top 12% of areas in which ecosystem services are currently being used include areas of the Amazon that are currently under oil development.

Species richness (top 12%)

Ecosystem services for the future (top 12%)

Ecosystem services used now (top 12%)

For the World:

A global analysis for all protected areas using Costing Nature puts Yasuni as ranked 5th globally for carbon stock per unit area, 17 globally for carbon sequestration, ranked 2nd only to Pacaya Samirai in Peru globally for species richness for red-listed mammals and amphibians meaning that Yasuni is clearly one of the most important protected areas globally.

What might be Yasuni's future?

We used the Costing Nature land use change module to show that if deforestation and forest degradation continues at the highest of current rates for a further 50 years along existing and planned road networks and ineffective protected areas almost all of Ecuador's remaining forests would be lost. Another scenario with effective protected areas would retain forest cover in Yasuni and Cuyabeno. In both scenarios we replaced the current cover with a typical agricultural cover of 10% scattered trees by area, 80% herbaceous vegetation (croplands and pastures) and 10% bare soil.

Impacts on tree cover:

Current forest cover:

50 years of high forest loss (ineffective protected areas):

50 years of high forest loss (effective protected areas):

Tree cover: 53%

Tree cover: 32% (40% loss)

Tree cover: 37% (30% loss)

Impacts on water quality and quantity:

Hydrological ecosystem services (availability of high quality freshwater for Ecuador) falls by 30% relative to current levels for the scenario without effective protected areas and 23% for the scenario with effective PA's. Both scenarios bring the Amazon similar water resource and quality issues to those currently experienced in the intensively used parts of the Andes.

Potential water services:0.69

Potential water services:0.48 (30% loss)

Potential Water services: 0.53 (23% % loss)

Impacts on carbon stock:

Under both scenarios carbon stock in the Ecuadorian Amazon falls significantly, by 0.4 billion tonnes (equivalent to the annual emissions of Mexico, Italy, South Africa, Saudi Arabia or Indonesia) without effective protected areas and 0.3 billion tonnes (equivalent to the annual emissions of Poland, Ukraine or Spain) with them. The protected areas store carbon equivalent to the annual emissions of Iraq, Belgium, Nigeria, or Vietnam.

Carbon stock: 2.4 BN tonnes

Carbon stock: 2.0 BN tonnes (16.7% loss)

Carbon stock: 2.1 BN

(12.5% loss)

Impacts on carbon sequestration:

Annual carbon sequestration by Ecuador offsets emissions equivalent to all of those from Gabon, Malta, Suriname or DR Congo. The deforestation scenario reduces sequestration by the equivalent of all annual emissions from Burundi or the Solomon Islands. With effective protected areas the loss is less with these two protected areas sequestering the equivalent of the annual emissions of the Falkland Islands or Micronesia.

Carbon seq: 2.6 million t/ha/yr

Carbon seq: 2.4 million t/ha/yr (8% loss)

Carbon seq: 2.44

t/ha/yr (6.2% loss)

Impacts on biodiversity (IUCN sampled redlist):

The deforestation scenario with ineffective protected areas would lead to significant species loss (7% of species richness at the national scale) and significant loss of range for many species which would likely result in long term population decline and thus much greater extinction risk for the remaining Amazon species. With effective protected areas, significant populations of many species would remain reducing this risk as well as reducing the immediate species loss.

Species richness:600

Species richness:560

(7% loss)

Species richness:570

(5% loss)


Yasuni is the most important area in Ecuador for biodiversity and for the provision of ecosystem services (water, carbon, hazard mitigation and nature based tourism) into the future.

Continued deforestation at current rates in the Ecuadorian Amazon would lead to loss of most of the country's remaining forest if protected areas are ineffective. This would lead to significant losses of carbon stock and sequestration, contributing to climate change but also immediate losses in species richness and range that would likely lead to population crashes for many species. The most immediate local impacts would be on water resources and water quality affecting local populations.

Effective protected areas would improve the situation dramatically for biodiversity and in particular population viability and a little for carbon and water, arresting deforestation over some 7% of the area.

Yasuni is important for Ecuador but also for the World. A global analysis with Costing Nature indicates that Yasuni is in the top few protected areas globally for species richness, carbon stock and sequestration density.