Neel Simpson' 22, Major: Geology
Faculty MentorDr. Robert Rose
The Choco rainforest of Ecuador supports exceptionally high biodiversity, habitat for numerous endemic species, ecosystem goods and services, and natural resources that promote the livelihoods of local communities that have deep cultural and socioeconomic ties to the forest ecosystems. Despite its global importance, the Choco rainforest has faced dramatic deforestation over the last 30 years as the forest is converted to small-scale agriculture (cacao, plantain, corn) and grazing land needed to meet the socio-economic and nutritional needs of Ecuador’s most vulnerable local communities. There is an immediate need for integrative research that will guide the implementation of conservation actions and policies that will ensure the protection of the biodiversity of the Choco forests and the promotion of viable livelihoods for Ecuador’s local communities.
Working alongside an interdisciplinary team from Tulane University, a W&M faculty mentor, and the Fundación para la Conservación de los Andes Tropicales (FCAT), Neel developed a land cover map that is being used to guide the establishment of a forest corridor in and around Ecuador’s Mache-Chindul Reserve, which protects one of Ecuador’s last strongholds of ecologically important Choco rainforests. Utilizing Planet imagery, Neel's land cover map will be used to explore the socioeconomic and environmental drivers of land conversion and to inform land protection measures. This map will support the FCAT team and local community stakeholders in identifying opportunities to protect critical wildlife corridors, promote sustainable livelihoods for local communities and ensure the long-term protection of the natural resources and ecosystem services provided by the Choco rainforest ecosystems.