Assessing Watersheds in the Andes and Amazon for Effective Conservation Investment

Project Summary

Pressure on biodiversity is mounting over vast areas of the Amazon Basin. Ameliorating these pressures to safeguard natural habitats and the ecosystem services they provide to human communities requires that decision-making processes are informed by relevant and up-to-date datasets.

This effort sought to identify those places within the Andes-Amazon region where investments in biodiversity conservation can yield the greatest returns, given available resources. Watersheds served as the primary units for the analysis because of their significance for ecological and hydrological processes and their application potential for analyses required at any geographic scale.

Map of project areaThe results of these studies can support and improve not only conservation decision-making but also the application of the environmental impact assessment standards increasingly endorsed by international lenders as benchmarks for sustainable development investments.

NatureServe and its collaborators assessed the relative importance of individual watersheds across a project area that covers parts of four countries, taking advantage of newly available data for:

  • Several species groups
  • Aquatic and terrestrial ecological systems
  • The distribution of threats
  • Ecosystem services

The resulting thematic analyses scale across a nested scale of watersheds (Josse et al. 2013), with the purpose of providing information meaningful for conservation interventions occurring at both local and regional levels.

Significance for Conservation

The Eastern Andes and the Western Amazon Basin are already recognized as one of the world’s most important areas for biodiversity richness and endemism, but the region’s countries are under pressures to increase access to land and develop natural resources for growing capital markets. Impacts from such activities increase the relevance and urgency of the themes under review in this project:

  • Vulnerable and irreplaceable elements of biodiversity
  • Value of ecosystem services
  • Current and forecasted distribution of threats
  • Opportunity cost of conservation investments


NatureServe’s science team collaborated with more than a dozen researchers from different institutions to compile data and develop the analyses. With these data, NatureServe performed a cost-benefit analysis to prioritize watersheds for conservation investments in the region.