Ecuador - Flora and fauna

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The arid savanna strip along about half of Ecuador's coast, with occasional low shrubs and isolated ceiba trees, contrasts sharply with the northern coast and the inner portion of the southern coast. In these humid regions, the typical dense growth of the tropical jungle abounds, extending as wet mossy forests up the Andean slopes to over 2,400 m (8,000 ft) in some places. Beyond the moisture barrier formed by the Western Cordillera, the high mountain slopes above 3,000 m (10,000 ft) are covered with wiry páramo grass and, in the northern province of Carchi, with a mulleinlike plant, the fraylejón (espeletia).

The highland valleys, at an altitude between 2,400 and 3,000 m (8,000 and 10,000 ft), support most of the temperate-zone plants; potatoes and corn, for example, have been raised there for thousands of years. There are few native trees in the highlands; eucalyptus was introduced in the 1860s and has been widely planted. The Oriente has little that is unique to tropical flora except for the delicious naranjilla, a small green orange used in making a conserve.

Ecuadoran forests support the usual smaller mammals, reptiles, and birds. In the highlands, the condor and a few other species of birds are found. There is relatively little wild game because of the density of the population and the intensive use of the land. The Amerindians still make some use of the llama in southern Ecuador. Throughout the highlands, Amerindians and some mestizos raise cavies (guinea pigs) in their homes as an important source of meat.

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