El Instituto de Geografía de la USFQ ha sido creado para generar conocimiento científico de los procesos ambientales, socioeconómicos y biofísicos que ocurren en el territorio Ecuatoriano. Así, crea evidencia relevante para las políticas públicas, la acción individual y social para la conservación de los ecosistemas y bienestar de las poblaciones.Ver más

Generar conocimiento ecológico, social y económico, a diferentes escalas, que permita el reconocimiento de la diversidad biológica

Generar evidencia científica que contribuya con el mejor uso de los recursos naturales y el desarrollo de las poblaciones.

Promover a la información geográfica como una herramienta para la transparencia y la rendición de cuentas en torno al uso de los recursos naturales.

Generar capacidades en la teoría geográfica y en herramientas aplicadas dentro de la comunidad académica y sociedad en general.


Ejes Temáticos


  • Conservación y sustentabilidad
  • Actividades extractivas
  • Turismo y comunidades locales
  • Salud pública y epidemiología ambiental
  • Dimensiones espaciales de los negocios
  • Modelamiento espacialmente explicito
  • Procesos de cambio climático
  • Dinámicas hidrológicas
  • Estudios alto-andinos



  • Generación y aplicación de tecnología
  • Ciencia ciudadana
  • Ecosistemas y poblaciones vulnerables
  • Interconectividad regional




El Instituto de Geografía usará el territorio o el espacio como un elemento de organización para producir conocimiento aplicado en los campos de la geografía física y humana y los de las ciencias de la información geográfica, para contribuir al conocimiento científico geográfico y también aportará con la mejor información geográfica posible para que las decisiones sobre el uso y manejo de los recursos naturales sea la mejor posible.



Nuestro Geoportal de Mapas y Datos

Monitoreo Participativo Comunitario en el norte de la Amazonía

Portal de difusión sobre monitoreo participativo con ciencia ciudadana en el norte de la Amazonía.

Esmeraldas- Ciencia Ciudadana

Geo-visualizador de datos de ciencia ciudadana obtenidos en Esmeraldas.

Mapa de Vegetación de Galápagos

Geo-visualizador de la vegetación de Galápagos.


Portal de difusión de datos para la conservación y el desarrollo sustentable de las Islas Galápagos.







A community based environmental monitoring initiative as a form of empowerment of people through knowledge and data validation

Alexandra Guevara, Carolina Sampedro, Carlos F. Mena

The Ecuadorian Amazon region has long been the scenario of conflicts pertaining the extraction of natural resources, especially oil. In general, the main or most visible source of the conflicts seems to be the perceived pollution in different environmental compartments (air, water, soil, air) due to the exploration, extraction and transport of the resource. This paper emphasizes on the importance and challenges of community participation in environmental monitoring programs which aim at individuals and communities being aware of environmental quality through the enhancement of education. This community based environmental monitoring initiative was developed by the Universidad San Francisco de Quito and the Frente de Defensa de la Amazonia and was envisioned as an educational and training component within a larger research project that analyses social and environmental conflicts that arise when natural resources are extracted, especially in areas home to fragile ecosystems and fragile indigenous and other resident communities. This program is focused on training community members on how to notice subtle changes in water quality parameters using a variety of water quality measuring apparatus. We assembled a kit containing several simple instruments and is used by members of the community to approximate water quality. Monitoring sites were selected from a total of 146 which were tested and evaluated for physical, chemical, biological and ecological indicators. 30 water and sediment samples were selected randomly and analyzed for polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons PAHs and heavy metals. Traces of these components were found in all samples. The above processes were thought as a tool for empowering communities.

Remote sensing for Oil Spills:  Linking Community Monitoring and Satellite Image Processing in the Ecuadorian Amazon 

Carlos F. Mena, Carolina Sampedro, Patricia Martínez V., Angelica Encarnación, Diocles Zambrano

This chapter explores a case study on how community monitoring systems and remote sensing can be linked to maximize opportunities.  Specifically, this study tries to find new ways to find the extent of oil liabilities and to explore the real magnitude of oil impacts in the landscape in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon.  The chapter reports preliminary findings on the work of local monitoring that feeds into direct and indirect methodos of remote sensing detection of oil impacts.  Main remote sensing methods used were Fractional Coverage, NDVI, Constrained Energy Minimization and Linear Spectral Unmixing.

Keywords: Ecuadorian Amazon, oil, community monitoring

 Modeling road building, deforestation and carbon emissions due deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon: the potential impact of oil frontier growth

Carlos F. Mena, Patricia Martínez, Francisco Lasso, Carolina Sampedro

Deforestation is one of the main sources of atmospheric carbon emissions. We used land-use change simulations (IDRISI Selva) and existing carbon maps in order to estimate the amount of carbon that will be released into the atmosphere in the coming decades due to deforestation throughout the Ecuadorian Amazon. We took into account land cover from three time periods (1990, 2000, 2008), hydrology, geographical slope, road network, and newly leased oil block locations to predict where deforestation was likely to occur. Then, we overlaid this information with current (2014) carbon maps of Ecuador to estimate the carbon contained in deforested areas. Preliminary results show that most forest loss was due to agricultural expansion from 1990 to 2000. By using these data to calibrate our model, simulations suggest that by the year 2038 there will be a 10% reduction of forest cover. This represents an average of 126.05 Tons of C/Ha, which adds up to over 2 million Tons of Carbon released into the atmosphere due to deforestation in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Validation data comparing projected vs. observed land cover for 2008 had a 97% agreement rate, and suggested that our results are conservative. This is a pilot project for a more exhaustive effort to estimate carbon emissions from deforestation in the Amazon region.

Keywords: Ecuador, Amazon, extractivism, deforestation, carbon

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Phases of oil exploration and exploitation in the Northern Ecuadorian Amazon

Diego Quiroga and Carlos F. Mena

This article explores the way in which the communities living in the Ecuadorian Amazon Forest (Oriente) have developed different responses to the incursion of the oil companies. We also seek to explain why the diverse communities have responded in different ways. There are a series of factors that account for the differences which include the different degree of organization of the indigenous communities, the different legal framework but at the national and international level, the different environmental and social practices of the oil companies and the changing role of NGOs and other external organizations. This article explores the reasons that explain why communities living in the Oriente have developed different responses to the incursion of the oil companies. A series of factors account for the different responses, including the degree of organization of the indigenous communities, when and how they got access to their land titles, changes in the legal framework both at the national and international level, the different environmental and social practices of the oil companies and the changing role of NGOs and other external organizations. We argue that these factors have determined the way in which the communities feel and perceive their sense of entitlement and their acceptance or rejection of the oil companies In general, communities in general reacted more passively to the invasion of an oil company when initial contact was made by the oil company itself and by missionaries. However, communities with more organizational and cultural capacities showed a more organized reaction to the same incursion of an oil company.

Territorial dynamics in mining conflicts: A comparative analysis of two local mining conflicts in Ecuador

Consuelo Fernández, Duygu Avci

In Ecuador, promotion of large-scale mining as a main pillar of the development project of the Correa government has triggered conflicts at the local level, as well as intense public debate concerning the relationship between resource extraction and development. While in public debate the positions are usually more polarized, at the actual areas of large-scale mining projects there is much more diversity and ambiguity in the positions of the social actors regarding mining, and in the ways they engage with the state institutions and the extractive industry. In this paper, we critically compare the contexts of two different mining sites in Ecuador, the Project of Mirador in the province of Zamora Chinchipe and Intag, located in the province of Imbabura. Here, we analyze how territorial dynamics play out in these conflicts and their relation to heterogeneous local responses, political positions and claims, more specifically to explain why and how in Intag a strong opposition was constructed, while in Mirador the resistance to mining remained rather weak and divided.

Keywords: Mining conflicts; territory; territorial dynamics; identity production; development visions

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 A validated agent-based model to study the spatial and temporal heterogeneities of malaria incidence in the rainforest environment

Francesco Pizzitutti, William Pan, Alisson Barbieri, J Jaime Miranda, Beth Feingold, Gilvan R. Guedes, Javiera Alarcon-Valenzuela and Carlos F. Mena

Background:  The Amazon environment has been exposed in the last decades to radical changes that have been accompanied by a remarkable rise of both Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax malaria.  The malaria transmission process is highly influenced by factors such as spatial and temporal heterogeneities of the environment and individual-based models.

Methods:  This paper presents a validated agent-based model of local-scale malaria transmission.  The model reproduces the environment of a typical riverine village in the northern Peruvian Amazon, where the malaria transmission is highly seasonal and apparently associated with flooding of large areas caused by the neighboring river.  Agents representing humans, mosquitoes and the two species of Plasmodium (P. falciparum and P. vivax) are simulate in a spatially explicit representation of the environment around the village.  The model environment includes: climate, people houses positions and elevation.  A representation of changes in the mosquito breeding areas extension caused by the river flooding is also included in the simulation environment.

Results:  A calibration process was carried out to reproduce the variations of the malaria monthly incidence over a period of 3 years.  The calibrated model is also able to reproduce the spatial heterogeneities of local scale malaria transmission.  A “what if” eradication strategy scenario is proposed; if the mosquito breeding sites are eliminated through  mosquito larva habitat management in a buffer area extended at least 200 m around the village, the malaria transmission is eradicated from the village.

Conclusions:  The use of agent-based models can reproduce effectively the spatiotemporal variations of the malaria transmission in a low endemicity environment dominated by river floodings like in the Amazon

Keywords:  Agent-based model, Malaria, Amazon, Low endemicity, Anopheles darling, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium falciparum. 

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 Food Supply System Dynamics in the Galapagos Island:  Agriculture, Livestock, and Imports 

Carolina Sampedro, Francesco Pizzitutti, Diego Quiroga, Stephen J. Walsh, Carlos F. Mena

The Galapagos Archipelago, as islands environment, have to deal with intrinsic disadvantages such as small size, remoteness, insularity, disaster proneness, and environmental fragility, which translate in limited access to natural and social resources (ONU, 1994) generating dependence on a narrow range of products and incrementing import reliance, which in turn compromise the Galapagos inhabitants´ food security.  In this context, this research applied an SD model approach in order to identify the driving forces and relationships that influence the food availability system through the analysis of its variables and interactions, to understand how population growth and food consumption in the Galapagos Islands are related to supply dynamics such as local agriculture production and food imports. It was observed that local production keeps a decreasing trend in the three scenarios, as well as an imports reliance increase. Also, agricultural areas in the Galápagos Islands are regulated mostly by cattle ranching activities, which present an increasing trend due to meat importation restrictions.  And, that while production keeps expanding into the agricultural area, a more effective control of invasive species is possible. In this regard, Galapagos food security depends on a decreasing local farming and an increasing dependence on food imports, what in turn increases the vulnerability of the islands food security. These three growth scenarios as well as production and consumption tendencies, further proves the difficulties and limitations of the Galapagos Island´s food security. Therefore, overcome the island disadvantages towards a self-reliance in local production is a goal to pursue.  

 Urban Land Cover Change in Ecologically Fragile Environments: The Case of the Galapagos Islands

Fátima L. Benítez,  Carlos F. Mena, Leo Zurita-Arthos

The Galapagos Islands are a unique sanctuary for wildlife and have gone through a fluctuating process of urbanization in the three main inhabited islands. Despite being colonized since the 1800s, it is during the last 25 years that a dramatic increase in population has been observed. Analyzing impervious surface change over this period in an ecologically fragile environment is a challenging task, thus two methods that have been widely employed in studying urban environments were compared in this study: sub-pixel using spectral mixture analyses (SMA) and object-based classification. The SMA linear model, applied over moderate spatial resolution imagery, does not produce accurate results for urban composition mapping showing significant spectral confusion between classes. Instead, the object-based classification using spectral indices proved to be more effective for detecting impervious surfaces over heterogeneous urban environments in inhabited islands. The accuracy assessment showed a correlation between estimated and true impervious surface abundance fraction higher than first expected (R2 = 67.7%) for the object-based classification, considering the limitations of pixel size (Landsat imagery) in small heterogeneous urban landscapes. Hence, this methodology was applied to all three urban centers for further analysis. Through this assessment, the average annual growth rate in urban areas was calculated as 3.3% from 1992 to 2017. The foreseen applications and local implications for land planning and management are especially important for the Galapagos Islands. There is a need for planning systems and processes that involve all stakeholders, in order to support pre-existing conservation initiatives and sustainable development policies.

Keywords: inhabited islands; urbanization; SMA; object-based classification; Galapagos

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 Chapter 3: Perspectives for the study of the Galapagos Islands: Complex Systems and Human-Environment Interactions

Stephen J. Walsh, Carlos F. Mena

Complexity theory and complex adaptive systems offer a theoretical framework to examine dynamic and coupled natural–human systems within a policy-relevant context. We advocate an Island Biocomplexity perspective that encompasses the coevolution and adaptive resilience of island ecosystems with a new island ecology that incorporates human impacts in coupled natural–human systems. Agent-based models (ABMs), as implementation tools, are described as an approach to examine “what-if” scenarios of change of linked social–ecological systems that involve heterogeneous agents (i.e., individuals and households), a dynamic environment, and exogenous forces and endogenous factors that combine in complex ways to alter social, terrestrial, and marine subsystems in the Galapagos Islands. Despite the fact that most of the new ABM advances are still experimental with few practical applications and few are being used in policy making, these frameworks offer a new way to understand the local interactions and regional patterns within the Galapagos Islands.

Keywords: Migration; Chlorophyll; Economic Crisis; Income; Radar 

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Chapter 6: Remote Sensing of the Marine Environment: Challenges and Opportunities in the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador

Laura Brewington, Brian G. Frizzelle, Stephen J. Walsh, Carlos F. Mena, Carolina Sampedro

Analysis of marine and coastal systems is of fundamental importance to environmental scientists, engineers, and managers. Since the 1960s, remote sensing has played an important role in characterizing the marine environment, with particular emphasis on sea surface features, temperature, and salinity; mapping of shorelines, wetlands, and coral reefs; local fisheries and species movements; tracking hurricanes, earthquakes, and coastal flooding; and changes in coastal upwelling and marine productivity. This chapter reviews marine applications of remote sensing worldwide, exploring contemporary satellite systems, research themes, and analytical methods. In the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, marine remote sensing has been limited to the use of large-scale daily image-gathering systems, such as CZCS, MODIS, SeaWiFS, and AVHRR, due to persistent cloud cover and constrained research budgets. Recent advances in satellite technology and availability, however, offer new opportunities for remote sensing in the Galapagos archipelago and beyond. Moderate-resolution sensors like SPOT and Landsat continue to be relevant for regional-scale evaluations of marine and coastal environments, identifying hotspots or focal areas for the use of more fine-grained imagery like QuickBird, WorldView-2, and aerial photographs. Radar systems like Aquarius and SAR show promise in new lines of oceanographic research, including sea surface salinity and the differentiation of mangrove subspecies. The use of ancillary or in situ data for calibration and validation of remotely-sensed image analysis can overcome the limitations of sensors used in bathymetric applications, while advances in cellular and GPS technology facilitate real-time reporting from citizen scientists for integrated monitoring of environmental and social change.

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Chapter 11: Shifting Baselines in the Galapagos White Fin Fishery, Using Fisher’s Anecdotes to Reassess Fisheries Management: The Case of the Galapagos Grouper

Diana V. Burbano, Carlos F. Mena, Paulina Guarderas, Luis Vinueza, Gunther Reck

This study links social and ecological aspects of the white fin fishery in San Cristobal Island. This is a traditional fishery focused at first on the Galapagos grouper (Mycteroperca olfax), a top predator and an iconic species of the archipelago as part of a traditional dish to celebrate Easter on the continent. We used anecdotal information and perceptions provided by three generations of fisherman to understand the impacts of fishing on the dried and salted fishery. Significant differences were found among fishers’ groups surveyed and interviewed for this study. The oldest group indicated a greater past abundance of the Galapagos grouper than the other two younger age groups. The close relationship between fishers and their activity have generated certain knowledge about marine environments, its species, and the dynamics developed in their fishing areas, creating a perception of changes in this fishery.

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A methodology for mapping native and invasive vegetation coverage in archipelagos: An example from Galápagos Islands

Gonzalo F. Rivas-Torres, Fátima L. Benítez, Danny Rueda, Christian Sevilla, Carlos F. Mena

This study develops a mixed, systematic, low-cost methodology to define and map native vegetation and the spread of the most aggressive invasive species in islands biomes, focusing on the Galápagos National Park (GNP). Based on preliminary legends defined by experts, Landsat 8/OLI fusion imagery was used for object-oriented classification to obtain the vegetation map of this archipelago. This technique was later verified and validated using high-resolution images from unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, i.e., drones) and dedicated satellites, ground truthing, and visual confirmation around GNP coasts. This mixed methodology allowed mapping of nine native ecosystems, six invasive-dominated vegetation units, and two types of lavas. Around 53.63% of GNP is covered by native ecosystems and *2.2% is “canopy” dominated by invasive species to date. Native-dominated deciduous forest types cover *40.8% of the GNP and only *12.8% of the protected
area is nowadays covered by humid and transitional type native ecosystems. Among humid native ecosystems, those distributed in the highlands only cover 4.8% and are highly threatened by invasive species, which are mostly distributed in these summit areas. Of the five islands (out of 18) recording invasivedominated units, Isabela and Santa Cruz were the most infested. Cedrela odorata, Pennisetum purpureum, and Psidium guajava were the main invasive plants dominating the GNP canopy. Highly noxious Rubus niveus was the only invasive species dominating areas among the five infested islands. Methodology detailed here proved useful to provide accurate spatially-explicit islands vegetation data, potential for replication in time, and is expected to aid suitable management of highly endangered and unique biotas in this and other tropical island biomes.

Keywords: Drones, Galápagos National Park, invasive species, Landsat 8, UAVs, native and endemic species

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