Monitoring some of our endangered species in the Dracula Reserve

P1320056One of the Rhaebo colomai individuals found by Juan Pablo on this monitoring trip. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

Our Dracula Reserve protects the only known protected populations of several critically endangered species. The survival of these species in the wild depends entirely on us. We are starting a project to monitor the populations of some of these species, to make sure they are doing well and to detect problems early.

Atelopus coynei from a previous trip. Photo: Jordy Salazar/EcoMinga

Last month EcoMinga  manager and herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes and his team (Mario Yanez and Miguel Urgilez of INABIO, and Daniel Chavez, our Manduriacu administrator) set up the transects for our program to monitor two of our critically endangered frogs. The two species, Rhaebo colomai and Atelopus coynei, are nearly extinct except for small populations in and around the Dracula Reserve. On this trip, Juan Pablo was able to find only Rhaebo colomai, not Atelopus coynei. This is worrisome, but we don’t know what it means yet. We will repeat the surveys in November/December and again in April. If A. coynei is not detected in those surveys, we have a problem.The good news is that R. colomai is doing well, and Juan Pablo has learned to recognize individuals by their face masks, so that the monitoring program will be able to observe not only population size but also longevity and population turnover.

Juan Pablo also saw this Nymphargus grandisonae. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

He found this orchid as well, Pescatoria lehmannii. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.


The primary risk for these frogs is the dreaded chytrid fungus. Here team members Miguel Urgilez (left) and Daniel Chavez  take a swab from the skin surface of a Rhaebo colomai to test for the presence of the fungus. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

We also have the only protected population of the critically endangered orchid Phragmipedium fischeri. Our collaborator Marco Monteros checked the status of this population last month. The adult plants seemed to be in good shape, and he was excited to fine lots of baby plants growing around the adults.

Phragmipedium fischeri. Photo: Callie Broaddus.

A mix of big and small plants. Photo: Marco Monteros.

Some small plants. Photo: Marco Monteros

Small plants. Photo: Marco Monteros.

We have a small update on our critically endangered mammal, the Brown-headed Spider Monkey–new sightings outside the reserve, which give us a better idea of its range. We have seen evidence that hunters are entering the reserve with greater frequency due to the covid-19 economic crisis. This could put our monkeys at risk of local extinction. We are organizing  increased patrols, along with food aid for the local communities, but these are challenging times.

Juan Pablo ran into some poachers, who fled, leaving a trail of blood-soaked leaves. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Melastomes 6: The day our eyes were opened, September 28 2014


Melastome petals covering the ground in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost

[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

The world constantly bombards us with countless stimuli. Our brains, to keep from being overloaded by all of this input, actively filter out the things that don’t interest us before they even reach our consciousness. People who aren’t birdwatchers literally do not see or hear most of the birds that are everywhere around them. People who don’t care about insects think there are only two or three kinds of fly, though their eyes have probably seen hundreds of kinds.  This filtering is not a bad thing; the world, especially our tropical world, is overwhelming in its diversity. If we paid attention to everything we would see nothing. If I paid attention to every moss and fungus and mite and diatom and mosquito and algae, I would never walk more than two steps into the forest.

But our filters can be broken down. I remember the exact day that I first started really seeing birds; I was a child and a Yellow-shafted Flicker landed in our yard, with its striking pattern of gold and black and tan, and its crazy call. I got a bird book, and from that moment the world of birds was visible to me. I have seen other people suddenly discover birds, or plants, or moss, or insects, and their world is suddenly tranformed.

September 28 2014 was a day like that. Until that date I had not paid much attention to trees. Though I had participated in the discoveries of Meriania aurata and Blakea attenboroughii, these were strikingly unusual, and I imagined they were isolated cases.  But earlier that year, my friends John Clark and David Neill, with students from the University of Alabama, had noticed two curious Magnolia tree species in our Rio Zunac Reserve. The world expert on neotropical Magnolias, Dr. Antonio Vazquez, confirmed that they were new endemic species. Of course I wanted to go see them, so I hiked to our Zunac research station with Antonio, several of his students, and our reserve guards Fausto Recalde and Luis Recalde.  I was thinking more about trees than usual, and I began to notice a lot of purple melastome flower petals on the forest floor, from the genus Meriania.


More melastome confetti. Photo: Lou Jost.

Nothing unusual about that; these are a common feature of our forests. But on this day, as trees were on my mind, I finally noticed that there was not just one species of purple melastome here, but several species. I decided to start looking more closely at the melastomes as we continued our trek.

When we got to the new Magnolia species after two days of hiking, I saw one of the weirdest Meriania of the trip. This was a hummingbird-pollinated Meriania, and it literally dripped nectar from its flowers. None of the other Meriania flowers we saw that day had any detectable nectar. Specialists are still examining these photos; they are not sure of its identity.


The hummingbird-pollinated Meriania of our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost.


Side view of the tubular flower, typical of hummingbird flowers. Photo: Lou Jost


As in most melastomes, the anthers are “salt-shakers” full of pollen, and here the anther pores are visible with white pollen on them. Photo: Lou Jost

As we continued hiking to and past the Magnolias on the second day of our expedition, we also began to find orange fallen melastome petals. Some were the now-familar bright orange fallen petals of Meriania aurata, but this time I noticed that there were also other slightly lighter orange petals nearby, belonging to a different species of Meriania that I had never seen before. We later realized that this was Meriania pastazana, a rare endemic species that had only been collected a few times in the past.


Our now-famous Meriania aurata. Photo: Lou Jost


We later learned that this species, similar to M. aurata but with different leaves, calyx, and anthers, was Meriania pastazana, a rare species that appears to be endemic to our region. Photo: Lou Jost.

And there were more purple fallen petals, of species different from the purple ones of the previous day.  I set myself and my guards to start looking for all the large-flowerd melastomes we could find in this area. Over the course of that day and the next, our eyes were opened and we found what seemed like an endless variety, at least three of them new to science!


Fallen flowers of Meriania drakei (determined later by melastome specialist Diana Fernandez) were scattered on the path. Photo: Lou Jost


Flower of Meriania drakei. Photo: Lou Jost

Fausto and Luis then found a white Meriana. I didn’t even know there were white ones. It turned out to be a new species, which David Neill and John Clark had first noticed in their Magnolia study plots a few months earlier. The photos I took on this trip seem to be the only photos in existence of the flower. The article describing it has not yet been published.


An unusual new Meriania, which is a new species currently being described from our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost.

We climbed higher, beyond the areas with the two new Magnolia species. There we found an incredibly intensely colored red-purple Meriania. The flower buds were nearly black with pigment. This also turned out to be a new species, as determined by Diana Fernandez and Agnes Dellinger a few years later when they came to investigate our reserve after seeing these photos. The species has just been published today (open access):

Two new species of Meriania (Melastomataceae) from eastern Ecuador
Diana Fernandez, Lou Jost, and Agnes Dellinger

We have named it Meriania ardyae, to honor Ardy van Ooij, who, together with Henri Botter, have been supporting the Rio Zunac Reserve continuously for many years.


Another new species: Meriania ardyae. Photo: Lou Jost


Another view of the flowers of M. ardyae. Photo: Lou Jost.

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The microscopic ornamentation on the stems of Meriania ardyae. None of our other local Meriania species have anything like these. It pays to look at the microscopic details of plants!!! Photo: Lou Jost.

Later that day we came down from the mountain to spend the night in our research station and watch the magical nocturnal opening of the new Magnolias whose buds we had collected that day. And there, right next to the cabin, was another incredible Meriania in bloom, with the biggest flowers we had yet seen, and with a sweet fragrance so overpowering that it almost made me ill. This also turned out to be  new species, as determined by Diana and Agnes’ later fieldwork, and it too has been published today, in the article linked above. It is named after the Rio Zunac river and reserve.


Another new species! Meriania zunacensis. Photo: Lou Jost

In this post I have only shown the Meriania species we saw on this trip, but we also saw many Blakea species and species from other genera of melastomes, which I will show in future posts.  It was a remarkable experience to see, for the first time, so many dramatic new species not only of melastomes but of Magnolias, orchids, and other things. This reserve is a world treasure, and I am extremely grateful to our sponsors who have made it possible, especially the World Land Trust, IUCN-Netherlands and Netherlands Postcode Lottery, Rainforest Trust,  Orchid Conservation Alliance, and of course Henri Botter and Ardy van Ooij.

Lou Jost, Executive Director, Fundacion EcoMinga

Melastomas 6: El día en se abrieron nuestros ojos, 28 de Septiembre 2014
IMG 01 – Pétalos de una melastoma cubriendo el suelo en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac. Fotografía: Lou Jost

El mundo nos bombardea constantemente con incontables estímulos. Nuestros cerebros, para evitar ser sobrecargado por toda esta información, filtran activamente las cosas que no nos interesan incluso antes de que alcancen nuestra conciencia. Las personas que no son observadores de aves literalmente no ven o escuchan a la mayoría de las aves que se encuentran a su alrededor. Las personas que no se preocupan de los insectos piensan que solo hay dos o tres tipos de mosca, aunque sus ojos probablemente han visto cientos de tipos. Este filtrado no es malo; el mundo, especialmente nuestro mundo tropical, es abrumador en su diversidad. Si ponemos atención a todo no veríamos nada. Si pongo atención a cada musgo, hongo, ácaro, diatomea, mosquito y algas, nunca caminaría más de dos pasos hacia el bosque.

Pero nuestros filtros pueden romperse. Recuerdo el día exacto que realmente empecé a ver aves; yo era un niño y un Yellow-shafted Flicker (Colaptes auratus) aterrizó en nuestro patio, con su llamativo patrón dorado, negro y fuego, y su loco canto. Conseguí un libro de aves, y desde ese momento el mundo de las aves fue visible para mí. He visto a otras personas repentinamente descubrir las aves, o las plantas, o los musgos, o los insectos, y su mundo se transforma repentinamente. 
El 28 de Septiembre 2014 era un día como esos. Hasta ese día no había puesto mucha atención a los árboles. Aunque había participado en los descubrimientos de Meriania aurata y Blakea attenboroughii, estos fueron sorprendentemente inusuales, e imaginé que serían casos aislados. Pero a principios de ese año, mis amigos John Clark y David Neill, con estudiantes de la Universidad de Alabama, habían notado dos curiosas especies de árboles de Magnolia en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac. El experto mundial en Magnolias neotropicales, Dr. Antonio Vázquez, confirmó que eran nuevas especies endémicas. Por supuesto, quería ir a verlas, así que caminé a nuestra estación científica Zuñac con Antonio, muchos estudiantes, y nuestros guardias de reserva Fausto Recalde y Luis Recalde. Estaba pensando más en árboles de lo usual, y comencé a notar bastantes pétalos morados de flores de melastomas en el suelo del bosque, del género Meriania.
IMG 02-  Más confeti de melastomas. Fotografía: Lou Jost
Nada inusual acerca de esto; esta es una característica común de nuestros bosques. Pero en este día, mientras los árboles estaban en mi mente, finalmente noté que no había una sola especie de melastoma púrpura aquí, sino varias especies. Decidí comenzar a mirar más de cerca las melastomas mientras continuamos nuestra caminata.
Cuando llegamos a la nueva especie de Magnolia después de dos días de caminata, vi una de las Meriania más extrañas del viaje. Esta era una Meriania polinizada por colibríes, y literalmente goteaba néctar de sus flores. Ninguna de las flores de Meriania que vimos ese día tenía algún néctar detectable. Los especialistas todavía están examinando estas fotos; no están seguros de  su identidad.
IMG 03 – La Meriania polinizada por colibríes en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac. Fotografía: Lou Jost
IMG 04 – Vista lateral de la flor tubular, característico de flores polinizadas por colibríes. Fotografía: Lou Jost
IMG 05 – Como en muchas melastomas, las anteras son “saleros” llenos de polen, y aquí los poros de la antera son visibles con polen blanco en ellos. Fotografía: Lou Jost
A medida que continuamos caminando y pasamos la Magnolia en el segundo día de nuestra expedición, también comenzamos a encontrar pétalos caídos de melastoma anaranjados. Algunos eran los ahora familiares pétalos caídos de color naranja brillante de Meriania aurata, pero esta vez noté que había también otros pétalos anaranjados más claros cerca, pertenecientes a diferentes especies de Meriania que nunca había visto antes. Después caímos en cuenta de que se trataba de Meriania pastazana, una especie endémica rara que ha sido colectada pocas veces en el pasado. 
IMG 06 – Nuestra ahora famosa Meriania aurata. Fotografía: Lou Jost
IMG 07 – Después aprendimos que esta especie, similar a M. aurata pero con hojas, cáliz, y anteras diferentes, era Meriania pastazana, una especie rara que parece ser endémica de nuestra región. Fotografía: Lou Jost
Y había más pétalos púrpura caídos, de especies diferentes a las púrpuras en los días previos. Dispuse que yo y mis guardias a comenzaramos a buscar todos los melastomas de flores grandes que pudiéramos encontrar en esta área. En el transcurso de ese día y el siguiente, nuestros ojos se abrieron y encontramos lo que parecía una variedad interminable, ¡al menos tres de ellos nuevos para la ciencia!
IMG 08- Flores caídas de Meriania drakei (determinada después por la especialista de melastomas Diana Fernández) estaban esparcidos por el camino. Fotografía: Lou Jost. 
IMG 09- Flor de Meriania drakei. Fotografía: Lou Jost
Fausto y Luis entonces encontraron una Meriania blanca. Ni siquiera sabía que había blancas. Resultó ser una nueva especie, que David Neill y John Clark habían notado por primera vez en sus parcelas de estudio de Magnolia unos meses antes. Las fotografías que tomé en este viaje parecen ser las únicas fotos que existen de la flor. El artículo que la describe no ha sido publicado todavía. 
IMG 10 – Una nueva Meriania inusual, la cual es una nueva especie que se está describiendo actualmente en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac. Fotografía: Lou Jost. 
Subimos más alto, más allá de las áreas con las dos nuevas especies de Magnolia. Allí encontramos una Meriania rojo-púrpura. Los botones florales estaban casi negros por el pigmento. Esta también resultó ser una nueva especie, como lo determinaron Diana Fernández y Agnes Dellinger unos pocos años atrás cuando vinieron a investigar nuestra reserva luego de ver estas fotografías. La especie se acaba de publicar hoy (acceso abierto): 
La hemos nombrado Meriania ardyae, en honor a Ardy van Ooij, quien, junto con Henri Botter, han apoyado a la Reserva Río Zuñac continuamente durante muchos años.
IMG 11- Otra nueva especie: Meriania ardyae. Fotografía: Lou Jost.
IMG 12- Otra vista de las flores de M. ardyae. Fotografía: Lou Jost.
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IMG 13 – La ornamentación microscópica de los tallos de Meriania ardyae. Ninguna de nuestras especies locales de Meriania, tienen nada como esto. ¡Vale la pena mirar los detalles microscópicos de las plantas! Fotografía: Lou Jost. 
Más tarde ese día bajamos de la montaña para pasar la noche en nuestra estación científica y observar la mágica apertura de las nuevas Magnolias cuyos botones habíamos recolectado ese día. Y allí, justo al lado de la cabaña, estaba otra increíble Meriania en flor, con las flores más grandes que habíamos visto hasta ahora, y con una dulce fragancia tan abrumadora que casi me enferma. Esta también resultó ser una especie nueva, según lo determinado por el trabajo de campo posterior de Diana y Agnes, y también ha sido publicado hoy, en el artículo vinculado anteriormente. Lleva el nombre del río y la reserva Río Zuñac. 
IMG 014 – ¡Otra nueva especie! Meriania zunacensis. Fotografía: Lou Jost.
En este post sólo he mostrado las especies de Meriania que vimos en este viaje, pero también muchas especies de Blakea y especies de otros géneros de melastomas, las cuales mostraré en publicaciones futuras. Era una experiencia extraordinaria ver, por primera vez, tantas nuevas especies dramáticas no solo de melastomas, sino también de Magnolias, orquídeas, y otras cosas. Esta reserva es un tesoro mundial, y estoy extremadamente agradecido con nuestros patrocinadores quienes lo han hecho posible, especialmente al World Land Trust, IUCN- Países Bajos y Netherlands Postcode Lottery, Rainforest Trust,  Orchid Conservation Alliance, y por supuesto Henri Botter y Ardy van Ooij.
Lou Jost, Director Ejecutivo, Fundación EcoMinga. 
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores

Another new frog species discovered in our Manduriacu Reserve


Noblella worleyae. Photo: Jaime Culebras


The new species, Noblella worleyae.  Click to enlarge. Figure from the original paper (link below).


[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

Last week the description of another new species of frog from our Manduriacu Reserve was published:

A new species of Noblella ( Amphibia: Strabomantidae) from the Río Manduriacu Reserve on the Pacific slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes by Carolina Reyes-Puig , Ross J. Maynard , Scott J. Trageser , José Vieira , Paul S.Hamilton , Ryan Lynch , Jaime Culebras , Sebastián Kohn , Jorge Brito & Juan Manuel Guayasamin.


Noblella worleyae. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

Noblella worleyae sp. n. (R_Maynard)_sm

Noblella worleyae. Photo: Ross Maynard.

The discovery was made by members of the Biodiversity Group and  other EcoMinga collaborators, and was featured in one of Ecuador’s largest newspapers. This is the second discovery of a new Noblella in our reserves; it follows Noblella naturetrekii from our Naturetrek Reserve in eastern Ecuador near Banos. The genus Noblella consists of very inconspicuous and poorly known little terrestrial frogs. Close study of local frog communities, such as the kinds of studies we facilitate in our reserves, is beginning to reveal the true diversity of this genus.

Noblella worleyae sp. n. - in situ (R_Maynard_sm

Noblella worleyae. Photo: Ross Maynard


The authors of last week’s study also did a DNA study of the genus Noblella. The authors found that there was a problem with this genus:


Nowadays scientists  define genera as groups of species that are connected by common descent. A genus defined in this way conveys information about the shared evolutionary history of the group of species. This evolutionary view of genera is slightly different from the older view. In the modern concept of “genus”, all members of a genus must descend from a single common ancestor, and the genus must include all the descendants of that common ancestor. The red dot I added to the paper’s Figure 1 shows the most recent common ancestor of all Noblella species. As you can see, the “family tree” of the genus Noblella  shows that the most recent common ancestor of all Noblella species also has descendants in five other genera. The Noblella species are found in two isolated groups (highlighted in gray). So the “genus” Noblella, as currently used, violates the modern definition of a genus. Biologists would say that it is not “monophyletic”.

There are many ways to fix this, depending on where we want to “cut” the branches of family tree. The genus Noblella could be expanded to include all the species currently classified in the other five genera that descend from my red dot, or the species currently classified as Noblella could be split into two or three genera so that each new genus was monophyletic. The choices are partly arbitary, depending on whether we want big inclusive genera or many small ones. Biologists also generally try to be consistent with the treatment of other genera in the group. These are all decisions which the authors have left for the future.

Another interesting feature of the tree is that the two different individuals of Noblella myrmecoides occur in very different branches, with other species (and even genera!) between them. The two individuals included in the tree cannot really be the same species if they are so distantly related to each other. This tells us that the people who classified one of these individuals accidentally and unknowingly had discovered a new species, but it was so similar to N. myrmecoides that they misidentified it. This was what biologists call a “cryptic species”, one which so closely resembles another species that it fools taxonomists. Many tropical biologists suspect that there are many cryptic species in the tropics; DNA analysis and closer attention to morphological differneces can eventually reveal them. This Noblella example is a particularly nice case of cryptic species, since the two forms are very far from each other genetically. In future posts I’ll discuss other cryptic species, especially orchids, which we have now learned to resolve.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga


Noblella worleyae. Photo: Jaime Culebras

Otra nueva especie de rana descubierta en nuestra Reserva Manduriacu
IMG 01 – Noblella worleyae. Fotografía: Jaime Culebras
IMG 02 – La nueva especie, Noblella worleyae. Hacer click para agrandar. Figura del artículo original (link abajo).
La semana anterior fue publicada la descripción de otra nueva especie de nuestra Reserva Manduriacu.
Una nueva especie de Noblella (Amphibia: Strabomantidae) de la Reserva Río Manduriacu en las faldas del Pacífico de los Andes Ecuatorianos  por Carolina Reyes-Puig, Ross J. Maynard, Scott J. Trageser, José Vieira, Paul S.Hamilton, Ryan Lynch, Jaime Culebras, Sebastián Kohn, Jorge Brito & Juan Manuel Guayasamin.
IMG 03 – Noblella worleyae. Fotografía: Jaime Culebras
IMG 04 – Noblella worleyae. Fotografía: Ross Maynard
El descubrimiento fue realizado por miembros de Biodiversity Group y otros colaboradores de EcoMinga, y apareció en uno de los periódicos más importantes de Ecuador. Este es el segundo descubrimiento de una nueva Noblella en nuestras reservas; sigue a Noblella naturetrekii de nuestra Reserva Naturetrek al este de Ecuador cerca de Baños. El género Noblella se constituye de varias ranas terrestres pequeñas, incospicuas y poco conocidas. Un estudio detallado de comunidades de ranas locales, como el tipo de estudios que facilitamos en nuestras reservas, está comenzando a revelar la verdadera diversidad de este género. 
IMG 05 – Noblella worleyae. Fotografía: Ross Maynard
Los autores del estudio de la semana pasada también hicieron un estudio de ADN del género Noblella. Los autores encontraron que había un problema con este género:  
Hoy en día, los científicos definen los géneros como grupos de especies que están conectados por descendencia común. Un género definido en esta manera transmite información sobre la historia evolutiva compartida del grupo de especies. Esta visión evolutiva de los géneros es ligeramente diferente del punto de vista anterior. En el concepto moderno de “género”, todos los miembros de un género deben descender de un único ancestro común y el género debe incluir a todos los descendientes de ese ancestro común. El punto rojo que agregué a la Figura 1 del artículo muestra el ancestro común más reciente de todas las especies de Noblella. Como se puede observar, el “árbol genealógico” del género Noblella muestra que el ancestro común más reciente de las especies de Noblella también tiene descendientes en otros cinco géneros. Las especies de Noblella se encuentran en dos grupos aislados (resultados en gris). De modo que el “género” Noblella, como se usa actualmente, viola la definición moderna de género. Los biólogos dirían que no es “monofilético”.
Hay muchas maneras de arreglar esto, dependiendo de donde queremos “cortar” las ramas del árbol genealógico. El género Noblella podría expandirse para incluir todas las especies actualmente clasificadas en los otros cinco géneros que descienden de mi punto rojo, o las especies actualmente clasificadas como Noblella podrían dividirse en dos o tres géneros, de modo que cada nuevo género sea monofilético. Las opciones son en parte arbitrarias, dependiendo de si queremos grandes géneros inclusivos o muchos *géneros* pequeños. Los biólogos también suelen tratar de ser coherentes con el tratamiento de otros géneros del grupo. Todas estas son decisiones que los autores han dejado para el futuro.
Otra característica interesante de este árbol es que dos individuos diferentes de Noblella myrmecoides se encuentran en ramas muy distintas, con otras especies (¡E incluso géneros!) entre ellos. Los dos individuos incluidos en el árbol no pueden ser la misma especie si están tan distantemente relacionadas entre sí. Esto nos dice que las personas que clasificaron uno de estos individuos, accidentalmente y sin saberlo han descubierto una nueva especie, pero era tan similar a N. myrmecoides que lo identificaron mal. Esto era lo que los biólogos llaman una “especie críptica”, una que se parece tanto a otra especie que engaña a los taxónomos. Muchos biólogos tropicales sospechan que hay muchas especies crípticas en los trópicos; el análisis de ADN y una mayor atención a las diferencias morfológicas pueden eventualmente revelarlas. Este ejemplo de Noblella es un caso particularmente agradable de especies crípticas, ya que las dos formas están muy lejos genéticamente la una de la otra. En publicaciones futuras, discutiré otras especies crípticas, especialmente orquídeas, que ahora hemos aprendido a resolver.
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano – Flores

Kelsey Huisman writes about studying our Teagueia orchids

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Teagueia alyssana, one of the most unusual of our new species. Click to enlarge. Photo:Lou Jost/Ecominga.

University of Wisconsin Ph.D student Kelsey Huisman has been working on our local Teagueia orchids for the last two years. I’ve written several posts here about the surprising local evolutionary radiation of this genus (see here and here, for starters). Until 2001 the genus was thought to be a tiny genus of only about six species, all from Andean Colombia and Ecuador. In that year I discovered four new species of Teagueia in a single square meter of moss on a mountain near my home in Banos. Since then, my students and I have discovered a total of over 30 new Teagueia species here. Kelsey’s fieldwork is expanding our knowledge of this astonishing evolutionary radiation.

She wrote an article about her experiences in our mountains, and it was just published in the August 2020 issue of Orchids, the magazine of the American Orchid Society (which provided support for her work):

“As we continued up the difficult and dangerous trail, we came to the site of the crashed airplane, where around 50 years ago two men were not lucky enough to make it off the mountain alive. We paused in awe. Again, in the distance, we could hear branches breaking. The puma. This time it was behind us. I began to feel nervous because we were
being stalked.”

Read it here:


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Teagueia puroana, which I discovered on what is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. It is named after Puro Coffee (UK). Puro Coffee’s donation to the World Land Trust enabled the Trust to finance our original purchase of the land for this reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Kelsey and her partner Eduardo Peña gave me the chance to photograph many of the species they collected, including the new ones they discovered and many of my earlier dicoveries. For most of these species it was the frst time I was able to apply the technique known as “focus stacking” (taking hundreds of high-resolution pictures while moving the camera a few micrometers forward between shots, to create enormous depth of field without having to stop down the lens, which would cause loss of resolution due to diffraction) so these pictures are big improvements over my previous photos. I felt that now, after waiting many years, I  finally had adequate material to advance my descriptions of the many undescribed species of our area. My story about working on this during the pandemic lockdown appeared in the May 2020 newsletter of the World Land Trust.  I reproduce parts of it here:

Lockdown science

In Ecuador we are locked down from 2pm to 5am. No one is allowed to leave their house during those hours (though, this being Ecuador, many people pay no attention to the rules). From 5am to 2pm we can go out, but only for necessities, and most businesses are closed. People can only drive one day a week. No driving at all on weekends. This is an economic disaster for all of us. No visitors, no meetings, no trips to our reserves. But there is a silver lining. Lots of time to concentrate. It is my opportunity to write up the scientific descriptions of some of the orchid species I have discovered over the years. Life has repeatedly interrupted these descriptions, but now is my chance.


Me at work. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

It’s an involved process. I’ve already done the hardest part, though, hiking up unexplored mountains for days at a time, searching the moss-covered forests for never-before-seen orchids. The tricky part isn’t the hiking (though that is hard enough) but building up enough experience to recognize something unusual. When I find a candidate, I collect a leaf and flowers, or the whole plant if there are multiple individuals. The flowers go straight into a vial of alcohol, which preserves them forever as white ghosts of their former selves. I have eight thousand such orchid-filled vials covering large areas of the floor in my house, all numbered and catalogued. This is my raw material for the scientific descriptions.

The next step is to check whether a candidate orchid really is a new species. I examine the print and online literature, and write to appropriate specialists. When I am sure that I have something new to science, the formal description process begins. I must illustrate every detail of the flower, and this usually means examining, dissecting, and photographing the submerged white alcohol-preserved flower. This is easier said than done. Many of the species I work with are shockingly small and require the use of microscopes for visual examinations. I use tiny scalpels and scissors designed for eye surgery to make the dissections.


Teagueia species in alcohol. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Photography of the tiny details is even harder and requires special techniques and equipment. It has taken me years to perfect these techniques and, in some cases, to invent new methods. Only in the last few months have I developed the technology and bought the equipment (patched together from used parts that appear on eBay) to reach the level of quality that these orchids deserve. A computer controls both the camera and a motor that turns a microscope focusing dial. Hundreds of pictures are taken in succession, with the computer moving the microscope focus a few microns between each picture. Each picture is only sharp in a very thin slice of the orchid, because the depth of field is only a few microns at these high magnifications, less than the width of a human hair. Special software then combines the sharp parts of each of the hundreds of photos, to make a single photo that is sharp from front to back. The absence of traffic vibrations thanks to our lockdown is a tremendous help in this process; the smallest vibration ruins a microphoto. These photos have been revealing a rich and unexpected diversity of microscopic surface textures on the flowers. Traditionally these textures have not been described in much detail, but these hairs and knobs and clubs must be important in interactions with the insect pollinators, and I am going to include information about these structures in my new descriptions.


Microscopic details of a Teagueia petal. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Some of my microphotos will be published directly in the description, while others are used to guide my botanical drawing of the new species. These drawings are traditionally included in the publication of every new species. I used to do them in black carbon ink using an old-fashioned pen with nib, but now I draw digitally on a large touch-sensitive computer display. I am guided by the photos but also have the real specimen at my side under a stereo microscope, to resolve ambiguities in the photo.

For the publication a complete set of measurements of every flower and plant part is needed. For the smaller parts, I make measurements electronically from a calibrated photograph. I must also convey the variability of the species, so I examine multiple individuals if I have found more than one.

Then I have to name the new species, using the Latin binomial system developed by Linnaeus nearly three hundred years ago. The first word is the genus  or “surname” for the plant, and this is almost always already determined (though I did get to co-author one new genus, Quechua). The second word is the species or “given” name, which distinguishes it from its relatives, There is a time-honored code of nomenclature governing these names, with some rules dating from Linnaeus himself.  A name, once given, is forever;  even Linnaeus’ names are still in use. I often name things after the location where it was found, or some feature of the plant. Lately I have been naming some of them to honor people who have supported conservation of their habitat, or to honor loved ones of those supporters, in conjunction with the World Land Trust and other conservation organizations.

The preserved specimen which serves as the basis of the description must be deposited in an official herbarium (plant museum). There it will be available to anyone who wants to study it. Some herbaria are now digitized so that anyone in the world can examine the specimens. (Unfortunately that does not work for my orchid flowers, which are kept in alcohol at the herbaria.)

In addition it is now common to sequence the DNA of a new species to see how it fits into the orchid family tree. I can’t do that at home but my scientist friends often do it for me.

The last step of the description is the final test, submission of the description article for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. The article will be examined and criticized minutely by several experts to check if the arguments in the paper are valid. If they agree that I have adequately supported my claim that the species is new to science, the paper is revised to correct any deficiencies found by the reviewers, and then it is accepted and published. On the day of publication the name becomes the official permanent global scientific name for that species. Yippee!


Lou Jost, Director Ejecutivo, Fundacion EcoMinga




Calaway Dodson, the father of Ecuadorian orchid science and a founding Director of EcoMinga, died yesterday


This is the picture Cal chose to represent himself in his Orchids of Ecuador book volumes.  Piedad, his widow, is at right.

[Traduccion en Espanol abajo]

It pains me to report that the world has lost another giant of orchid science, Dr. Calaway Dodson. He was a pioneer of South American orchidology, beginning his fieldwork here in 1957. He was also the director of the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens from 1973 to 1983, where he mentored and began a lifelong collaboration with Carl Luer, who has also died recently. He was a Senior Curator of the Missouri Botanical Garden and the honorary director of the National Herbarium of Ecuador in Quito.

When I was a teenager in the US fifty years ago I used to check out from the public library Cal’s wonderful book, Orchid Flowers: Their Pollination and Evolution, coauthored with L. Van der Pijl (1966). This was a treasure trove of information, especially about orchid pollination in the wild.

Cal was a prolific taxonomist, describing many of Ecuador’s new species over the last five decades, and establishing many new genera as well.  He wrote partial treatments of the family Orchidaceae for the Flora of Ecuador project of Goteburg University (Sweden) and the Universidad Catolica of Ecuador.


Dressleria is one of many new genera of orchids established by Cal. He named this one after another orchid pioneer, Bob Dressler, because the bad-smelling crushed leaves of this plant reminded him of the smell of Bob Dressler’s dirty field socks. Photo of a drawing from Cal’s Orchids of Ecuador book, Volume II.

His best-known work is the five-volume set of books, Orchids of Ecuador; the first volume was published in 1993 while the last volume came out in 2004. These are magnificent reference books illustrating (with color photos or line drawings) 2572 of the orchids of this orchid-rich country.


He published over 400 scientific articles. One of his best-known articles, The contribution of non-trees to species richness of a tropical rainforest, coauthored with the late Al Gentry, firmly placed the Ecuadorian rainforest on the world stage: “At wet forest Rio Palenque, nontree habit groups make up most of the sampled species and individuals. Over a third of the species and almost half the individual plants are epiphytes, 13 percent of the species are terrestrial herbs, 10 percent are shrubs, and 9 percent nonepiphytic climbers. The moist and dry forest samples have many fewer species, largely due to many fewer epiphytes. The new data are compared with the most diverse 0.1-ha samples from elsewhere in the world. Our wet forest sample is by far the most species-rich such sample yet recorded and would remain so even if all tree species were excluded from the data.”

Less well known but perhaps even more important is his unfinished scientific work in digital form, Orchids of Ecuador, coauthored by the late Carl Luer, Leslie Garay, and Gustavo Romero. This aspired to be a systematic guide to the identification of all the described orchids of Ecuador. It is based mainly on keys and line drawings. It was last revised by Cal (as far as I know) in 2006. Cal writes in its Introduction: “It should not be considered as a complete treatment of the orchids of Ecuador but rather the status of a work in progress.  Given a lot of luck and good health we should be able to finish before we are required to turn in our tools.  Just in case we don’t complete it, what we have done to this point is available for interested persons to utilize.” Unfortunately he and Carl did have to turn in their tools, but it is still the best single reference available for professional scientists studying Ecuador’s orchids.

Cal was not just a scientist but a conservationist. He was witness to the near-total destruction of the lowland rain forest of western Ecuador over the last five decades, so he created the Rio Palenque Reserve there to protect at least a small fragment. This is the fragment which was the subject of his and Gentry’s study mentioned above, the most diverse rainforest known in the world at that time. Today that fragment protected by Cal and his wife Piedad is the only natural forest left in the area. His foresight was one of the inspirations for EcoMinga’s own work, as we hope to do the same for strategic forests rich in endemic species in our own area of influence. Calaway Dodson was one of the founding Directors of EcoMinga, and his fame surely helped us get off to a running start.

Cal died in Florida shortly after recovering from the covid-19 virus, which left him debilitated. His wife Piedad also got the virus but remained asymptomatic. Our condolences and best wishes go out to Piedad.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Calaway Dodson, el padre de la ciencia en orquideas ecuatorianas y un Director fundador de EcoMinga, murió ayer
IMG 01 – Esta es la fotografía que Cal eligió para representarse a si mismo en sus volúmenes del libro Orquídeas del Ecuador. Piedad, su esposa, a su derecha.
Me adolece informar que el mundo ha perdido otro de sus gigantes en la ciencia de orquídeas, el Dr. Calaway Dodson. Él fue un pionero en la orquideología sudamericana, comenzando su trabajo de campo aquí en 1957. También fue el director de Marie Selby Botanical Gardens de 1973 a 1983, donde fue mentor y comenzó una colaboración de por vida con Carl Luer, quien también ha muerto recientemente. Fue también Curador Senior del Missouri Botanical Garden y director honorario del Herbario Nacional del Ecuador, en Quito.
Cuando yo era un adolescente, en los Estados Unidos hace cincuenta años, solía sacar de la biblioteca pública el maravilloso libro de Cal: “Orchid Flowers: Their Pollination and Evolution”, (Orquídeas: Su polinización y evolución) en coautoría con L. Van der Pijl (1966). Este fue un tesoro de información, especialmente sobre la polinización de orquídeas en la naturaleza.
Cal fue un taxónomo prolífico que describió muchas de las nuevas especies de Ecuador en las últimas cinco décadas, y también estableció muchos géneros nuevos. Él escribió tratados parciales de la familia Orquideaceae para el proyecto Flora del Ecuador de la Universidad de Gotemburgo (Suecia) y la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador.
IMG 02 – Dressleria es uno de los muchos géneros nuevos de orquídeas establecidos por Cal. Llamó a este en honor a otro pionero de las orquídeas, Bob Dressler, porque las hojas trituradas malolientes de esta planta le recordaron el olor de los calcetines sucios de Bob Dressler. Fotografía de un dibujo del libro Orquídeas del Ecuador de Cal, Volumen II.
Su trabajo mejor conocido es el conjunto de libros de cinco volúmenes, Orchids of Ecuador (Orquídeas del Ecuador), el primer volumen fue publicado en 1993, mientras el último volumen salió en 2004. Estos son magníficos libros de referencia que ilustran (con fotografías a color o dibujos) 2572 de las orquídeas de este país rico en orquídeas. 
Él publicó más de 400 artículos científicos. Uno de sus artículos mejor conocidos, The contribution of non-trees to species richness of a tropical rainforest (La contribución de la riqueza de especies no arbóreas a un bosque tropical), en coautoría con el fallecido Al Gentry, colocó firmemente a la selva ecuatoriana en el escenario mundial: “En el bosque húmedo de Río Palenque, los grupos de hábitos no arbóreos hacen la mayoría de las especies e individuos muestreados. Más de un tercio de las especies y casi la mitad de las plantas individuales son epífitas, el 13 por cuento de las especies son hierbas terrestres, el 10 por ciento son arbustos, y el 9 por ciento son trepadoras no epífitas. Las muestras de bosque húmedo y seco tienen muchas menos especies, en gran parte debido a muchas menos epífitas. Los nuevos datos se comparan con las muestras más diversas de 0,1 ha. de otras partes del mundo. Nuestra muestra de bosque húmedo es, con mucho, la muestra más rica en especies que se haya registrado hasta ahora y lo seguirá siendo incluso si todas las especies de árboles fueran excluidas de los datos “. 
Menos conocido, pero quizás incluso más importante es si trabajo científico inacabado en forma digital, Orquídeas del Ecuador, en coautoría con el fallecido Carl Luer, Leslie Garay y Gustavo Romero. Este aspiraba a ser una guía sistemática para la identificación de todas las orquídeas descritas del Ecuador. Se basa principalmente en claves y dibujos. Fue revisado por última vez por Cal (que yo sepa) en 2006. Cal escribe en su Introducción: “No debe considerarse como un tratamiento completo de las orquídeas del Ecuador, sino más bien como el estado de un trabajo en progreso. Si tenemos mucha suerte y buena saludo, nosotros deberíamos poder terminar antes de que se nos pida que entreguemos nuestras herramientas. En caso de que no lo completemos, lo que hemos hecho hasta este momento está disponible para que lo utilicen las personas interesadas”. Desafortunadamente, él y Carl tuvieron que entregar sus herramientas, pero sigue siendo la mejor referencia individual disponible para los científicos profesionales que estudian las orquídeas de Ecuador. 
Cal no fue sólo un científico sino también un conservacionista. Él fue testigo de la destrucción casi total de la selva tropical de las tierras bajas del oeste de Ecuador durante las últimas cinco décadas, por lo que creó allí la Reserva Río Palenque para proteger al menos un pequeño fragmento. Este es el fragmento que fue objeto de su estudio y el de Gentry mencionado anteriormente, la selva tropical más diversa conocida en el mundo en ese entonces. Hoy en día, ese fragmento protegido por Cal y su esposa Piedad es el único remanente de bosque natural que queda en la zona. Su previsión fue una de las inspiraciones para el propio trabajo de EcoMinga, ya que esperamos hacer lo mismo por bosques estratégicos ricos en especies endémicas en nuestra propia área de influencia. Calaway Dodson fue uno de los Directores Fundadores de EcoMinga, y su fama seguramente nos ayudó a comenzar. 
Cal murió en Florida poco después de recuperarse del virus covid -19, que lo dejó debilitado. Su esposa Piedad también contrajo el virus pero permaneció asintomática. Nuestro más sentido pésame y nuestros mejores deseos para Piedad
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores