Rainforest Trust’s Species Legacy auction program includes new Dracula Reserve frog, forest mouse, and orchid

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New Pristimantis frog. Photo: EcoMinga/Jordy Salazar.

Tomorrow, December 8, 2018, the Rainforest Trust will put up for auction the naming rights for a number of new species from around the world. The goal is to raise money for Rainforest Trust’s partners, such as EcoMinga, to permanently protect each of these species, and then name each new species after the donor who protects them, or after a person or thing that the donor designates.

Rainforest Trust describes the program as “A historic opportunity to name a species new to science and protect their habitat… Rainforest Trust is celebrating 30 years of conservation success with the largest ever public auction of species naming rights. The twelve newly discovered species pictured below need scientific recognition and we’re providing an exclusive opportunity to preserve your legacy through purchasing the naming rights. Or bid to give the ultimate gift to a loved one this holiday season! Proceeds from this auction go directly to the nature reserves in which these species live, so a bid for one of these species’ names is a chance to both save them from extinction and honor someone or something you care about.”

Rainforest Trust has included three species from the Dracula Reserve and its vicinity, including the most beautiful frog of the whole auction, and the only mammal, and the biggest orchid:

 

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New Pristimantis frog. Photo: Mario Yanez

Pristimantis sp. nov.  (blue eyes)

This stunning new frog with unusual blue to blue-gray eyes was featured in an earlier post. It was found after a long journey into one of the best foothill forests our herpetologist reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, had ever seen in western Ecuador. This forest is adjacent to our current Dracula Reserve, and a target for future purchase, so Juan Pablo and Mario Yanez (INABIO) were charged with investigating it. On their first night in this magnificent forest, these experienced frog scientists quickly became aware of a series of strange unfamiliar frog songs, most of them coming from the canopy above their heads. (Like the best birdwatchers, good frog scientists know the calls of all the local frogs, and hunt for new species mostly by sound.) Searching for the sources of these calls with their flashlights, Juan Pablo and Mario finally located the eye reflections of one of the mystery frogs singing on an aroid leaf about 3.5 meters above  the ground. Juan Pablo climbed a neighboring trunk and was able to use a stick to knock off the leaf, which spun to the ground while the frog stuck firmly to its surface! The herpetologists caught it, and the moment they saw its blue eyes contrasting with the yellow body mottled with brown, they knew they had found a species new to science.

 

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New forest mouse. Photo: Jorge Brito

Chilomys sp. nov.

This little animal was first encountered during our initial Dracula Reserve expedition in 2015, with scientists from the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO) and University of Basel (Switzerland) in search of mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. Jorge Brito from INABIO was the mammal expert. During the first week of the expedition very few animals were found, but among them were three small individuals in the small genus Chilomys (forest mice) that caught Jorge’s attention, since there were no reports of a Chilomys like this from the region. He could not identify them to species at that time, and listed them as “Chilomys sp.” in his report. No more individuals were found until a new expedition in 2016, when more were found in the highest part of the reserve. With these new individuals Jorge was able to judge the range of variation in the species’ traits. Another individual was collected in 2018 in one of the lower parts of the reserve, showing that this animal was in fact widely distributed throughout our Dracula Reserve mosaic, though most abundant in the highest parts.

Once all the individuals were studied, it became clear that these enigmatic mice were different from the other known species of Chilomys, showing that the region protected by the Dracula Reserve was not only special for plants and frogs but also for mammals.

 

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New Trevoria orchid. Photo: Luis Baquero

Trevoria sp. nov. (orchid)

This species discovery needed a lot of patience. The first known plant was found eight years ago in a remote part of what is now our Dracula Reserve, by orchidologist Luis Baquero and local resident Hector Yela, who is now our reserve guard. It did not have flowers so nothing could be concluded about it. Over the succeeding years several other plants were found in distant parts of the future Dracula Reserve, always without flowers. One of them was collected alive and kept in the Quito Botanical Garden, where it finally flowered for the first time this year. The flower has a strong odor of olive oil. Sadly the creation of our reserve did not happen in time to save the largest population of this species, but we have  managed to protect some of the other populations.

Please spread the word about this opportunity to support conservation and name a species. Remember, tomorrow is the day!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

New species of Anolis lizard described from our Dracula Reserve

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The new Anolis lizard. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga

The deep, dry Rio Mira valley separates the montane forests protected by our Dracula Reserve from the montane forests further south (such as those protected by our Manduriacu Reserve). Evidently this Rio Mira valley has served as a barrier for many cloud forest organisms over evolutionary time, leading to the evolution of different sister species on each side. The endangered Andean toads Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu and Rhaebo colomai in the Dracula Reserve may form such a species pair. A pair of still-undescribed forest mice, one in Manduriacu and the other in the Dracula Reserve, appear to be another instance of this phenomenon. EcoMinga’s Juan Pablo Reyes and his colleagues at the National Institute of Biodiversity (INABIO) have just added another example of this divergence, as they published a description of a new species of Anolis lizard from the Dracula Reserve that is the sister species of a common Anolis south of the Rio Mira. The article is published in ZooKeys.

 

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The Mira valley separates the new species, Anolis dracula, from its sister species A. aequatorialis. Map from the article.

This lizard is the most common Anolis of the area. Here is a comparison, from the article, of the new species and its closest relative, A. aequatorialis:

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Top: Anolis dracula. Bottom: A. aequatorialis. From the article.

The scientists who discovered this species were supported in this investigation by INABIO (National Institute for Biodiversity), SENECYT, UNAM (Mexico), the University of Basel Botanical Garden, and EcoMinga. We strongly believe that science should drive conservation, and we always encourage scientists to investigate our reserves. We provide logistical support and sometimes can also help fund studies. Such investigations help us understand the diversity we protect, and let us identify and prioritize new areas for conservation our conservation purchases.

We would like to thank recent donors who make these investigations and land purchases possible: World Land Trust, Rainforest Trust, Orchid Conservation Alliance, University of Basel Botanical Garden, Andean Studies Program, Fundacion Condor, and individuals including Henri Botter and Ardy Van Ooij, Judith Rapacz, Mark Wilson, Vera Lee Rao, and Vicki Byrd.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Fundacion EcoMinga admitted to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature

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Last week our foundation was accepted as a member of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), one of the world’s most prominent global conservation organizations. We are happy to join this network of several hundred government agencies and 1100 conservation NGOs. The most visible product of this network is the authoritative global Red List of threatened and endangered species:

http://www.iucnredlist.org/

This is a well-curated list of threat levels for species all over the world; many of our species are on the list, though many more are listed as “Data Deficient” because they have not been evaluated yet.

We are pleased to be a member of this network, and we thank the Rainforest Trust for inviting  us to join and for paying this year’s membership fee.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

 

An even closer encounter with a Mountain Tapir in our Rio Zunac Reserve!

 

A few days ago I posted Alyssa Kullberg’s video of a Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) that came to dinner at our research station in the Rio Zunac Reserve. On the same trip, she and our staff ran into this fearless Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque). Our guard Santiago Recalde caught the encounter on video.  These are extraordinary sightings of rare animals that seem to have lost all fear of humans, after being protected by us for the last dozen years.

Spectacled Bear close encounter in our Rio Zunac Reserve

Dinner guest in the Rio Zunac Reserve. Video by Alyssa Kullberg.

Two weeks ago we posted our reserve guard Santiago Recalde’s video of a close encounter with a fearless Mountain Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) in our Rio Zunac Reserve. Last week Santiago returned to the same reserve with Alyssa Kullberg, a Fulbright Scholar who has just arrived here to spend the next nine months studying our new Magnolia species. They have just come back from the reserve this evening with news of their an astounding encounter with another of our large mammals, a Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus).

Alyssa told me that during the whole 4 hour hike from the roadhead to our very remote research station, they were seeing fresh Mountain Tapir, Spectacled Bear, and Puma tracks on the trail. They stayed a week in the reserve, and one day, while they were in the forest, a Spectacled Bear entered the station and stole some food. Later, while Alyssa and Santiago were eating dinner, the bear came back for more food, and approached the station quite closely (even though Alyssa and Santiago were loudly conversing) until it caught their scent. Even after catching their scent, the bear did not seem very frightened, as it paused to think about eating a young palm tree next to the trail.

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Spectacled Bear coming to share dinner with Alyssa and Santiago. Note the Magnolia buds on the table in the foreground; most neotropical Magnolia species open only at night, so we have to collect the buds and care for them until nightfall. Photo: Alyssa Kullberg.

While we have seen tracks around the cabin before, and have had some minor bear damage in the past, this is the first time a bear has been this bold. We may be the victims of our own success in protecting this reserve– the animals are losing their fear of humans, so we may be heading for the kinds of bear problems that are common in North American national parks. We will try to be extra careful to protect our food, though this will not be easy. In any case, I’d rather have this problem than the problem of not having bears!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation