Our reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, is one of the scientists interviewed on an Ecuadorian national television feature about endangered frogs

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Juan Pablo Reyes, our reserve manager, and his colleagues have discovered more than ten new species of frogs in our Baños-area reserves. As one of Ecuador’s leading herpetologists, he was interviewed for the well-known weekly national television program “Dia a Dia”, which aired yesterday.

The program chose to broadcast a segment where he talks about one of his new species, Pristimantis puruscafeum. He named this species in honor of Puro Coffee, an organic coffee brand in the UK which gave us the initial support for what is now our largest reserve, Cerro Candelaria:

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Pristimantis puruscafeum. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

To see the whole program, go to this site and choose the May 5 2019 edition. The frog part begins at 32:00.

http://www.teleamazonas.com/actualidad/dia-a-dia/

We are pleased to have this national exposure!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

A new glass frog has been discovered in our Manduriacu Reserve

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New glass frog species, Nymphargus manduriacu. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jose Vieira/Tropical Herping

Last month saw the publication of a new species of glass frog, Nymphargus manduriacu (Centrolenidae), discovered in EcoMinga’s Manduriacu Reserve, in Imbabura province northwest of Quito. Glass frogs are famous for their transparent belly skin; from below, depending on the species, you can often see structures such as their bones, the contours of their intestines, and even their hearts pumping away! Of the roughly 150 species of glass frogs in the New World tropics, the genus Nymphargus has about 36 known species, mostly very local endemics.

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Sebastian Kohn, founder of the Manduriacu Reserve, admires the new species. Photo: Scott Trageser

The new species was found and studied by a team of biologists from The Biodiversity Group, Fundacion Condor Andino, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, the Third Millenium Alliance, Tropical Herping, and Fundacion EcoMinga. Team members include Juan Guayasamin, Ross Maynard, Paul Hamilton, Scott Trageser, Jose Vieira, Sebastian Kohn, Gabriela Gavilanes, Ryan Lynch, and Diego Cisneros-Heredia.

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The new species, Nymphargus manduriacu. Photo: Scott Trageser.

The authors analyzed the new species’ DNA, along with that of many other glass frogs, and this analysis revealed that its closest relative is  “lost species” Nymphargus  balionotus, which previously had been tentatively placed in the glass frog genus Centrolenella. Nymphargus balionotus had not been seen anywhere for the last fifteen years, but this team of scientists found healthy populations of both N. manduriacu and N. balionotus living together at Manduriacu. The genetic divergence between these two sister species is considerably greater than the divergence between most sister-species pairs in the genus; the N. manduriacu and N. balionotus  lineages each contains more unique evolutionary history than all but two of the other Nymphargas species analyzed. This makes N. manduriacu and N. balionotus  especially important species for conservation of phylogenetic diversity, and our Manduriacu Reserve maintains the only known breeding populations of these two species.

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Nymphargus balionotus, the closest relative of N. manduriacu. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

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Nymphargus balionotus, the closest relative of N. manduriacu. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

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Developing eggs of Nymphargus balionotus in the Manduriacu Reserve. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Jaime Culebras.

The “family history” constructed by the authors based on their DNA sequences gives some clues about how the different Nymphargus species evolved. The authors noted that on the eastern slope of the Andes, most of the species evolved by geographical isolation. On that slope, sister species are usually geographic neighbors, and the distributions of sister species usually do not overlap. In contrast, on the west slope of the Andes, sister species can overlap, as N. manduriacu does with N. balionotus. Apart from N. balionotus, the other two species most closely related to N. manduriacu are actually from the east slope of the Andes in southeast Ecuador and Peru; this sub-group of glass frogs is an ancient one, and N. manduriacu is one of its few surviving lineages.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that the Ecuadorian government has concessioned almost the entire Manduriacu Reserve to Cerro Quebrado, the Ecuadorian arm of the world’s largest mining company, BHP Billiton, without our consent or that of the previous owners. (In Ecuador the government owns all subsoil rights and can concession them to whoever it wants, though its constitution recognizes the rights of nature and gives local communities a voice about land use.) The goal of this company is probably to mine copper here, in an open-pit mine similar to the one proposed for nearby Intag. Intag has been the scene of an intense conflict between  members of the community and the mining interests, as documented in the film “Under Rich Earth”. Something similar may happen in and around Manduriacu Reserve. BHP Billiton is one of the mining companies responsible for one of Brazil’s biggest environmental disasters:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2016/may/03/brazil-iron-mine-samarco-fined-disaster

We cannot and should not oppose all mining. We use copper just like everyone else, and the people of the region do need jobs. But neither should open-pit mines be dug indiscriminately in the region; the long-term consequences of such mining can be serious. A reasonable balance would be to avoid affecting the region’s privately and publicly protected ecological reserves, especially when those reserves contain unique species not found anywhere else in the world. Our Manduriacu Reserve is now the only known home not only for the Manduriacu Glass Frog and its sister species N. balionotus, but also for another amphibian, Rhaebo ollalai, the Tandayapa Andean Toad, which still survives in our reserve but has become extinct everywhere else in its former range. Nearby Los Cedros Reserve is also concessioned for mining and likewise holds unique species. A recent scientific paper explores the potential impact of mining on the biodiversity of this area. The paper did not specifically study Manduriacu, but the authors found that the impact of mining on the region’s biodiversity would be devastating. Inclusion of Manduriacu’s unique species would have substantially strengthened the paper’s conclusions.

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Critically endangered Rhaebo olallai in Manduriacu Reserve. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The mining company involved in our Reserve, Cerro Quebrado/BHP Billiton, has entered our reserve and made campsites without our permission, contrary to Ecuadorian law. Bitty Roy, lead author of the scientific paper just mentioned, has talked with a manager of BHP Billiton about their plans for the region. The manager claimed that the company had written permission to enter our land, though EcoMinga had not been asked about nor given this permission. We suspect the local company representatives either misidentified the ownership or misled their superiors.

After these conversations with a manager of BHP Billiton, Dr Roy reports that the company is unlikely to respect private conservation areas or even state-protected forests (such as Bosque Protectores) apart from the National Park system, since the state which sets the rules for protection is also the entity that gave them the mining concession to those areas.  The company was also unaware of the sensitivity and conservation importance of Manduriacu.  Their corporate operating guidelines state “We do not operate where there is a risk of direct impacts to ecosystems that could result in the extinction of an IUCN Red List Threatened Species in the wild. When the concession was granted, the threat level of the most endangered Manduriacu species, the Tandayapa Andean Toad (Rhaebo olallai), was not officially evaluated by the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature).  Like many poorly-known species, it was listed as “Data Deficient”, meaning there was not enough information to assess its status. It had been discovered near Tandayapa, about 30km south of Manduriacu, but it has disappeared from there, perhaps eliminated by the frog-killing chytrid fungus that has swept Central and South America beginning in the 1980s.  No additional individuals were found for the next 40 years, until a healthy population was discovered in Manduriacu in 2012. Now, after 40 years of failure to find it anywhere outside of Manduriacu Reserve, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature has officially listed the species as “Critically Endangered”, the highest threat category. Dr Roy noted that the company’s management told him that the presence of critically-endangered species would be a reason for not mining the area, so perhaps they will follow their own directives and leave us alone. Manduriacu also hosts Ecuador’s most critically endangered mammal, the Brown-headed Spider Monkey.

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Rhaebo olallai along a stream in Manduriacu reserve. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Ryan Lynch.

The discovery of the Manduriacu Glass Frog, and the threat that mining poses to its future survival, has been widely covered in the media. See for example:

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2019/03/translucent-glass-frog-species-found-in-ecuador/

https://www.geek.com/news/incredible-new-see-through-glass-frog-is-threatened-by-mining-1777380/

The Ecuadorian and international conservation community will continue to monitor and publicize the fate of this frog and the other endangered species of the region. Dr. Roy says that the corporate manager he spoke with has decided not to mine the nearby Los Cedros Reserve, because of the presence of critically endangered species. We hope that BHP Billiton will do the right thing and avoid our Manduriacu Reserve (which is small compared to Los Cedros) for the same reason.

Many thanks to the team that investigated our reserve and contributed their wonderful photos to this blog, and to the supporters of this reserve!

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)

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Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

One of the most emblematic Andean birds is the Sword-billed Hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera. We have them in most of our reserves, but they are elusive and hard to photograph when we are hiking around. A few days ago, however, one of these wonderful birds landed in front of my kitchen window and stayed long enough for me to get my camera, so I finally got a picture of it. This species has co-evolved with several species of cloud forest plants with long tubular flowers; this hummingbird is the only organism able to pollinate these plant species. This particular individual may have been attracted to two of these co-evolved species, Passiflora mixta and Passiflora tarminiana, which both grow wild around my house (though this hummingbird is also perfectly able to feed from regular flowers too).

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Passiflora tarminiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

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Passiflora mixta (“Taxo”). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A large hummingbird like this needs lots of nectar for fuel, and each of the flower species that have co-evolved with this hummingbird have large nectaries loaded with sweet liquid.  Below I’ve made cross-sections of both these passionflower species, so you can see the nectar chambers at the base of the tubes:

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Left: P. tarminiana; right, P. mixta. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

All that nectar is a big temptation of other species too. Since  other species don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, they have to rob the nectar by breaking into the nectaries, drilling or biting holes in the back of the flower. Nectar -robbing doesn’t pollinate the flower, so the robbed nectar is wasted as far as the plant is concerned. Flower variations that happen to be more resistant to robbers will have more nectar to offer the Sword-billed Hummingbird,  and will therefore get visited more often by it, and  will get pollinated more often and leave more descendants. Thus natural selection will eventually lead to flowers whose backsides are somewhat protected against robbers. The thickened “armored” walls of the nectaries are visible in the above cross-sections.

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The base of this passionflower has been pierced multiple times by nectar robbers, probably flowerpiercers. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Still, some robbers get through. Several entire genera of nectar-robbing birds have evolved to take advantage of this resource. The most dedicated thieves are the eighteen bird species belonging to the genus Diglossa, the Flower-piercers. They often have sharp hooks on their bill tips to rip holes in the backs of flowers. Some of the species that rob these particular passionflowers are the White-sided Flower-piercer, the Masked Flower-piercer, and the Glossy Flower-piercer. Many short-billed hummingbirds also drill holes in the backs of the flowers, or use the holes made by flower-piercers. Bees also rob the nectar by biting holes in the back of the flowers, and butterflies steal their share by visiting the holes made by all these other thieves. Some passionflower species put tiny nectaries on the backs of their flowers to attract ants and wasps, which might deter some of these thieves.

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Black Flowerpiercer feeding on Fuchsia. Photo courtesy Roger Ahlman.

The Slater Museum of Natural History of the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington kindly gave me permission to show their scan of the skeleton of this bird, surely one of the weirdest of all vertebrate skeletons. Note the huge keel of the breastbone (sternum), where the powerful wing muscles are attached in the living bird. Note also the bony base of the enormous tongue circling underneath and behind the head, and the little feet pointing backwards:

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Sword-billed Hummingbird skeleton, scan courtesy of the Slater Museum of  Natural History.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird occurs in most of our Banos-area EcoMinga reserves, at elevations from about 2000m to 3400m: Cerro Candelaria Reserve, Viscaya Reserve, Naturetrek Reserve, Rio Verde Reserve, Rio Zunac Reserve, Rio Machay Reserve, and Chamana Reserve. Our lowland Rio Anzu Reserve is too low for it.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita)

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Glowing Puffleg (Eriocnemis vestita). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Pufflegs frequently cling to flowers with their feet instead of hovering while they feed. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A common shrub in the family Ericaceae (the cranberry and blueberry family) is in bloom right now, attracting many species of hummingbirds in our middle-elevation reserves. The most faithful visitor to this bush right now is the Glowing Puffleg, Eriocnemis vestita, a common hummingbird at elevations from around 2100m up to the treeline in the eastern and southwestern Andes of Ecuador. It has white leg puffs, a bright green rump and belly, and purple vent. Like many high-elevation birds, this species is oblivious to humans. One of these even joined me in my outdoor shower once, landing at my feet while I washed. The photos in this post were taken today while the bird was about 2m away, sometimes even closer. I made no attempt to hide, and moved around with it.  It is a nice feeling when a wild creature does not treat a human as a threat!

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Glowing Puffleg. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Puffleg at my feet, directly beneath me. It doesn’t care. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

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Glowing Puffleg taking off less than a meter from me. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

 

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