Our reserves were originally chosen to protect habitats of rare locally-endemic plants, especially orchids. These orchids evolved in response to unusual climates, geology, or history. The same factors could lead to the evolution of endemic species in some other groups of flora and fauna, including amphibians and reptiles (collectively known as herpetofauna or “herps”). Our reserve manager, Juan Pablo Reyes, is a herpetologist, and he and his colleagues at the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales, led by Mario Yanez-Muñoz, have been studying the herps of EcoMinga’s reserves for several years. It turns out that the upper Rio Pastaza watershed, where our reserves are located, is indeed a very interesting place for herps, and they many new species! I’ll write about some of them in the future, but for now I just want to announce the publication of a new mostly-Spanish book on the reptiles and amphibians of our reserves and those of the Jocotoco Foundation (a foundation similar to EcoMinga but aimed at bird conservation). This book highlighting the conservation importance of private reserves, and also serves as a field guide to the herps of these reserves. It was financed by Nigel Simpson, one of our directors, and is published by the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales and by the Jocotoco and EcoMinga Foundations. It consists of articles on the Jocotoco Foundation’s reserves, articles on the three oldest EcoMinga reserves, and species descriptions. It was released a few weeks ago, with many of Ecuador’s leading herpetologists in attendance.
The book has a forward kindly written by Sir David Attenborough:
“If you protect a patch of the natural world, you should know what lives in it. Your list may not be complete. There will always be surprises. But if you do not have it, how can you measure your success or failure in protecting that community? How can you appreciate the environmental shifts that are part of virtually all ecosystems and take the necessary actions? How can you guard against future dangers?
In some parts of the world making such a faunal list, while time-consuming, does not present too great a challenge for competent naturalists. In the English Midlands where I grew up, there were eleven species of amphibians and reptiles. But in Ecuador there are at least 822.
The numbers alone are daunting. When you add to that the wildness and inaccessibility of the places where the researchers had to work, from the bleak misty slopes of the paramo down to the warm humid rainforests of the Amazon basin, the magnitude of the task they faced becomes truly alarming.
This book lists the amphibians and reptiles that are found in eleven reserves belonging to Fundacion Jocotoco and three of the five on the eastern side of the Andes belonging to Fundacion Ecominga. A team from the Ecuadorian Museum of Natural Sciences over ten years has worked in them all, in some cases several times and often in difficult conditions. They have identified and described 339 species of which 20 are new to Ecuador and at least eight new to science.
This remarkable book is the fruit of all that labour. Its value is immense for it will make it possible to check on the welfare of the creatures it lists as the years pass and the threats to their survival continue to increase. And that sadly, is likely to happen for amphibians world-wide are endangered by the spread of a chytrid fungus which infects their porous skin, choking its surface through which the animals breathe.
It is to be hoped that this remarkable book will set an example for successive volumes that will survey all the other major groups of animals for which these Jocotoco and Ecominga reserves are such a valuable refuge. Its publication is truly a cause for great celebration and congratulation.” –David Attenborough
I’ve now had a chance to use the book, as I spent the last three days with herpetologist Sam Crothers and two other friends in the scientific station we have built in our 700 hectare Rio Zunac Reserve (more about our station in a later post). We were exhausted each night after hard all-day hikes in the mountains, but we had enough energy (just barely) to go out at night looking for frogs. This was the first time I’ve ever done that in these forests (I am a botanist, a mostly-diurnal occupation). The first thing we saw was a flattened, leaf-like toad which also happens to be one of the first amphibians in the herp book, Rhinella festae. This particular individual was lighter colored than the one in the book, but these are highly variable in color. According to the book, it had already been found by the authors in this reserve, and in our Rio Anzu Reserve. It has not yet been found in the Jocotoco Foundation reserves.
Next came a beautiful streamside frog that we could not find with certainty in the book. We had tracked it down by its call. After I returned from the trip, Juan Pablo identified the frog in the photo as Pristimantis acuminatus, which was in the book’s lists for the Rio Zunac Reserve, but not illustrated.
Then we heard a chorus of loud frogs dispersed over a wide area above a small shallow rocky stream only a few meters wide. It took us a while to localize one of them. It was sitting on a leaf that was directly below another leaf, so that the frog was invisible from above and could only be seen from the side. The next calling individual we tracked down was doing exactly the same thing. Once we realized that this was a characteristic habit of this species, it became easy to locate many individuals. The closest thing to it in the book was Hyloscirtus phyllognathus, which the authors had also found here. Juan Pablo later confirmed our ID.
One of the most exciting things about night hikes are all the weird arthropods that one never sees during the day. We found a gigantic arachnid that looked like a cross with a lobster, and some amazing cryptic phasmids (stick insects).
The stream was a busy place at night. We also found frog eggs, pollywogs, and even recently emerged frogs that still had tails. We also heard many other species of frogs, but we were so tired and sore from our daytime adventures that we could not stay awake any longer, so we returned to the station. Later I’ll write about the extraordinary plants we saw on those daytime hikes.
On our hike back to civilization, we saw one last frog, much like Pristimantis altamazonicus, though it was more dramatically colored than the individual illustrated in the book. Juan Pablo later identified it as P. ventrimarmoratus, listed for the Rio Zunac Reserve but not illustrated. It is another frog the authors have not yet found in the Jocotoco Foundation reserves.
The book, “Herpetofauna en areas prioritarias para la conservacion: El sistema de Reservas Jocotoco y EcoMinga“, is available from us for a donation of $20 or more, plus shipping costs from Ecuador. If in the US, please send the donation (check or Paypal) to our partner, the Orchid Conservation Alliance . The “Donate” PayPal button is on this webpage. Their mailing address is:
The Orchid Conservation Alliance
564 Arden Drive
Encinitas, CA 92024-4501
It is important to let them (and me) know that this donation is for the EcoMinga herp book (they have many other projects going on), by writing to Peter Tobias (peter@orchidconservationalliance dot org). It would be good to let me know too by alerting me in the Comment section here or writing me at my gmail address (my first and last name, as one word, followed by gmail.com) . By the way, larger donations are gratefully accepted and much needed, and are tax-deductible. Make sure to earmark it for EcoMinga.
In Ecuador write Juan Pablo Reyes at foer2005(arroba)yahoo(dot)com or call him at 0998286903.
I’ll also maintain an “Errata and updates” page here on this blog.