A few weeks ago our executive director Javier Robayo and our ranger Hector Yela organized an expedition to investigate the poorly known amphibians, reptiles, and mammals in an area we are trying to purchase for our Dracula Reserve expansion, in the province of Carchi in Ecuador. Trips into unexplored territory are always exciting, especially when the exploration is done by a team of experts who are famous for finding new or unusual creatures. Besides Javier and Hector, this expedition included Mario Yanez, Glenda Pozo, and Jorge Brito, from Ecuador’s Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, herpetologist Juan Pablo Reyes who is also our reserve manager, Tito Recalde and Jordy Salazar, who are two of EcoMinga’s Banos-area rangers, and several brothers of Hector: Elias, Rigoberto and Rodolfo, who helped prepare trails and keep the expedition supplied with food. The mission was supported by the University of Basel Botanical Garden.
The excitement in Juan Pablo’s voice was palpable when he called me as soon as he had reached cell phone coverage at the end of the expedition. He reported not just one but at least three exciting discoveries! The most amazing was an apparently new species of frog that was yellow with blue eyes!!!! It belongs to the huge genus Pristimantis. None of the herpetologists had ever seen anything like it. Still, it could be some rare color mutant, so its DNA will be analyzed by frog expert Santiago Ron to make sure it is new.
In addition to this fancy frog, the expedition also discovered a new population of a fancy toad, Atelopus coynei, named by the late Ken Miyata for the famous evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne. The often-colorful Atelopus toads are disappearing throughout their range due to the invasive chytrid fungus. This species too had disappeared from most of its former range, but was recently rediscovered by Andreas Kay about 15kms from this population. The species is listed by the IUCN as Critically Endangered. Mario Yanez wrote “Otras localidades históricas con composiciones similares como Tandayapa o Río Baboso están severamente fragmentadas y han perdido las especies que hoy se mantienen en Carchi. [Este sector] mantiene composiciones taxónomicas y funcionales altamente diversas.” Translation: “Other historic localities with similar compositions, like Tandayapa or Rio Babosa, are severely fragmented and have lost the species which are still present today in Carchi. [This area] still maintains highly diverse taxonomic and functional compositions.”
As if that wasn’t enough, the team also discovered a second population of Rhaebo colomai, a toad that had just recently been rediscovered in our Dracula Reserve by another team of herpetologists. Like Atelopus coynei, it is listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN.
Mario concludes: “Se ha registrado una comunidad de anfibios y reptiles taxónomica y funcionalmente completa. En menos de tres meses una segunda especie amenazada es registrada por la gestión Ecominga. Sobresale el hallazgo de especies endémicas y amenazadas de Bufonidos andinos sintópicos en el sector ….Potenciales nuevas especies evidencian que la comunidad de herpetofauna en la cuenca del Río Mira esta poco estudida y nada representada en el sistema nacional de áreas protegidas, al ser diferente a los sectores de Cotacachi – Cayapas, Mindo e Ilinizas. Es una gran oportunidad de hacer conservación efectiva.”
Translation: “We have observed a community of reptiles and amphibians that is taxonomically and functionally complete. In less than three months a second endangered species has been recorded thanks to the efforts of EcoMinga. The discovery multiple sympatric species of threatened Andean Bufonidae [toads] is striking. The presence of potential new species shows that the herpetofauna community in the Rio Mira watershed is poorly studied and not represented at all in national parks or other state protected areas, in contrast with the Cotocachi-Cayapas, Mindo, and Illinizas areas. This is a great opportunity for effective conservation.”
I’ve heard that the mammals found by the expedition were also very interesting, including new records for Ecuador, but I have not yet received the details. I’ll post about that when I know more.
We are currently raising money to buy land in this area, which is at elevations not represented in the existing units of our Dracula Reserve. You can help by donating to the Orchid Conservation Alliance. Please mention that the donation is for EcoMinga. They have already raised over $90000 in the last few months for this project, and the Rainforest Trust will match that donation. We hope to convince the Rainforest Trust to continue matching future donations; they will probably decide this in February.
Many thanks to our team of experts for their passion to investigate and save Ecuador’s biodiversity, and to the University of Basel who made this expedition possible.
Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga