Darwin replaces Jesus (no, not that Darwin, and no, not that Jesus)

SnapShot(224)

Jesus Recalde. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

 

[Vea traduccion en espanol abajo.]

Our most senior reserve guard, Jesus Recalde, has just retired. He worked with us for twelve years, almost since our inception, and has helped guide our evolution and growth with his gentle wisdom. Jesus’s place will be taken by his only son, Darwin Recalde.

Jesus first came to my attention through his signs. Long before Fundacion Ecominga existed, I encountered these signs during my botanical explorations in the area which is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. One of the signs, in the middle of this fairly remote forest, said “No cazar los aves” (“Don’t hunt the birds”), an unusual sentiment at a time when every kid in rural areas carried a slingshot to kill birds. Years later I learned that Jesus was the author of these signs, and that he had even planted a quarter-hectare plot with flowers and fruits that attracted birds, instead of with human crops. Around here nobody does that. This was an unusual man.

The first reserve guard we hired, Abdon Recalde, was Jesus’ brother and was also an exceptionally sensitive and honest man. It was through him that I came to know Jesus. At the time, the country was in an economic crisis, and Jesus and his family were desperate. Like many Ecuadorians, he was considering moving to Spain to find work so he could send money home to support his family. His young daughter Diana made him rethink that plan when she asked him point-blank how he could abandon her for money… So he and his wife Piedad found my house in Banos and asked if he could be a second guard for our growing reserves. I was nervous about being able to find donations for his salary, but we took the risk and hired him.

Soon he made me feel like part of family. At various times his daughter Diana, his son Darwin, his daughter Rosa’s husband Israel, and David the son-in-law of Abdon also joined our team for brief periods, as did his other brothers Fausto and Luis more permanently (Luis, an expert woodsman and brilliant photographer, retired a few years ago to be replaced by Fausto’s stepson Jordy, also an exceptional photographer). This extended family’s personal qualities — curiosity, intelligence, and integrity — were the key to the success of our foundation; we did not have to micro-manage them but rather we worked as a team of equals, co-managing the reserves, parts of which we bought from them (including Jesus’ quarter-hectare bird plot). Every visitor who interacted with them came away impressed. Today our “Team Recalde” is famous among Ecuadorian biologists, and they are frequently asked to help out in field research.

Curiously, Jesus and his brothers were originally voracious hunters when they were younger, until the day that Jesus shot a mother monkey with a baby. As the mother died in front of him, she looked at him with a face so full of pain that it could be understood across species. Jesus was shaken to his core; this was his conversion experience, and he never again killed anything. He planted his bird plot as repentance, and vowed to live the rest of his life trying to redeem himself for the damage he had caused in his youth.

He became a leader of his community, and was elected its president. In this position he helped his community develop an ecological conscience, and worked to integrate the community with our conservation work.

He was an energetic guard, but one day when crossing a road in Banos he was hit by a fast police motorcycle clearing a parade route. Initially there was some doubt whether he would ever walk again, but we helped him get an aluminum stud to join parts of his shattered leg bone, and eventually he recovered enough to resume his life.  He worked for many years after the accident, but this year he began to feel that he couldn’t keep up with the younger guards, so he asked to retire.

_1110931v2 Darwin Recalde
Continue reading

Guest post: The fascination of trees

DSCF1329

[Editor’s note: This guest post is by Lane Davis. Lane is a former School for International Training student who spent a semester in Ecuador and did her independent study project with us. She then won a Fulbright scholarship to return to set up three research plots in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve,  at 2000m,  2500m, and 3000m. By identifying every tree in each plot, she has generated data which can help us quantify and understand not only the diversity of our forests, but also the important differences in composition between our forests at different altitudes, and between the Cerro Candelaria forests and others locally and globally. This kind of data provides a much-needed step towards understanding the deeper underlying causes  biodiversity – LJ]

[Traduccion a Espanol abajo]

Photos courtesy Lane Davis unless otherwise noted.

“And this?” Javier asks with anticipation as he opens the folded newspaper sheet labeled #47. I open my warped, mud-covered Rite in the Rain field notebook and look up the number. “Canopy tree, no latex or odor but the bark slash oxidized from white to brown. Do you want to see the live photos?” I ask. Javier shakes his head no and picks up a hand lens. I do the same and we each lift into the light a pressed and dried branch and examine it with our hand lenses.

Under the 30x magnification, the underside of the leaf shimmers with thousands of little scales. “What is it?” I ask him. Javier shrugs his shoulders almost jubilantly, muttering “Incredible,” and places the sample in a growing stack of unidentified plants. Later, we will scour Alwyn H. Gentry’s cinder block of a book “A Field Guide to the Families and Genera of Woody Plants of Northwest South America” and Walter Palacio’s “Árboles del Ecuador” (Trees of Ecuador) for families and genera of dicots with simple, opposite, alternate leaves; entire margins; and peltate trichomes (those shimmery scales) that could match sample #47. In this way, we will shrink the unknown stack, labeled “Desconocidos,” moving each plant we identify instead to piles of taxonomically related plants. But we will only make significant headway into the “Desconocidos” stack when we meet with another botanist, Walter Palacios. Yes, the same Walter Palacio’s I mention above who quite literally wrote the book on identifying trees in Ecuador. Javier and Walter are friends. Ecuador is a small country and its scientific community smaller, so pretty much all botanists know one another (which made it a little embarrassing when I asked for Walter’s signature on my copy of “Árboles del Ecuador,” but it was worth it).

But for now, Javier plunges back into the samples we haven’t reviewed at all yet. He grows more incredulous yet ecstatic each time he peels open one of the newspapers in which I have carefully pressed and dried tree clippings.  Sometimes he takes one look and proclaims the tree’s family, “Fabaceae” or “Lauraceae,” or even the genus, “Inga” or “Ocotea,” and I record this proclamation in my Microsoft Excel database and in the corner of the newspaper. But around half the time the sample remains with only a number to identify it.

blog2

blog1

One of my samples identified to family level. This is a member of one of the largest neotropical plant families, the Melastomataceae.

 

This uncertainty thrills Javier, a talented botanist, biologist, and the Executive Director of Fundación EcoMinga, the conservation organization I am affiliated with for my Fulbright work and which owns the forest where my dried tree clippings once grew. He has spent an unknowable number of hours traipsing through Ecuadorian forests; if he doesn’t recognize the plant, it must be at least somewhat rare. Javier also gets excited any time my pile of pressed plants yields a species he hasn’t seen in my samples yet, regardless of whether or not he knows what it is. With the discovery of each unique species, tree diversity goes up. The diversity of my plot, the 40m x 40m section of the forest where I gathered my plant samples, goes up in an absolute sense – one definition of diversity is simply the number of species present in a given area. But the implied diversity of the forest surrounding my plot shoots up even faster. My small plot cannot possibly capture the full diversity of the cloud forest, but we can use my data to estimate it. This calculation is based on the number of singletons, or species for which we have found only one individual tree in the plot. If singletons make up a large portion of the data, then we know the data isn’t representing the forest’s diversity well and there must be many yet undiscovered species outside of my plot. (For more on these calculations, see Chao and Jost 2012 and Chao et al. 2014).

For my part, the identifications and repetitions of plant groups are just as exciting as the unknown and new species; with each familiar sample and identifiable family characteristic, my own ability to identify cloud forest trees expands and solidifies. Unlike Javier, I have spent a knowable number of hours in the Ecuadorian cloud forest – to date, about 275 (not including evening and night hours when I slept in the field). Almost all of this time I spent collecting the plants piled in front of us, or walking to one of my three plots to do so.

During data collection, I lived in the 250-person village of El Placer at the base of Cerro Candelaria, the forest reserve owned by Fundación EcoMinga where I collected the now pressed and dried tree samples. Each morning I set out at 7:00 am, often but not always accompanied by a guardabosque (a forest ranger), and hiked to one of my three plots in the reserve. When I wrote my Fulbright grant proposal to study the vulnerability of Andean cloud forest trees to climate change, I planned to do so by learning about the altitudinal distributions of different trees species using eight different 10m x 100m plots ascending the mountain slope in Candelaria. Species growing in only a narrow altitudinal band will likely have a tougher time keeping up with their ideal growing conditions – as climate change shifts those conditions upslope – than species that are adapted to the conditions in a large geographic range.  It quickly became clear that I would not have enough time in the 10-month grant period to take data in such a large area, and Javier and I decided to modify our methodology to match that of the Evaluación Nacional Forestal (National Forest Evaluation) taking place in 2018, which uses square plots. That way, the Ecuadorian Ministry of the Environment could use our data in their study, too.

blog3

blog4

Views from and of El Placer

As a result, each morning I left El Placer to arrive at one of three 40m x 40m plots, located at 2000 m (6562 ft), 2500 m (8202 ft), or 3000 m above sea level (9843 ft).  Beginning from 1400 m (4593 ft), my commute required 2hrs and a very steep 1969 ft elevation gain to my first plot, 3 hrs and a crushing 3609 ft gain to my second plot, or 6 hrs and a demoralizing 5250 ft gain to my third plot. Consequently, I often camped in the field when I worked at my second plot and always did at my highest plot.

blog7blog6

blog5

Campsite in and views from my plot at 3000 meters (nearly 10,000 ft above sea level).

I hiked through the Andean cloud forest, which usually meant hiking through a forest submerged in clouds. Cloud forests exist on mountains near lowland sources of atmospheric moisture – usually the ocean but in this case the Amazon Rainforest. Prevailing weather patterns push this moisture up the slopes, where it cools and condenses into low-level clouds, mist, or rain, leading to the frequent presence of precipitation in one of these forms.

blog9

blog8

Clouds in the cloud forest.

When I first began taking data in the cloud forest, I had no idea how to identify the trees around me, and with good reason. Though I took Field Botany at Williams College and identified plants as part of my senior Biology thesis, there are only a little over 70 species of trees in the state of Massachusetts (Butler 2016). In comparison, 131 different species of trees exist in the 4,000 square meters (slightly less than 1 acre) of cloud forest I have examined. Working to identify these trees using my dried samples, photos, books, the internet, the collections at the National Herbarium (a library of preserved plant samples), and significant help from professional botanists, I have slowly learned to recognize the defining characteristics of my plots’ most common families, genera, and species. Now when I walk through the forest, morphological features of plants capture my attention, often provoking a scientific name to come to mind. Large conical stipules, ring scars, and latex scream Moraceae; interpetiolar stipules insinuate Rubiaceae; and petiolar sheaths with a sweet soapy smell proclaim their identity – Hedyosmum.

xx

Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

 

blog13

blog11

blog12

Cloud forest diversity is not confined to its trees. Far from it. For example, in the past 10 years, around 40 new species of orchid and 10 new species of frog have been discovered in EcoMinga’s reserves in one relatively small section of the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Above, a few photos of the incredible non-tree diversity of the cloud forest.

These trees and the billions of organisms that live on, under, and around them, ranging from soil microorganisms to Howler monkeys, as well as the inorganic features of the landscape like rocks and soil, make up the cloud forest ecosystem. This intricate network provides critical services to the human populations that make their home in the Andes Mountains. For example, cloud forest soil and epiphytes (plants that live on other plants and draw water and nutrients from the air rather than the soil) filter and regulate the flow of the glacial water which services millions of people in rural and urban Andean communities (Anderson et al. 2011). The extensive cloud forest root system helps hold soil in place, preventing erosion and landslides (Anderson et al. 2011). Climate change will disrupt these and other services, threatening human and ecosystem health and safety. For example, more intense rains combined with tree die-offs will increase erosion and landslides, which threaten human safety and water supply. In Quito in 2017, a landslide blocked the city’s main water channel, leaving 600,000 people without water for several days (Manetto 2017). In El Placer landslides occasionally cover pipes and cut off water; in my six months living there, this occurred once. [Editor’s note: See my previous post.]

Disruption of water supply is just one example of the myriad potential ways climate change and the resulting deterioration of the cloud forest ecosystem may affect El Placer and other similar communities nestled in Andean valleys. Better understanding the cloud forest’s fate under climate change will allow for targeted approaches to climate change preparation, for instance by creating emergency water delivery systems. Given the imminence of climate change, however, it is critical to implement strategies that decrease vulnerability to a wide range of climate change outcomes. I recently wrote a paper for Fulbright’s Regional Enhancement seminar on the how Fundación EcoMinga and El Placer’s partnership may do just that. I argued that EcoMinga bolsters El Placer’s climate resiliency by providing economic activities to the community that are less likely to be impacted by climate change than those that are otherwise available to them.

The main way EcoMinga does this is by employing community members as forest rangers in its reserves. The forest rangers build and maintain trails and cabins, assist visiting scientists and students with their research, and serve as keen eyes that often discover new species and other interesting biodiversity. My own work would have been out of reach (literally) without the help of Darwin Recalde, Jesús Recalde, Tito Recalde, Santiago Recalde, Jordy Salazar, and Andy Salazar. These men climbed 30-meter tall trees to reach leaves and flowers at the very top – those same leaves and flowers that now sit preserved in the National Herbarium in Quito and that make up the rows of my datasheets with which I will try to say something about the forest’s future.

blog14

Darwin Recalde climbing a tree to cut a sample of its leaves.

In fact, this goal – to assess the forest’s future under climate change – has morphed throughout my grant period. As with any interesting scientific study, this one has produced more questions than it will answer. Based on the calculations I mentioned earlier, though I took samples from 73 different tree species in my lowest altitude and most diverse plot, these represent less than half of the total number of species in the forest at that altitude.  What other species does the forest in this area contain? What allows the most common species I found to thrive? How will climate change affect its strategy? How will the forest’s response to climate change compare with my predictions? Will adaption differ in different locations within the cloud forest? Do these responses correspond with different microclimates? How do other aspects of the tree’s environment, like soil type and slope, affect forest adaption?

Many of these questions will only be answerable with a long-term research project. I have recently learned that my work will become part of just that. Fundación EcoMinga and the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (National Institute of Biodiversity, or INABIO) are beginning a long-term forest monitoring collaboration. The study will comprise a network of plots in the Ecuadorian cloud forest including my three, a few other existing plots in EcoMinga’s reserves, and several more yet to be established. Tree growth, climate, and forest composition will be monitored regularly in these areas, and the data from my 2017-2018 study will form the baseline to which future measurements from my plots will be compared. While EcoMinga and INABIO are still determining details, the research will shed light on many of the questions my study has produced. In addition to providing baseline data, there are other ways I can help move this project forward. For one, I am striving to make the R (a statistical program) code I am writing to analyze my own data easily reproducible so other researchers and students can use it for quick analysis of data from all the plots.

This is an aerial view of Lane’s Plot 1 at 2000m elevation in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. We fly over the 40m x 40m plot in the first few seconds, and then continue down the ridge to hover above our research station. Video by Lou Jost.

This is an aerial view of Lane’s Plot 2 at 2500m elevation in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. We break through the clouds and fly straight to the 40m x 40m plot in the first few seconds, heading upslope. Then we turn around and float slightly downslope over and past the plot. Video by Lou Jost

I can also help by recruiting more students to continue the study. So much exciting work remains to be done. In addition to expanding and monitoring my plots, ample opportunities to personalize the project exist. For instance, you (yes, you!) could explore using drone imagery to identify trees from the air, investigate the role of rodents in seed dispersal, study the timing of tree sexual reproduction (phenology), or look at the genetics of cloud forest tree diversity – and how each of these impacts the forest’s adaption to climate change. All of these are areas in which EcoMinga currently works or would like to pursue. Whatever interests you, you will find enthusiastic scientists in Ecuador to support you. And if none of this attracts you but you know of others who it might, please send this post along to them.

blog16 copy

blog15 copy

Example of aerial images of my plots that could be used to identify trees. Thanks to Lou Jost and his excellent drone piloting for these images! 

Finally, we can all support EcoMinga, its work conserving the cloud forest, partnership with El Placer, and scientific collaboration with INABIO by donating to the Foundation through the Orchid Conservation Alliance (US), the World Land Trust (UK) and Rainforest Trust (US). (Make sure you specify that the funds are for EcoMinga.) Contact Lou Jost (loujost@gmail.com) for more information about donating.

Thank you for reading! If you are interested in continuing this work and/or in hearing more about it, please do not hesitate to contact me:

Lane Davis

lanedavis17@gmail.com

(404) 805-2234 (WhatsApp or iMessage only until I am back in the US on May 11, 2018)

The opinions and information reported here are my own and do not represent those of the Fulbright Ecuador Commission, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, or the U.S. Department of State.

 

References

Anderson, E.P., Marengo, J., Villalba, R., Halloy, S., Young, B., Cordero, D., Gast, F., Jaims, E., and Ruiz, D. Consequences of Climate Change for Ecosystems and Ecosystem Services in the Tropical Andes. In Climate Change and Biodiversity in the Tropical Andes; Herzog, S.K., Martinez, R., Jørgensen, P.M., Tiessen, H., Eds.; Inter-American Institute           for Global Change Research (IAI): MOtevideo, Uruguay; Scientific Committee on Problems of the Environment (SCOPE): Amstelveen, The Netherlands, 2011; pp 1-19.

Butler, B. J. 2016. Forests of Massachusetts, 2015. Resource Update FS-89. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 4 p.

Chao, A., Gotelli, N.J., Hsieh, T.C., Sander, E.L., Ma, K.H., Colwell, R.K., and Ellison, A.M. 2014. Rarefaction and extrapolation with Hill numbers: a framework for sampling and estimation in species diversity studies. Ecological Society of America 84 (1): 45-67. https://doi.org/10.1890/13-0133.1

Chao, A. and Jost, L. 2012. Coverage-based rarefaction and extrapolation: standardizing samples by completeness rather than size. Ecology 93:2533−2547. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/11-1952.1.

Manetto, F. 2017. Un derrumbe deja a 600.000 personas sin agua potable en Quito.” El Pais, December 8. https://elpais.com/internacional/2017/12/07/ america/1512681483_601181.html.

 

Post de invitado: La fascinación de los árboles
Nota de editor: Este post de invitados es realizado por Lane Davis. Lane es una ex estudiante de la escuela de Capacitación Internacional que pasó un semestre en Ecuador e hizo su proyecto de estudio independiente con nosotros. Después ganó la beca Fullbright para regresar a configurar las parcelas de investigación en árboles en nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria, a 2000 m, 2500 m y 3000 m. Identificando cada árbol en cada parcela, ella ha generado datos que nos pueden ayudar a cuantificary entender no sólo la diversidad de nuestros bosques, pero también la importante diferencia en composición entre nuestros bosques a diferentes altitudes, y entre los bosques del Cerro Candelaria y otros local y globalmente. Este tipo de datos proveen un paso muy necesario para comprender las causas subyacentes más profundas de la biodiversidad. -LJ]
 
Fotografía de cortesía Lane Davis a menos que se indique lo contrario.
¿Y esto?, pregunta Javier con anticipación en cuanto abre la hoja de noticias #47. Yo abro mi cuaderno de campo Rite in the Rain deformado y cubierto de lodo, y busco el número. “Árbol de dosel sin látex ni olor, pero la corteza se oxida de blanco a marrón. ¿Quieres ver las fotos en vivo?” pregunto. Javier niega con la cabeza y toma un lente de mano. Hago lo mismo y levantamos cada uno hacia la luz una rama prensada y seca y la examinamos con nuestras lentes de mano.
Bajo la magnificación 30x, el envés de la hoja brilla con miles de pequeñas escamas. “Qué es?” Le pregunto. Javier se encoje de hombros casi jubilosamente, murmurando “increíble”, y coloca la muestra en una creciente pila de plantas no identificadas. Después, limpiamos  el bloque de ceniza de un libro Alwyn H. Gentry’s “Guía de campo de las Familias y Géneros de de plantas maderables del Noroeste de Sudamérica” y “Árboles del Ecuador” de Walter Palacios para familias y géneros de dicotiledóneas con hojas simples, opuestas, alternas, margenes enteros; y tricomas peltados (aquellos con escamas brillantes) que podrían empatar con la muestra #47. En esta forma, encogeremos las pilas desconocidas, etiquetadas como “Desconocidos” moviendo cada planta que identificamos en lugar de pilas de plantas relacionadas taxonómicamente. Pero solo avanzaremos significativamente en la pila de “Desconocidos” cuando nos reunamos con otro botánico, Walter Palacios. Sí, el mismo Walter Palacios que mencioné antes, quien literalmente escribió el libro de identificando árboles en Ecuador. Javier y Walter son amigos. Ecuador es un país pequeño y su comunidad científica aún más, casi todos los botánicos se conocen (lo que hace un poco vergonzoso cuando pregunto por la firma de Walter en mi copia de “Árboles del Ecuador”, pero valió la pena).
Pero por ahora, Javier vuelve a sumergirse en las muestras que no hemos revisado del todo. El se vuelve más incrédulo pero extático cada vez que abre uno de los periódicos en los que he presionado y secado cuidadosamente los recortes de árboles. A veces toma una mirada y proclama la familia del árbol “Fabaceae” o “Lauraceae” o incluso el género,  “Inga” o “Ocotea,” y yo registro esa proclamación en mi base de datos de Microsoft Excel y en la esquina del periódico. Pero al rededor de la mitad del tiempo, esta muestra se mantiene sólo con un número para identificarla.
Una de mis muestras identifican al nivel de familia. Este es miembro de una de las plantas neotropicales más grandes, la Melastomataceae.
Esta incertidumbe emociona a Javier, un talentoso botánico, biólogo y Director Ejecutivo de la Fundación EcoMinga, la organización de conservación a la que estoy afiliada con mi trabajo en Fullbright y a la cual pertenece el bosque donde mis recortes de árboles secos crecieron una vez. Él ha pasado un gran número de horas recorriendo los bosques ecuatorianos, si el no reconoce la planta, debe ser algo raro. Javier también se emociona cualquier momento que mi montón de plantas prensadas producen una especie que aún no ha visto en mis muestras, independientemente de si sabe o no lo que es. Con el descubrimiento de cada especie única, la diversidad de árboles aumenta. La diversidad de mi parcela, la sección de 40x40m del bosque donde recogí mis muestras de plantas, aumenta en sentido absoluto: una definición de diversidad es simplemente el número de especies presentes en un área dada.
Pero la diversidad implicada del bosque que rodea mi parcela de 40 x 40 m del bosque donde recogí mis muestras de plantas, aumenta en sentido absoluto: una definición de diversidad es simplemente el número de especies presentes en un área determinada. Pero la diversidad implícita del bosque que rodea mi parcela se dispara aún más rápida. Mi pequeña parcela posiblemente no puede representar toda la diversidad del bosque nuboso, pero podemos usar mis datos para estimarlo. Este cálculo esta basado en el número de singletons, o especies para las cuales hemos encontrado solo un árbol individual en la parcela. Si los singletons hacen una gran porción de datos, entonces sabemos que los datos no están representando bien la diversidad del bosque y debe haber muchas especies sin descubrir fuera de mi parcela (Para más de estos cálculos, ver Chao y Jost 2012 y Chao et al. 2014).
De mi parte, la identificación y repetición de los grupos de plantas son tan emocionantes como las especies nuevas y desconocidas; con cada muestra familiar y de característica familiar identificable, mi propia habilidad para identificar los árboles de bosque nublado se expande y solidifica. A diferencia de Javier, yo he invertido muchas horas en el bosque nublado ecuatoriano – a la fecha, cerca de 275 (sin incluir horas de tardes y noches que dormí en el campo). Casi todo este tiempo, lo utilicé colectando montones de plantas frente a nosotros, o caminando en uno de mis tres parcelas para hacer eso.
Durante la recolección de datos, viví en la villa de 250 personas El Placer en la base de Cerro Candelaria, la reserva de bosque propiedad de la Fundación EcoMinga donde colecté las muestras ahora prensados y secas. Cada mañana me pongo en camino a las 7:00 am, a menudo pero no siempre acompañado de un guardabosque, y escalamos a una de mis tres parcelas en la reserva. Cuando escribí mi propuesta para la beca Fullbright para estudiar la vulnerabilidad de los bosques andinos para el cambio climático, planeé hacerlo por aprendizaje de la distribución altitudinal de diferentes especies usando ocho parcelas diferentes de 10 x 100 m ascendiendo las faldas de la montaña en Candelaria. Las especies que crecen en sólo una banda altitudinal estrecha tendrán más dificultades para mantenerse al día con sus condiciones ideales de crecimiento – a medida que el cambio climático cambia esas condiciones cuesta arriba – que las especies que están adaptadas a las condiciones en un grán área geográfica. Este rápidamente se vuelve claro de mono que no tengo suficiente tiempo en los 10 meses del periodo de subvención para tomar datos en un área tan grande, y Javier y yo decidimos modificar nuestra metodología para que coincida con la Evaluación Nacional Forestal (National Forest Evaluation) que se llevará a cabo en 2018, que utiliza parcelas cuadradas. De este modo, el Ministerio de Ambiente de Ecuador podría usar nuestros datos en su estudio también.
Vista de y desde El Placer
Como resultado, cada mañana lejo El Placer para llegar a una de las tres parcelas de 40 x 40 m, localizados a 2000 m (6562 pies), 2500 m (8202 pies), o 3000 m sobre el nivel del mar (9843 pies). Empezando de 1400 m (4593 pies), mi conmutador requiere 2 horas y una ganancia de elevación muy empinada de 1969 pies a mi primera parcela, 3 horas y unos  aplastantes 3609 pies para ganar mi segunda parcela, o 6 horas y una  desmoralizante ganancia de 5250 pies a mi tercera parcela. Consecuentemente, a menudo acampo en el campo cuando trabajo en mi segunda parcela y siempre lo hice en mi trama más alta.
Lugar de acampada y vista de mi parcela a 3000 metros (Cerca de 10 000 metros sobre el nivel del mar).
Escalé a través de los bosques Andinos, los cual usualmente significa escalar a través de un bosque sumergido en nubes. Los bosques nublados existen en las montañas cerca de las tierras bajas de humedad atmosférica – usualmente el océano pero en este caso el Bosque lluvioso amazónico. Los patrones climáticos predominantes empujan esta humedad por las laderas, donde se enfría y se condensa en nubes de bajo nivel, niebla o lluvia, lo que conduce a la presencia frecuente de precipitaciones en una de estas formas.
Nubes en el bosque nublado.
Cuando empecé a tomar los datos en el bosque nublado, no tenía idea de como identificar los árboles a mi alrededor, y con buena razón. Aunque tomé Field Botany en Williams College e identifiqué plantas como parte de mi tesis de biología, solo hay un poco más de 70 especies en árboles en el estado de Massachusetts (Butler 2016). En comparación, 131 especies diferentes de árboles existen en los 4000 metros cuadrados (ligeramente menos de un acre) de bosque nublado que he examinado. Trabajando para identificar estos árboles, usando mis muestras secas, fotos, libros, el internet, las colecciones del Herbario Nacional (una biblioteca de muestras de plantas preservadas), y la gran ayuda de botanicos profesionales, he aprendido lentamente a reconocer las características definitorias de las familias, géneros y especies más comunes de mis parcelas. Ahora, cuando camino por le bosque, las características morfológicas de las plantas captan mi atención, a menudo provocando que se me ocurra un nombre científico. Las estípulas largas y cónicas, escamas en anillo, y látex gritan Moraceae; las estípulas interpeciolares insinúan Rubiaceae; y vainas peciolares con un olor dulce y jabonoso proclaman su identidad: Hedyosmum.
Diversidad del bosque no se restringe a los árboles. Lejos de eso. Por ejemplo, en los pasados 10 años, cerca de 40 nuevas especies de orquídeas y 10 nuevas especies de ranas han sido descubiertas en las Reservas de EcoMinga en una sección relativamente pequeña del bosque nublado Ecuatoriano.  Encima, unas pocas e increíbles fotos de la diversidad de plantas no arbóreas del bosque nublado.
Estos árboles y los billones de organismos que viven en, abajo, y alrededor de ellos, que van desde microorganismos del suelo hasta monos aulladores, así como las características inorgánicas del paisaje como rocas y suelo, forman un ecosistema nuboso. Esta red intrincada provee servicios críticos para la población humana que hace su hogar en las montañas andinas. Por ejemplo, el suelo de los bosques nublados y las epífitas (plantas que viven en otras plantas y recogen agua y nutrientes del aire en lugar del suelo) filtran y regulan el flujo del agua glacial que sirve a millones de personas en las comunidades andinas urbanas y rurales andinas (Anderson et al 2011). El extenso sistema de raíces del bosque nublado ayuda a mantener el suelo en su lugar, previniendo la erosión y los deslizamientos de tierra (Anderson et al 2011). El cambio climático interrumpirá este y otros servicios, amenazando la salud y seguridad humana y del ecosistema. Por ejemplo, las lluvias más intensas combinadas con la muerte de los árboles aumentarán la erosión y deslizamientos de tierra, lo que amenaza la seguridad humana y el suministro de agua. En Quito, en 2017, un deslizamiento de tierra bloqueó el canal principal de agua de la cuidad, dejando a 600 000 personas sin agua por muchos días (Manetto 2017). En El Placer, los deslizamientos de tierra ocasionalmente cubren tuberías y cortan el agua, en mis seis meses viviendo ahí, esto ocurrió una vez.
La interrupción del suministro de agua es sólo un ejemplo de innumerables formas posibles en que el cambio climático y el deterioro resultante del ecosistema del bosque nuboso pueden afectar a El Placer y otras comunidades similares enclavados en los valles andinos. Mejor entendimiento del destino del bosque nuboso bajo el cambio climático permitirá enfoques específicos para la preparación del cambio climático, por ejemplo, creando sistemas de suministro de agua de emergencia. Dada la inminencia del cambio climático, sin embargo, es crítico implementar estrategias que disminuyen la vulnerabilidad de un amplio rango de resultados de cambio climático. Recientemente escribí un paper para el seminario Mejora Regional Fullbright acerca de cómo Fundación EcoMinga y El Placer pueden hacer exactamente eso. Argumenté que EcoMinga refuerza la resiliencia climática de El Placer al proporcionar actividades económicas a la comunidad que tienen menos probabilidades de verse afectadas por el cambio climático que aquellas que de otro modo estarían disponibles para ellos.
La principal forma en que EcoMinga hace esto es mediante los miembros de la comunidad como guardabosques en sus reservas. Los guardabosques construyen y mantienen senderos y cabañas, ayudan a los científicos y estudiantes visitantes con su investigación y sirven como ojos agudos que a menudo descubren nuevas especies y más biodiversidad interesante. Mi propio trabajo hubiera estado fuera de alcance (literalmente) sin la ayuda de Darwin Recalde, Jesús Recalde, Tito Recalde, Santiago Recalde, Jordy Salazar y Andy Salazar. Estos hombres escalan árboles altos de 30 metros de alto para alcanzar hojas y flores en la cima – aquellas mismas hojas y flores que ahora se preservan en el Herbario Nacional en Quito y eso forma las filas de mis hojas de datos con las cuales trataré de decir algo sobre el futuro del bosque.
Darwin Recalde escalando un arbol para cortar muestras de sus hojas.
De hecho, este objetivo – evaluar el futuro del bosque bajo el cambio climático se ha transformado a lo largo de mi periodo de beca. Como en cualquier estudio científico interesante, este ha producido más preguntas de las que responderá. Como en cualquier estudio científico interesante, este ha producido más preguntas de las que responderá. Con base en los cálculos que mencioné antes, aunque tomé muestras de 73 diferentes especies de árboles en la parcela de menor altitud y mayor diversidad, esto representó menos de la mitad del número total de especies en el bosque a esa altitud. ¿Qué otras especies contiene el bosque en esta área? ¿Qué permite a las especies más comunes prosperar? ¿Cómo afectará el cambio climático a su estrategia?  ¿Cómo se comparará la respuesta del bosque al cambio climático con mis predicciones? ¿Difiere la adaptación en diferentes localidades dentro del bosque nublado? ¿Estas respuestas se corresponden con diferentes microclimas? ¿Cómo afectan otros aspectos del entorno del árbol, como el tipo de suelo y la pendiente, la adaptación del bosque?
Muchas de estas preguntas sólo son respondidas con un proyecto de investigación de largo tiempo. Recientemente he aprendido que mi trabajo será parte de eso. Fundación EcoMinga y el Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad (INABIO) están comenzando un monitoreo colaborativo del bosque de larga duración. El estudio incluirá una red de parcelas en el bosque nublado ecuatoriano incluyendo mis tres, otras pocas existiendo parcelas en las reservas EcoMinga, y muchas mñas aún por establecerse. El crecimiento de árboles, clima y composición del bosque será monitoreada regularmente en estas áreas, y el dato de mi estudio en 2017-2018 será la línea base para la cual las futuras medidas de mis parcelas serán comparadas. Mientras EcoMinga e INABIO están determinando detalles, la investigación arrojará luz sobre muchas de las preguntas que ha producido mi estudio. En adición a proveer la linea base hay otras vías por las cuales puedo ayudar a avanzar este proyecto. Por ejemplo*, me esfuerzo por hacer que el código R (un programa estadístico) que estoy escribiendo analice mis propios datos facilmente reproducibles de modo que otros investigadores y estudiantes pueden usar para análisis rápidos de datos de todas las parcelas.
Puedo ayudar reclutando más estudiantes para continuar el estudio. Mucho trabajo empocionante falta por hacer. En adición a expander y monitorear mis parcelas, existen amplias oportunidades para personalizar el proyecto. Por ejemplo, tu (sí, tu!) puedes explorar usando imágenes de dron para identificar árboles desde el aire, investigar el rol de los ratones en la dispersión de semillas, estudiar la sincronización de la reproducción sexual de árboles (fenología), o mirar la genética de la diversidad de árboles de bosque nublado – y cómo cada uno de estos impacta la adaptación del bosque al cambio climático. Todas estas son áreas en las cuales EcoMinga trabaja normalmente o le gustaría adquirir. Cualquier interés que tengas, encontrarás científicos entusiastas en Ecuador para apoyarlo. Y si nada de esto te atrae pero conoces a otras personas a las que podría atraerles, envíales esta publicación.
Finalmente, podemos apoyar a EcoMinga, su trabajo conservando el bosque nublado, en asociación con El Placer, y colaboración científico con INABIO donando a la Fundación a través de la Alianza para la Conservación de Orquídeas (US), the World Land Trust (UK) y Rainforest Trust (US). (Asegurate de especificar que los fondos son de EcoMinga). Contacta a Lou Jost () para mas información sobre donaciones.
Gracias por leer! Si estás interesado en continuar este trabajo o en escuchar más acerca del mismo, por favor no dude en ponerse en contacto conmigo:

Lane Davis

lanedavis17@gmail.com

(404) 805-2234 (WhatsApp o iMessage sólo hasta que regrese a los EEUU en Mayo 11, 2018)

Las opiniones e información reportada aquí, son de mi propiedad y no representan aquellas de Fulbright Ecuador Commission, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, o la U.S. Department of State.

Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores

 

Releasing a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve

dsc05450

Ukumari wakes up in his new home as the anesthesia wears off. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

Jeremy La Zelle and Greg Taylor, the men behind Backpacker Films, visited Banos in September 2015. When they heard about the pending release of a rescued Spectacled Bear in our Rio Zunac Reserve, they asked to join the release team.

The young bear had been found by a farmer two years earlier, badly injured. Doctors performed surgery on it and saved its life. Sebastian Kohn, director of Centro de Rescate Ilitio on the slopes of Volcan Cotopaxi, took it into his care and raised it, taking care to maintain its wild character and not turn it into a pet. The goal was always to return it to the wild. He fed it while hidden so that it did not associate food with people, and the bear kept its distrust of humans.

When Volcan Cotopaxi began to erupt, the Centro de Rescate suddenly had to close, so the bear had to be released quickly. The Ministry of the Environment asked us to receive the bear and assist in its release. Our rangers and a team of specialists carried the bear on a stretcher for several hours to take it to good habitat away from humans. Jeremy and Greg filmed the whole process, and the video below, released a few days ago, is the result.

 

It’s a testament to the best elements of our own species that so many people put so much effort and so much heart into the rescue and rehabilitation of this poor bear:

dsc05363

The team of veterinarians, bear experts, “stepfather” Sebastian Kohn (yellow shirt at left), and EcoMinga rangers (Luis and Santiago Recalde, not in view, and Fausto Recalde holding the intravenous serum bag). Photo: Santiago Recalde?EcoMinga.

dsc05381

EcoMinga Ranger Luis Recalde holds the bear’s head while the veterinarian tapes its claws to minimize danger to the crew. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.

The bear, after its release, wandered widely and was filmed by camera traps up to seven kilometers from its release site. It was last recorded alive and well about six months after its release, but its body was later found by Ministry of the Environment field staff, well outside our reserve. Some speculated that the bear had been attacked by another bear, but we don’t really know.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

Happy Birthday Sir David Attenborough

Today Sir David celebrates his 90th birthday. For several generations of young naturalists in the English-speaking world, Sir David was THE voice of nature on TV and radio, a man who instilled his own sense of wonder about nature in countless listeners and viewers around the world, including me. Even at age 90 he is still passionate about nature, and not just as a spectator. He works tirelessly to protect nature, and as a patron of the World Land Trust he has been especially generous in lending his time to its work, and to EcoMinga as one of the World Land Trust’s partners.

I first met Sir David in London at a World Land Trust event at the auditorium of the Linnaean Society in London. The Linnaean Society has a long and central role in the history of biology; Darwin’s first presentation of the theory of evolution had been given at a Linnaean Society meeting. So this was an inspiring venue for me. Watching over us were famous large paintings of Charles Darwin, Alfred Wallace, and other scientific giants on the walls. Sir David gave a talk on the importance of WLT’s work on preserving habitat, and I gave a talk on the orchid evolutionary radiations that I had discovered in Ecuador, which the WLT and EcoMinga were trying to protect. We had just recently discovered a fancy new species of tree in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, and Darin Penneys and I named it after Sir David to honor his legacy. That evening I was very pleased to be able to present Sir David with a photograph of “his” tree, Blakea attenboroughii, as a token of our appreciation.

A few years later Sir David was kind enough to write a Forward to our book of reptiles and amphibians of the EcoMinga reserves and those of the Jocotoco Foundation (another WLT partner in Ecuador, with whom we work closely). This was quite a kind thing to do for us. He wrote:

“If you protect a patch of the natural world, you should know what lives in it…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….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…”

The next time I met him was at the BAFTA theater in London, where the UK’s equivalent of the Academy Awards are given out. This was one of the most technologically advanced lecture venues in London, and I enjoyed it very much. The event on this particular evening was the celebration of the World Land Trust’s 25th anniversary in 2014. It was an intimate evening with Sir David as the main guest. Five WLT partners from around the globe, including me, gave shorter talks on our work. Sir David spoke eloquently of the changes in our conservation concept over the years, and of the role of the World Land Trust:

Last year Sir David once again stepped up to help the WLT and EcoMinga. He agreed to make an introductory film clip for a short WLT film by Jonny Lu about my orchid discoveries, and he agreed to speak at its screening in London along with me. It was a very unusual star-studded and paparazzi-filled evening, which I described in this post; the attention the event received was due almost entirely to Sir David’s presence, as everyone in the UK adores him and is eager to meet him.

I gave my orchid talk in front of the crowd, with Sir David standing facing me just three feet away, apparently listening intently. Initially I felt nervous telling natural history stories to the world’s most famous teller of natural history stories. But once I started, Sir David somehow made me feel right at home with his attentive look. That look told me he shared my wonder, and so it was easy to let it all out. It was a very special experience for me.

So, Sir David, thank you for your lifetime of sharing wonder, and thank you for your work to help us protect those wonders.

This is how he celebrated his birthday last year:

Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga

In the London high-fashion district, supermodels and superstars and even Superman come to learn about EcoMinga’s miniature orchids!

A couple of years ago our major UK supporters, the World Land Trust, sent a team of creative professionals– Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero–to our Cerro Candelaria Reserve to make a short film about its new species of orchids. Jonny Lu’s studio does mainly fashion work, with clients like Victoria Beckham, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton, so I was initially a bit worried about their intention to spend day after day climbing high muddy mountains in pouring rain. I needn’t have worried– they did it in style and with real pleasure! The results of their four-day trip were presented last Tuesday at the famous Bourdon House in London, once the home of the Duke of Westminster and now home to the Alfred Dunhill fashion house. Fabrizio Cardinali, CEO of Dunhill, graciously opened this house to us at no charge and donated the catering for the event. Sir David Attenborough, the great natural history presenter whose voice is instantly recognized around the world, came to the screening and also appeared in the film’ introductory segment. Thanks to Jonny’s and Emma Beckett’s and the WLT’s hard work and personal connections, an amazing set of people, including not only Sir David but many well-known British stars and supermodels, came to this event.

I gave a short talk to them about our orchids. It was an unusual venue and audience for an orchid talk, but it went well, and everyone was genuinely interested.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

The audience even attracted paparazzi and the British tabloid press!

Film maker Jonny Lu, right, and Brooklyn Beckham, the paparazzi’s main target:
Embed from Getty Images

David Attenborough and Henry Cavill (aka Superman):
Embed from Getty Images

One of the main purposes of the event was to raise funds for the conservation of the forests where these special orchids live. We are in the process of naming some of our new species of orchids after our major donors, past and present, as a way of thanking them for their help. In this event we attempted to encourage new donors by offering to name some additional species after them or after a loved one. Several donors came forward, and the World Land Trust has set up a website where the remaining un-named species can be viewed by potential donors:
http://www.wlt-orchids.com/donate
This site will be updated as the orchids are named.

The site also contains the story of Jonny’s, Jeremy’s, and Vava’s challenging trip to our Cerro Candelaria mountain to film these orchids in their extraordinary remote habitat. The photos nicely capture the ambiance and the challenges of working in this area.

Click to enlarge. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero filming in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga.

Click to enlarge. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero filming in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve.
Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga.

Lou Jost