A new glass frog has been discovered in our Manduriacu Reserve

Nymphargus manduriacu foto Jose Vieira 3v2

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.


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.

Nymphargus manduriacu

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.


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


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


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:


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.

Rhaebo olallai (4)

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.

Rhaebo olallai

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:



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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More birds of Manduriacu


Two of our most beautiful birds perching together. Orange-breasted Fruiteater (right) and Crested Quetzal (left) in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito).

Yesterday I wrote about the exciting discovery of the Choco Vireo in our Manduriacu Reserve. Now I want to add a few of the other special birds that have recently been found there by our staff member José María Loaiza Bosmediano and others.  Certainly the most beautiful find is the Orange-breasted Fruiteater (Pipreola jucunda),  a Choco endemic found from 600m to 1900m on the western slope of the northern Andes. Though it has a narrow range, it is not yet endangered.


Orange-breasted Fruiteater in Mindo. Photo: Francesco Varonesi

Another special Choco endemic found in Manduriacu Reserve during the last Christmas Bird Count was the Long-wattled Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger). This relative of the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock (the bird on our banner at the top of this page) is one of Ecuador’s strangest birds. The males gather at leks to display from special perches to attract females, making a weird display and a low mooing sound.


Long-wattled Umbrellabird in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito).

Here are a few random YouTube videos of the bird’s display:

This is one of three species of Umbrellabird in the world.  Another species, the Amazonian Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus ornatus), lives in our Rio Anzu Reserve, while the third species, the Bare-necked Umbrellabird (Cephalopterus glabricollis), lives in Costa Rica and Panama.

Another fancy bird found during the Christmas bird count in the Manduriacu Reserve was the Choco Trogon (Trogon comptus), also called the Blue-tailed Trogon though that name is also applied to an Old World species.


Choco Trogon in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito).

The quetzals are fancier relatives of the trogons. The Crested Quetzal (Pharomachrus antisianus) seen with the Orange-breasted Fruiteater in the picture at the head of this post, is one of the most beautiful of Ecuador’s birds, though it lacks the long tail of the Resplendant Quetzal of Central America. It occurs on both sides of the Andes; here is a photo by Roger Ahlman taken on the eastern slope of Ecuador at San Isidro Lodge:


Crested Quetzal, from San Isidro Lodge on the east slope. Photo: Roger Ahlman.

Manduriacu also has the Golden-headed Quetzal, Pharomachrus auriceps:


Golden-headed Quetzal. Photo by Roger Ahlman.

There are several toucan species at Manduriacu; one of my favorites is the Crimson-rumped Toucanet (Aulacorhynchus haematopygus):


My painting of a Crimson-rumped Toucanet.


The Purple Quail-Dove, Geotrygon purpurata, below, is another of the special Choco endemics of Manduriacu.  This species, like the Choco Vireo discussed yesterday, is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List criteria. It is found only between 600m and 1100m, a range of elevations which is also one of the most heavily exploited by local people for logging and agriculture. The world population of this species is estimated to be only 600-1700 adults, making it more endangered than even the Choco Vireo, and probably more endangered than any other bird found in any of EcoMinga’s reserves. Jose Maria is monitoring a nest with a camera trap (photo below), so we might learn more about the biology of this rare species.


Camera trap photo of the Purple Quail-Dove at its nest in our Manduriacu reserve. Photo courtesy José María Loaiza Bosmediano.

Jose Maria included this note about the discovery of the nest photographed above:

“El  17 de noviembre, encontramos junto con Alejandro Naranjo  y Galo Pantoja (ex y actual guardaparque respectivamente), un nido activo de Geotrygon purpurata Purple Quial-Dove y/o Indigo-crowned Quail-Dove.

Increíblemente el nido está a tan sólo unos ocho metros del sendero que conduce a nuestra casa-refugio. Ésta es una especie de alto interés conservacionista pues es endémica de la región biogeográfica del Chocó y se encuentra amenazada de extinción en la categoría EN PELIGRO (EN) a nivel global. Aparentemente se trataría del primer encuentro del nido de está palomita; sin embargo estamos buscando información relacionada para corroborar éste dato. Por lo pronto hemos colocado una cámara trampa para monitorear todo el desarrollo y estamos muy ansiosos por saber lo que ocurrirá, esperamos también que los depredadores ¡no lo encuentren!

Nos hemos percatado que sólo hay un huevo de color blanco y al parecer será el único de la nidada. La estructura del nido es sencilla como se puede ver en la foto y está a un metro de altura desde el suelo.

La especie es mayormente terrestre y propia del interior de bosques muy húmedos y lluviosos en buen estado de conservación. …en Manduricu, el nido está casi en su límite máximo de distribución altitudinal (1100msnm).

Pronto tendremos más noticias al respecto y esperamos obtener buen material fotográfico y videos.”

Here is a YouTube video of the bird from “Un Poco del Choco”, a cloud forest reserve near San Miguel de los Bancos in Pichincha province, Ecuador:

The Purple Quail-Dove is closely related to the very similar Sapphire Quail-Dove of the eastern lowlands of Ecuador, on the other side of the Andes. The two species are believed to have split from each other about 1.2 million years ago; there are slight differences in song, plumage, and habitat (the Purple Quail-Dove is found only in foothills while the Sapphire Quail-Dove is found only in lowland forest, at least in Ecuador). They had been lumped into a single species after initially being described as separate species; the recent decision to re-separate them is based on the discussion presented here.

The full list of birds seen to date in Manduriacu is available online here.

Many thanks to Jose Maria, Edison, and Galo for the great work they have been doing in Manduriacu!

All of these birds, with the possible exception of the Purple Quail-Dove, should also be found in our Dracula Reserve.

Lou Jost, Fundacion Eco Minga

Endangered Choco Vireo discovered at our Manduriacu Reserve

Choco Vireo in our Manduriacu Reserve. Video by Edison Ocaña.

The Choco Vireo (Vireo masteri)  is one of the rarest and most local of the bird species endemic to the Choco bioregion of western Colombia and northwest Ecuador. It was not discovered until 1991, when Paul Salaman (now CEO of Rainforest Trust, one of EcoMinga’s major funding partners) spotted and mist-netted it in a cloud forest in western Colombia. It was officially described and published in 1996 by Salaman and Gary Stiles, a pioneering Latin American ornithologist who has worked extensively in Costa Rica and Colombia. Tjhe vireo was later found in nearby northwestern Ecuador (Esmeraldas province) by Olaf Jahn, Byron Palacios, and Patricio Mena Valenzuela, and in 2010 another population was found in Ecuador’s Pichincha province by Dušan Brinkhuizen and Alejandro Solano-Ugalde. Like the Black Solitaire and a few other species, it appears to be found only in the wettest cloud forests in a narrow band of elevations (1100-1600m) in a badly deforested and fragmented landscape. It is classified as EN (Endangered) in the IUCN Red List.

EcoMinga’s community relations specialist and noted ornithologist José María Loaiza Bosmediano (whose position exists thanks to a generous donation by Felipe Villamizar) recently organized a Christmas bird count in our Manduriacu Reserve in Imbabura province in western Ecuador. In the course of this event, he and his companions Edison Ocaña (Aves Quito) and Galo Pantoja (our reserve guard) discovered and filmed two individuals of the Choco Vireo in this reserve, the first record for Imbabura province! They also made still photos and recorded its call.


Choco Vireo (Vireo masteri) in our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Edison Ocaña.

The Manduriacu Reserve was begun by Sebastian Kohn, who recently gave his properties (about 400ha) to EcoMinga to manage. Our management is partly funded by the government’s SocioBosque program, which pays private individuals (but not foundations) to conserve their forest; Sebastian has enrolled his properties in this program and gives us all the money he receives from it.  When the program ends we will be given full title to the properties. One of the vireo sightings was in one of these properties.

Last year EcoMinga began a joint project with the IUCN-Netherlands under their “Small Grants for the Protection of Nature” program, sponsored by the Dutch National Postcode Lottery,  to purchase an additional 132ha to fill a strategic gap between our present Manduriacu properties. The vireo surely occupies this property as well. In addition the Centro de Rescate Ilitío and the Fundación Cóndor Andino have financed EcoMinga’s purchase of a neighboring lot where the second vireo was sighted. We hope to eventually grow this reserve to cover 1000ha.

The vireo sightings in this area are important because there are very few Ecuadorian records of the species in protected areas (though it should also be present in our Dracula Reserve in Carchi province). This discovery increases the odds that the species might be able to survive in the country in spite of the ongoing deforestation at these elevations.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation
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Andean toad, thought to be extinct in Ecuador, has just been rediscovered in our Dracula Reserve!


Rhaebo colomai, a critically endangered species of Andean toad. This is the first individual found in Ecuador since 1984. Photo: Carolina Reyes-Puig.

A few weeks ago, at a major herpetology conference in Ecuador, our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes presented his recent work. After the conference his sister, herpetologist Carolina Reyes Puig from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito, led a group of herpetologists from the Natural History Museum of London (Jeffrey Streicher, Mark Wilkinson, Gabriela Bittencourt Silva, Simon Maddock), and the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (María Torres Sánchez)  on a field trip to our Dracula Reserve in northwestern Ecuador. The Natural History Museum group was primarily interested in caecilians, strange legless snakelike amphibians that are very poorly known.


A caecilian found by this group of scientists in the Dracula Reserve. Photo: Carolina Reyes-Puig.

While they were exploring our reserve mosaic, they found a fancy toad which Carolina immediately recognized as a species thought to be extinct in Ecuador, Rhaebo colomai! This species had been discovered near Chical, the town closest to our reserve, in 1983. It was last seen in Ecuador in 1984. Another population was discovered two years ago in nearby Colombia. It is classified as Critically Endangered in the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Here is an excerpt from a news item about this discovery, which just appeared in the Amphibian Survival Alliance newsletter:

An expedition in July 2017 found a small population in the Dracula Reserve, in the northwestern Andes of Ecuador. The expedition was carried out by scientists from the Laboratory of Terrestrial Zoology of University San Francisco de Quito USFQ, the Natural History Museum of London, and the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad INABIO.

“We found these little toads near streams of crystal clear water with lush surrounding vegetation. When we saw the first individual, we immediately knew that we were in front of a species thought extinct”, said Carolina Reyes-Puig, professor and researcher at University of San Francisco de Quito USFQ.

The Dracula Reserve is the only protected area in Ecuador that could maintain populations of this threatened species today. This reserve is managed by the Ecominga Foundation and is key for the conservation of not only amphibians but also other rare and threatened biodiversity, such as Dracula and Lepanthes orchids and Spectacled Bear.

This toad is the closest living relative of another “lost” species, Rhaebo olallai, which was rediscovered recently in our new Manduriacu Reserve. These discoveries are exciting news for conservation—they prove that the current mass extinctions affecting so many tropical amphibian species can sometimes leave pockets of survivors. If those pockets can be preserved, perhaps the species will survive. EcoMinga now protects the only known Ecuadorian habitats for both these Rhaebo species.


Rhaebo olollai from our Manduriacu Reserve. Photo: Ryan Lynch

We’d like to thank the School for International Training (SIT) for sponsoring Juan Pablo’s participation in the herpetology conference!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.




How to land a fixed-wing drone in a dense forest

Answer: Giant butterfly nets!

Ryan Lynch and Sebastian Kohn have been using an expensive fixed-wing drone, owned and operated by  Pablo Melo and Diego Andrade of Drone And GIS, to map our Manduriacu Reserve in exquisite detail. I’ll show some of those results later as they are processed and assembled. Fixed-wing drones can travel much farther than electric helicopter-drones. But there are some practical difficulties to this work. How do you land one of these fragile multi-thousand-dollar things in a forest full of trees? This is the technique that Pablo and Diego and Sebastian and Ryan used. So far it has worked.


The drone rides a mule to the launch site. Photo: Sebastian Kohn.


The small clearing around the Manduriacu cabin is big enough to launch the drone but not big enough, or flat enough, to land it. Photo: Sebastian Kohn.


Off it goes! Photo: Sebastian Kohn.


The drone takes detailed photos of the canopy. Courtesy Sebastian Kohn.

Thanks to Pablo Melo and Diego Andrade and their company, Drone And GIS, for their hard work to map this reserve.


More posts on the Manduriacu Reserve:





Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga