Incredible frog discoveries in our Dracula Reserve

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A potentially new species, a blue-eyed Pristimantis! Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

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.

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Blue-eyed Pristimantis. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Mario Yanez.

 

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Blue-eyed Pristimantis. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

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.”

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Critically endangered Atelopus coynei from this newly discovered population. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

 

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Atelopus coynei from this population. Photo by Mario Yanez.

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.

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Critically endangered Rhaebo colomai from this new population. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Mario Yanez.

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.”

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Glass frog, Espadarana prosoblepon. Note the blue armpit flaps! Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

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.

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Happy frogs along the stream. Apparently another new species, but more work is needed; this species had been seen on an earlier expedition in our Dracula Reserve. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

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.

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 Anolis purpurascens found during the expedition. Click on image to enlarge. Photo: Juan Pablo Reyes/EcoMinga.

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

 

 

 

 

New orchids: Scaphosepalum zieglerae

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Scaphosepalum zieglerae, a new species of orchid discovered in the Dracula Reserve. Photo: Luis Baquero.

Our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador has an exceptionally rich, highly endemic, but poorly known flora which still contains many surprises for biologists. Orchid expert Luis Baquero (Jardin Botanico de Quito, Universidad de Las Americas), has been exploring this region for many years, sponsored in part by the Quito Orchid Society, and he recently discovered several new species in and around our reserve. I’ll feature them in the next few blog posts.

Members of the orchid genus Scaphosepalum have strange flowers that look like the heads of horned animals. There are two upper horns that point sideways, and a lower horn that points forward and upward. These horns are actually extensions of the three sepals, which are more or less united at their bases to form an enclosure for the small but complex lip.

The Dracula Reserve and the surrounding forests are home to many species of Scaphosepalum, some of which are very hard to distinguish because of their natural variability and perhaps some occasional hybridization. Luis has found one ridge that has up to seven species of Scaphosepalum! One of these species turned out to be new to science, and Luis recently published its description in the botanical journal Lankesteriana. He named it Scaphosepalum zieglerae, after Susann Ziegler Annen of Basel, Switzerland, who together with her husband Max have been major supports of our Dracula Reserve project, through the University of Basel Botanical Garden. (The University of Basel Botanical Garden provided the initial funding and support to start this reserve.) The new orchid discovery got national attention.

We are currently raising funds to buy the ridge that contains this and other Scaphosepalum species, along with many other rare orchids. The ridge connects two of our Dracula Reserve units, Cerro Colorado and Cerro Oscuro, and is a rare example of lower-elevation ridge line habitat, most of which has been turned into pastures elsewhere in the region. Donors should contact the Orchid Conservation Alliance; all fund they receive will be matched 1:1 by the Rainforest Trust.

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Another Scaphosepalum species from our Dracula Reserve, S. gibberosum. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

For more info on our Dracula Reserve, please check out this link and search for {EcoMinga  “Dracula Reserve”} and see this link.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moustached Puffbird, never before seen in Ecuador, has just been found in our Dracula Reserve

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First record of the Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis) for Ecuador. Click to enlarge. Photo: Alex Boas.

Ecuador is one of the world’s richest countries for birds, and it just got richer. Jose Maria Loaiza B. (a noted professional ornithologist who is EcoMinga’s community relations person in our Manduriacu Reserve), Juan Carlos Crespo (also an experienced ornithologist), and Alex Boas (ornithologist and photographer) visited Cerro Oscuro in our Dracula Reserve last week, partly because they suspected that the riparian habitat near the base of Cerro Oscuro might be appropriate for the elegant Moustached Puffbird (Malacoptila mystacalis), previously known only from Colombia and Venezuela. Puffbirds are tough to spot, since they spend most of their time perched quietly in the forest looking for large insects, but they have distinctive calls. Jose Maria heard a puffbird call near the edge of the stream that flows past Cerro Oscuro, and when they tracked it down, they were thrilled to find the first Moustached Puffbird ever seen in Ecuador! Continued searching turned up the mate of the first bird, and also a second pair of Moustached Puffbirds nearby.  Fortunately Alex was able to take some excellent photos and video to document the find. The team was not able to find any Moustached Puffbirds outside of the Dracula Reserve.  So for now, our Dracula Reserve is the only place in Ecuador where this bird can be seen.

Alex Boas’ video of the Ecuadorian sighting of the Moustached Puffbird.

Here are Jose Maria’s own words on the discovery:

“Novedades en la Reserva Cerro Oscuro

Por: José María Loaiza B.

Este pasado fin de semana realizamos una visita a la Reserva Cerro Oscuro en el noroccidente del Carchi y nos encontramos con una increíble sorpresa: la presencia de Mosutached Puffbird / Malacoptila mystacalis, especie que es registrada por primera vez en el Ecuador. Por el momento, la única localidad conocida es la parte baja de esta Reserva.

Este descubrimiento no fue del todo fortuito, ya desde hace tiempo sospechábamos que este esponjoso pájaro podía estar entre la vegetación ribereña. Dos parejas fueron encontradas: la primera justo a la orilla del río y la segunda más arriba de la casa-estación. Este hallazgo también contribuye con la extensión de su rango de distribución, y nuestra reserva asegura la supervivencia de lo que podría constituir una pequeña población en la frontera  noroccidental del Ecuador, posiblemente la única en todo el país.

El comportamiento característico de esta especie (y todos los Puffbirds), perchada sigilosa  en el sotobosque y relativamente quieta,   nos permitió detectarla por su canto y luego hacer excelentes fotografías y videos.   El equipo en campo estuvo conformado por la experticia de Juan Carlos Crespo, la experiencia fotográfica de Alex Boas y el  oído de José María Loaiza….”

They also made a second thrilling discovery in Cerro Oscuro. More on that in a future post. EcoMinga thanks Joe Maria, Juan Carlos, and Alex for their dedication and curiosity about the avifauna of our reserve.

 

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

Ladyslippers 2: Conservation

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Phragmipedium fischeri, one of the most endangered plants in Ecuador. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

As I mentioned in a recent post, ladyslippers as a group are the most endangered of all orchids. More than 37% of the world’s critically endangered orchid species are slipper orchids,  even though they make up less than 2% of orchid species worldwide. Our EcoMinga reserves are fortunate to host at least six slipper orchids in the genus Phragmipedium. Some of these are among the most critically endangered orchids in the world.

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Phragmipedium lindenii near Banos. Photo: Lou Jost.

The most common of our slipper orchids is the one species that doesn’t have a slipper, Phragmipedium lindenii. It grows in drier habitats in some of our Banos-area reserves. A fortunate mutation in the distant past changed the symmetry of the flower, so that instead of two normal petals and a slipper, it has three normal petals. In slipper orchids there is an anther above each normal petal, and in this mutation the third petal also has an anther, which grows straight into the stigma, always fertilizing the flower.

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Phragmipedium pearcei in our Rio Anzu Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost.

Our Phragmipedium pearcei is another widespread slipper orchid. In remote places where people do not strip it, this species forms immense colonies along streams which pass through limestone outcrops at the base of the eastern Andes, on the edge of the Amazon basin. Our Rio Anzu reserve protects several large colonies.

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Phragmipedium pearcei is often underwater. Photo: Lou Jost.

Several slipper orchids are also found in the vicinity of our Dracula Reserve mosaic in northwest Ecuador. Widespread Phragmipedium longifolium can be found on moist roadside cliffs . There is also a more unusual species whose flowers we have not seen yet, but judging from the leaves, it must be a long-petaled species, perhaps the endangered  Phrag. caudatum.

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Phragmipedium longifolium in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

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 Phragmipedium caudatum. Photo: Wikipedia.

The species I’ve mentioned so far are fairly widespread, though they are rapidly disappearing as a result of habitat destruction and plant collectors. Much more important for conservation are two slipper orchids which have very limited distributions centered around our Dracula Reserve: Phragmipedium hirtzii and Phragmipedium fischeri.

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Phragmipedium hirtzii. It is easily distinguished from Phragmipedium longifolium by the lack of black “eyelashes” on its staminode (the shield-like green thing covering the entrance to the pouch). Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Phragmipedium hirtzii is classified as “Endangered” in the IUCN Red List, and is only known from a few sites in extreme southwest Colombia and adjacent extreme northwest Ecuador. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) reports that there are only three sites covering a total of 12 sq. kilometers. It is under heavy pressure by plant collectors. One of the populations is in our target area for expansion of the Dracula Reserve.

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Critically endangered Phragmipedium fischeri in its natural habitat. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

Phragmipedium fischeri is even more threatened than Phragmipedium hirtzii. It is endemic to a very small area near our existing Dracula Reserve in extreme northwest Ecuador, and nearby southwest Colombia. It is classified by the IUCN as “Critically Endangered,” and they estimate the total area of occupied habitat is only around 4 sq. kilometers. The IUCN estimates there may be fewer than 100 adult individuals, and reports that even this small number is rapidly declining. If this is true, the species is on the brink of extinction and it is among the most endangered plants in Ecuador.

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Fallen Phragmipedium fischeri and Phragmipedium longifolium gathered at the P.  fischeri site. Photo: Luis Baquero and Gabriel Iturralde.

This beautiful orchid urgently needs protection. We are therefore assuming the responsibility to buy and conserve the only known Ecuadorian location for this species. Because of its importance and because increasing demand for the species from collectors, we have taken the unusual step of temporarily securing the property using borrowed money, which we must replace quickly.

The Orchid Conservation Alliance is committed to help us  extend the Dracula Reserve to include this Phragmipedium fischeri site, a Phragmipedium hirtzii site, and additional unusual habitats rich in rare and undescribed orchids and other plants and animals. We urge readers interested in slipper orchids to donate to the Orchid Conservation Alliance for this project. Please make sure you specify “Dracula Reserve” when you contact them– they support many projects, including other projects of ours. Write to tobias@scripps.edu

or send a check to

Peter Tobias, Orchid Conservation Alliance

564 Arden Drive

Encinitas, CA 92024 USA

Thanks!

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation

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Luis Baquero photographing Phragmipedium fischeri in its natural habitat. Photo: Gabriel Iturralde.

List of IUCN Critically Endangered Slipper Orchids: