Hidden diversity of mammals

New species Chilomys georgeledecii. Photo: Jorge Brito.

New species Chilomys georgeledecii. Click to enlarge. Photo: Jorge Brito.

Some groups of animals just don’t get enough love. The little forest mice of the genus Chilomys are such a group. They are hardly ever seen, and they all look pretty much the same at first galnce. Taxonomists have not paid much attention to them, and all specimens of Chilomys from the northern Andes of South America were lazily classified into just one or two species (depending on the taxonomist). However, in recent years there have been suggestions that there may be more species of these little mice. It is hard to know for sure, though. If all we have are a few specimens, each from different locations, how can we know that subtle differences between them are not just due to geographical variation of a single species? And if we have two slightly different specimens from a single location, how do we know that the differences between them are not simply due to individual variation (like hair color in humans)?

In order to answer these questions, we need more information. We need to look at many different individuals in a single location, and we need to look at more locations. And we have to look at many different traits, not just one or two. Then we will be able to see if the individuals can be grouped into discrete groups, with no intermediate individuals between groups. That will indicate the groups probably represent good species; DNA evidence can then be used to confirm this conclusion. (Recall that a biological species is a population that can freely interbreed , but which rarely or never breed with other populations.)

A few years ago a team of scientists led by Jorge Brito began the difficult task of trying to figure out these questions for the small rodents of Ecuador, including Chilomys. I’ve written before about the new genus of mammal that he discovered in the course of this work. This week he finally published the results of his long study of the Chilomys mice. The  new publication reports the discovery of at least five new species of Chilomys mice in Ecuador! Two of them are known only from our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador (province of Carchi), while a third new species is more widespread and occurs in our Naturetrek-Viscaya Reserve in east-central Ecuador (Banos area, province of Tungurahua).

One of the new species from the Dracula Reserve was named Chilomys georgeledecii after the international conservationist George Ledec.  It lives at a wide range of elevations, from 1500m to more than 2300m, and it is one of the smallest members of the genus in Ecuador. It lives in the same forests as the other new species from the Dracula Reserve, which was named C. carapazi after the Olympic bicycle racing gold-medalist Richard Carapaz, who is a native of Carchi province where the species was discovered. He is a hero in Ecuador, a role model and inspiraton, and everyone in Carchi looks up to him. Jorge Brito was very pleased to be able to honor him in this way. This species is the biggest member of the genus and it was found at an elevation of 2350m.

Chilomys carapazii

New species Chilomys carapazi, named after Ecuadorian Olympian Richard Carapaz who is from Carchi province. Painting by Glenda Pozo.


Richard Carapaz winning an Olympic Gold Medal for Ecuador. Photo: EFE

Another of the newly recognized species is C. percequilloi, named after a Brazilian mammologist. It lives from 1600m to over 4000m on the eastern slope of the Andes in Ecuador, including our Naturetrek-Viscaya Reserve. Two other species were also discovered, C. neisi from Zamora-Chinchipe and El Oro provinces in Ecuador at 2500-2900m, and  C. weksleri from the west-central Andes of Ecuador from 1600-3200m.

DNA analysis performed by the authors shows that the genus Chilomys is a relatively young genus, less than 2.5 million years old, so the species described here are probably young species which evolved due to repeated Pleistocene isolation events driven by glacial cycles. This is similar to the time scales we see in Andean orchids, but much younger than some of the frog species we have discovered, as I will report shortly.

The previously-hidden diversity of these Chilomys mice is probably not unique. Other closely related genera (Neusticomys, Microryzomys, Oreoryzomys, Neomicroxus, etc)  are also apparently far richer in species than we currently believe. Surely there will be more mammal discoveries to report here soon!

Jorge Brito’s work was made possible in part by donations to EcoMinga by Rainforest Trust and the University of Basel Botanical Gardens. Our reserve guards, especially Eduardo Pena and Fausto Recalde, worked closely with Jorge’s team in the field and helped prepare the specimens. Their salaries are paid by World Land Trust’s Keepers of the Wild porgram and Humans For Abundance.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

The town of Tulcan passes a law to protect our Dracula Reserve!

The mayor of Tulcan, Cristian Benavides Fuentes, has long been a supporter of our conservation work within his jurisdiction. He’s visited our Dracula Reserve (which is partly in the Tulcan township) and often speaks about it to the public, emphasizing its uniqueness and the many new species found there. He has helped make the people of Tulcan proud of its natural heritage. We are sure that the residents of Tulcan, and their children, and their children’s children, will always be grateful for the visionary Tulcan leaders who made the decision to protect nature.

Congratulations to our excellent Dracula team, especially our director Javier Robayo, Gabriela Puetate, and Geovana Robayo.

The new municipal ordinance gives an important additional layer of legal protection to the Dracula Reserve, especially against mining. The new ordinance, which was passed unanimously by the Tulcan city council, is quite an achievement considering the level of anti-conservation pressure and disinformation fomented by the mining companies in the area. We are very proud of our team, and also proud of our scientific collaborators, who have been  active in raising local awareness about the new species they have discovered. For example, they named the orchid Lepanthes tulcanensis for the town, and they had a public contest to name the new frog Hyloscirtus conciencia.

We are currently working on new conservation awareness projects with the town government, and we look forward to more collaborations in the future. This is how conservation should be done, hand in hand with all the stakeholders. We have also achieved this in our Banos-area reserves, which are inside an area designated for sustainable development and conservation by the municipal governments there.

Lou Jost, President, Fundacion EcoMinga


Mining versus Nature in Ecuador’s Supreme Court: Landmark case decided today in favor of NATURE!!!!


Manduriacu forest catching the sun. Photo: Sebastian Kohn.

Readers will remember our recent post about mining activities in our Dracula Reserve. Mining also threatens our other reserve in western Ecuador, Manduriacu Reserve. Mining companies are entering these reserves without permission or prior consultation. This is also happening elsewhere in western Ecuador, and a private reserve, Los Cedros, has taken the Ministry of the Environment to court to force them to regulate and control mining in their protected area. The case has gained global attention and is a test of the novel  “Rights of Nature” enshrined in the Ecuadorian constitution.

This report from Reuters news service provides a summary of the case, which asks for a  injunction against mining activity in Los Cedros. More information is available here:


A lower court upheld the rights of nature and granted the injunction, but of course the mining companies appealed the decision all the way to the Supreme Court.

Today we have heard unofficial news that the case has been decided, and by a vote of 7-2, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of nature!!!!! We are still waiting on the details, and we will update this when the news becomes official….

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga


Minería versus Naturaleza en la Corte Suprema de Ecuador: ¡¡¡¡Caso histórico decidido hoy en favor de la NATURALEZA!!!!
IMG 01 – Bosque de Manduriacu capturando el sol. Fotografía: Sebastián Kohn.
Los lectores recordarán nuestra reciente publicación sobre actividades mineras en nuestra Reserva Drácula. La minería también amenaza nuestra otra reserva en el occidente de Ecuador, la Reserva Manduriacu. Las compañías mineras están entrando a estas reservas sin permiso o consulta previa. Esto también está sucediendo en otras partes del occidente de Ecuador, y una reserva privada, Los Cedros, ha llevado al Ministerio de Ambiente a los tribunales para obligarlos a regular y controlar la minería en su área protegida. El caso ha ganado atención mundial y es la prueba de la novela “Derechos de la naturaleza” consagrada en la constitución ecuatoriana.  
Este informe del servicio de noticias Reuters proporciona un resumen del caso, que solicita una orden judicial contra la actividad minera en Los Cedros. Más información está disponible aquí:
Un tribunal de primera instancia defendió los derechos de la naturaleza y otorgó la orden judicial, pero, por supuesto, las empresas mineras apelaron la decisión hasta la Corte Suprema. 
Hoy hemos escuchado las noticias no oficiales de que el caso ha sido decidido, y por votación de 7 -2, ¡¡¡¡¡la Corte Suprema falló a favor de la naturaleza!!!!! Todavía estamos esperando los detalles, y actualizaremos esto cuando las noticias se vuelvan oficiales…
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores



A new frog, named by citizens!

Hylocirtus sp. nov.

Male Hyloscirtus conscientia. Photo: Callie Broaddus

Another new frog has been published from our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador! It was discovered in 2017 by our herpetologist/reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes and herpetologist Mario Yanez, who are both investigators with the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, and Fausto Recalde, a Banos-area reserve warden visiting the Dracula Reserve (far from Banos) to help the scientists. It belongs to the genus Hyloscirtus.

One of our colleagues, Callie Broaddus, who is the founder of Reserva: Youth Land Trust, wanted to involve young people in this discovery by hosting a contest to suggest the name for this frog. The discoverers agreed to propose the winning name in their scientific publication describing the species. The contest was open to the public, and lots of people learned about the frog and the threats to its existence. Six hundred twenty two people from 36 countries entered the contest. A panel of prominent scientists and conservationists were the judges. The winner was Carolina Bustillos, a 19-year-old Ecuadorian, who proposed the specific name “conscientia”, Latin for “self-knowledge” or “consciousness”. Carolina explained it this way: “Creo que esta pequeña rana debería llevar ese mensaje. El mensaje de ser conscientes sobre lo maravillosa que es esta tierra, con toda su flora y fauna, y ser conscientes de que se debería cuidarla y estar agradecidos con ella.” [“I think this little frog should bear this message, the message to be cosncious of the wonders of this earth, with all its flora and fauna, and be conscious that we ought to care for the earth and be thankful to it.”]

Dominic Benitiz, 14 years old, suggested the winning common name, “Rana Nubular de Chical” [“Nubular frog of Chical”]. She made up the word “Nubular”, which in Spanish suggests the word for cloud, “nube”, since the frog lives in cloud forest. Chical is the nearest town to the discovery site.

Hyloscirtus conscientia is most closely related to H. mashpi, another recently discovered species which lives a couple of hundred kilometers to the south. Like most members of this genus, it lives near fast-moving streams, where the males call fron a perch that typically has a leaf covering it like an umbrella, undoubtedly to protect the calling frog from frog-eating bats. I don’t have a photo fo this behavior in H. conscientia, but the photo below illustrates this behavior in a different, closely related Hyloscirtus species, H.phyllognathus, photographed in our Rio Zunac Reserve near Banos.

Hyloscirtus Zunac

Hyloscirtus phyllognathus calling beneath a leaf that forms an umbrella over the frog, protecting it from predatory bats. The new species  Hyloscirtus conscientia has the same behavior. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMInga.

Callie and her team have written beautiuful accounts about their time in the habitat of Hyloscirtus conscientia, illustrated with their stunning photos. I highly recommend reading their stories. A good place to start is here:

Field Notes Day 1


A snake in the Dracula Reserva. Photo Callie Broaddus.

Lou Jost, Fundacion EcoMinga

¡Una nueva rana nombrada por ciudadanos!
IMG 01 – Macho Hyloscirtus conscientia. Fotografía: Callie Broaddus
Otra nueva rana ha sido publicada desde nuestra Reserva Drácula en el nororiente del Ecuador! Ha sido descubierta en 2017 por nuestro herpetólogo/manager de la reserva Juan Pablo Reyes y el herpetólogo Mario Yánez, quienes son investigadores del instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad, y Fausto Recalde, a la reserva Baños para ayudar a los científicos. Pertenece al género Hyloscirtus.
Uno de nuestros colegas, Callie Broaddus, quien es el fundador de Reserva: Youth Land Trust, quiso involucrar gente joven en este descubrimiento organizando un concurso para sugerir el nombre de esta rana. Los descubridores acordaron proponer el nombre ganador en su publicación científica describiendo la especie. El concurso se abrió al público, y montones de personas aprendieron acerca de la rana y las amenazas a su existencia. Seis cientos veinte y dos personas de cerca de 36 países ingresaron al concurso. Un panel de científicos prominentes y conservacionistas fueron los jueces. El ganador fue Carolina Bustillos, una mujer de 19 años ecuatoriana, quien propuso el nombre específico concientia, Latín de “autoconocimiento” o ” conciencia”. Carolina explicó en esta forma: “Creo que esta pequeña rana debería llevar ese mensaje”. El mensaje de ser conscientes sobre lo maravillosa que es esta tierra, con toda su flora y fauna, y ser conscientes de que se debería cuidarla y estar agradecidos con ella”.
Dominic Benitiz, de 14 años de edad, sugirió el nombre común ganador, “Rana Nubular de Chical”. Ella inventó la palabra “Nubular”, que en español sugiere la palabra nube, “nube”, ya que la rana vive en el bosque nuboso. Chical es la ciudad más cercana al sitio del descubrimiento. 
Hyloscirtus conscientia está más cercanamente relacionada a H. mashpi, otra especie de rana recientemente descubierta que vive un par de cientos de kilómetros al sur. Como la mayoría de miembros de este género, vive cerca de arroyos que se mueven rápidamente, donde los machos llaman desde una percha que típicamente tiene una hoja que la cubre como un paraguas, sin duda para proteger a la rana que llama de los murciélagos que se alimentan de ranas. No tengo una foto de este comportamiento en H. conscientia, pero la foto de abajo ilustra este comportamiento en una especie relacionada de Hyloscirtus diferente, H. phyllognathus, fotografiada en nuestra Reserva Rio Zuñac, cerca de Baños.  
IMG – Hyloscirtus phyllognathus llamando debajo de una hoja que forma un paraguas sobre la rana, protegiéndola de los murciélagos depredadores. La nueva especie Hyloscirtus conscientia tiene el mismo comportamiento. Foto: Lou Jost/ EcoMinga
Callie y su equipo han escrito hermosos relatos sobre su tiempo en el hábitat de Hyloscirtus conscientia, ilustrados con sus impresionantes fotos. Recomiendo encarecidamente leer sus historias. Un buen lugar para comenzar es aquí:
Una culebra en la Reserva Dracula. Fotografía de Callie Broaddus. 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga. 
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores