Orchid Conservation Alliance site visit to our Dracula Reserve, supplementary photos

My last post on the Orchid Conservation Alliance visit to our Dracula Reserve was quite long, so I had to leave out some photos. Here I will add a few more from that trip:

Northwest Ecuador is the home of Anthurium andreanum, the main wild ancestor of all the anthurium hybrids sold today around the world for cut flowers.

Anthurium andreanum, the main wild ancestor of all cut-flower anthurium hybrids, growing wild here. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Heliconia species. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Heliconia species. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The forest in the fog, behind the foreground ridge, is our newest purchase for the Dracula Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The forest in the fog, behind the foreground ridge, is our newest purchase for the Dracula Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Sobralia bimaculata was common on roadbanks and in forest clearings. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Sobralia bimaculata was common on roadbanks and in forest clearings. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Scaphosepalum cf swertifolium, an orchid. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Scaphosepalum cf swertifolium, an orchid. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

Alianza para la conservación de orquídeas visita nuestra Reserva Drácula, fotografías suplementarias
 
Mi última publicación de la visita de la Alianza para la Conservación de Orquídeas a nuestra Reserva Drácula fue de tanto tiempo que tuve que dejar algunas fotos. Aquí añadiré unas cuantas más de este viaje:
 
IMG 01- Noroccidente de Ecuador es el hogar de Anthurium andreanum, el principal antepasado de todos los híbridos de anturios vendidos hoy en día al rededor del mundo para las flores cortadas. Aquí está en estado salvaje en nuestra reserva. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG 02 – Anthurium andreanum, el ancestro silvestre principal de todas las flores cortadas hibridas de anturios, creciendo silvestremente aquí. Fotografía: Lou Jost /EcoMinga
 
IMG 03 – El bosque de musgos donde Dracula trigonopetala y D. terbochii crecen. Los gruesos grupos musgosos del tronco superior del árbol central son en realidad bromelias de Tillandsia. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
IMG 04 – La fruta bizarra de un miembro de la familia Cyclanthaceae. Las plantas de esta familia son parecidas a la palma superficialmente, pero las frutas son completamente diferentes. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
IMG 05 – Especies de Heliconia. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG 06 – Lepanthes meniscophora en la reserva. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG 07 – El bosque en la niebla, detrás de la cresta en primer plano, es nuestra compra más reciente para la Reserva Drácula. Fotografía: Lou Jost /EcoMinga
 
IMG 08 – Sobralia bimaculata fue común en los márgenes de las carreteras y en los claros de los bosques. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG 09 – Scaphosepalum cf swertifolium, una orquídea. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano Flores

Orchid Conservation Alliance site visit to our Dracula Reserve

In January orchid enthusiasts Peter Tobias, Kathi McCord, Steve Beckendorf, Mary Gerritsen, and Spiro Kasomenakis came to visit our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador, near the town of Chical on the Colombian border. Peter, Steve, and Mary are founders and board members of the Orchid Conservation Alliance, which has been raising money for EcoMinga’s conservation work since its inception in 2006. Lately they have been major supporters of our Dracula Reserve, and they were eager to see it for themselves. They were especially interested in the orchid tribe that make up the bulk of the orchid diversity here, Pleurothallidinae, a group of mostly-miniature orchids that includes genera like Masdevallia (Mary had even written a book about that genus with Ron Parsons, and another book about miniature orchids in general), Lepanthes, Stelis, Pleurothallis, and of course Dracula. Perfect guests for a reserve established specifically to conserve those orchids!

The long drive from Quito to the reserve is depressing. On the central inter-Andean plateau we pass through a barren, eroded landscape almost entirely lacking in large trees. Then we turn west to descend the Mira valley, which once had tall dry forest near the river and cloud forest on the upper slopes. Now there are only large expanses of treeless slopes swept repeatedly by deliberately-set fires. But by mid-afternoon we begin our climb on side roads into the high mountains. In the transition zone between destruction and paradise we reach the beautiful hacienda La Primavera where we will stay. We have three days to explore our four reserve units, the nearest about a half-hour’s drive from the hacienda.

The rain falls constantly, since the morning of the first day. The cool temperatures and 100% humidity are deadly for electronics and optics, and nearly everyone’s cameras (some of them professional quality Nikons and Canons) begin to fail electronically, while even the ones that don’t fail have fogged lenses. Nevertheless everyone is in good spirits because this is exactly the right climate for the miniature orchids we seek.

The most diverse genus is Lepanthes. I’ve posted about Lepanthes from this area before; they have tiny but intricate flowers that attract male fungus gnats which mate with the flower, thinking it is a female fly. The flower makes female fly pheromones to lure the males in. There are over 300 species of Lepanthes in Ecuador, and our Dracula Reserve parcels seem to have an endless variety of them. Many are recently discovered species, apparently found only here in the vicinity of our reserve, though some of these surely reach into nearby Colombia. We try to photograph as many as we can, but the rain makes this an exercise in frustration. Try balancing an umbrella on your shoulder while steadying a tiny flower with one hand and a heavy camera in the other, to take a nearly-microscopic photo whose depth of field at these magnifications can be as little as a couple of millimeters. If we are able to see the flower through our wet glasses and fogging lenses, we watch it go in and out of focus uncontrollably as we try to hold still, and if the flower is in focus at the moment we press the shutter, it’s pure luck.

Already from the first moment we find our focal genus, Dracula. The sinister convoluted Dracula andreettae is the most spectacular thing we find the first day. Dracula gigas in the same area is also stunning. Dracula plants without flowers are more common than those with them; ironically, our local reserve caretaker Hector Yela explains that this is because there was a weeks-long unseasonably dry spell just preceding our soggy visit.


Steve Beckendorf photographs Dracula gigas in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Steve Beckendorf photographs Dracula gigas in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Dracula and most other orchids here are epiphytes, growing in the trees. But many of the most interesting and overlooked orchids are terrestrial species related to temperate-zone North American orchids. I pay special attention to these, and our guest Spiro also has an exceptionally good eye for them. On this trip we find two apparently-different species of the terrestrial orchid Psilochilus, a genus related to the elusive Triphora trianthophora of North America. Triphora is partly saprophytic, a vulture-like plant living on decaying material (in symbiosis with fungi) rather than making its own food with its leaves. Psilochilus has more nearly normal leaves and probably does not need decaying material. But like Triphora, Psilochilus has flowers that only last a day or two, so it takes good timing to find one in flower. Most orchid scientists never notice them. My fieldwork has shown that there are far more species of Psilochilus in Ecuador than the very few officially-described species. Maybe one or both of these forms are new, or at least new for Ecuador. Several new species were recently described from nearby Colombia.

Another terrestrial, a species of Cleistes, catches our attention each day as we pass the clearing where it grows. On the first day the buds looked ready to pop open, so each time we pass, we eagerly get out of our vehicle and check them. Day after day they just sit there, the petals and sepals slightly ajar like the flowers are about to unfold, but they never do. At first I thought it might be self-pollinating, and the plants had many seed capsules, which is often a sign of self-pollination.But when I dissected one, I found it had functional nectar glands at the base of its lip (a modified petal). I tasted it to be sure. Very sweet!

An odd Cleistes species which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

An odd Cleistes species (Orchidaceae) which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Side view of an odd Cleistes species which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Side view of an odd Cleistes species which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

On the last full day, the rain is worse than usual. We visit a site we would like to purchase, home of some of the rarest Dracula species. But when we arrive we find some of the forest has been cut down. The fallen trees show us the otherwise-hidden diversity of the canopy orchids in this forest.

Luckily the rare Dracula we had come to see, the recently-described Dracula trigonopetala, was a few dozen meters from the clearing, still in good shape. Now some especially waterlogged participants turn back towards the road, but a few of us continue on. After a long cold wet hike, we reach an area with Lepanthes everywhere, of many different species.

Porroglossum eduardii, a rare species whose lip (with black base in the photo) flips up when an insect lands on it. The trapped insect must crawl out between the lip and the female and male parts of the column, in that order, pollinating the flower. This photo was taken on a previous trip; we only saw none-flowering plants of this species on this trip. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Porroglossum eduardii, a rare species whose lip (with black base in the photo) flips up when an insect lands on it. The trapped insect must crawl out between the lip and the female and male parts of the column, in that order, pollinating the flower. This photo was taken on a previous trip; we only saw none-flowering plants of this species on this trip. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Those of us whose cameras are still semi-functional manage a few shots in the rain, and then we turn back. But as we head back, thinking of warm food and dry clothes, our caretaker Hector looks back towards us and spots an enormous Dracula above our heads. It’s a magnificent Dracula terborchii, a species that was discovered in captivity in Europe, exported from somewhere in Ecuador, mislabelled as a different species of Dracula. For a long time no one knew where in Ecuador it actually lives, but recently Ecuadorian orchid specialists like Alex Hirtz, Luis Baquero (who also co-described D. trigonopetala, along with Gary Meyer) and Francisco Tobar had begun to find a few plants of it in this region. I’d never seen it before in the wild. Its sepals were patterned like a Persian carpet, and against the dark forest it glowed in spite of the gloom. This was the most magnificent find of the trip. We vow to try to purchase this property as soon as possible to keep it from being cleared further. This will not be easy–we’d tried buying it before, but there were conflicting land titles that complicated things. Still, we’ve resolved worse problems. We all agreed this is clearly worth protecting.

As the rains defeat the last of the cameras, we head for home. Mudslides begin to fall into the mountain road, but we get through them. Hot showers and good food and company await us in the hacienda, a nice end to a beautiful trip.

On our way back to Quito, finally with sunny weather! From left to right: Spiro Kasomenakis, Kathi McCord, Mary Gerritsen, me, reserve guard Hector Yela, and Steve Beckendorf.

On our way back to Quito, finally with sunny weather! From left to right: Spiro Kasomenakis, Kathi McCord, Mary Gerritsen, me, reserve guard Hector Yela, and Steve Beckendorf.

Many thanks to the Orchid Conservation Alliance, whose donations to the Dracula Reserve were matched by the Rainforest Trust, a key partner in this initiative. Thanks also to Vera Lee Rao, Steven K. Beckendorf and Cynthia L. Hill, and Mark Wilson for their major donations to this project. Heinz Schneider and the University of Basel Botanical Garden, which was the initial sponsor of the Dracula Reserve and is still our energetic partner in the project, also deserves special thanks, along with Susann Zeigler and Max Annen, Beat and Urs Fischer and the many other donors named in the U. of Basel Botanical Garden web page.

A special thanks to the Asociacion de Orquideologia de Quito, Ecuador, who raised money for conservation in Ecuador over several years and donated it all to us for this project.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

The lip and column (an organ that combines anthers and pistil, characteristic of orchids) of the never-opening Cleistes. The original photo is a 100 Mb "stack-and-stitch" photo composite made from about 30 pictures, to increase resolution and depth of field. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The lip and column (an organ that combines anthers and pistil, characteristic of orchids) of the never-opening Cleistes. The original photo is a 100 Mb “stack-and-stitch” photo composite made from about 30 pictures, to increase resolution and depth of field. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Orchid Conservation Alliance site visit to our Dracula Reserve
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La Alianza para la conservación de orquídeas visita nuestra Reserva Drácula
 
IMG 01- Click para agrandar. Una gran flor del raro y misterioso Dracula terbochii, descubierta por primera vez en una colección de orquídeas en Europa. Recientemente, su hogar fue descubierto por científicos de orquídeas ecuatorianos. Dracula terbochii es una de las razones por las que elegimos esta área para protegerla. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
En enero los entusiastas de orquídeas Peter Tobias, Kathi McCord, Steve Beckendorf, Mary Gerristen, y Spiro Kasomenakis, vienen a visitar nuestra Reserva Drácula en el nororiente del Ecuador, cerca del pueblo de Chical en los bordes colombianos. Peter, Steve y Mary son fundadores y miembros de tablero de la Alianza para la Conservación de Orquídeas, la cual ha estado recaudando dinero para el trabajo de conservación de EcoMinga desde sus inicios en 2006. Últimamente han sido importantes partidarios de nuestra Reserva Drácula, y estaban ansiosos por verlo por sí mismos. Ellos estaban especialmente interesadas en la tribu de orquídeas que constituye la mayor parte de la diversidad de orquídeas en su mayoría en miniatura que incluye géneros como Masdevallia (Mary incluso había escrito un libro sobre ese género con Ron Parsons, y otro libro sobre las orquídeas en miniatura en general), Lepanthes, Stelis, Pleurothallis, y por supuesto, Drácula. ¡Invitados perfectos para una reserva establecida específicamente para conservar esas orquídeas!
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. Una línea de incendio destruye una montaña en el valle Mira. Observe las flamas al lado izquierdo del área quemada. La Reserva Drácula está en las montañas sobre esto. Esta fue tomada en un viaje previo a la reserva. En este viaje solo vimos los efectos de estos incendios. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
El largo viaje desde quito a la reserva es deprimente. En la meseta interandina central pasamos por un paisaje árido y erosionado que carece casi por completo de grandes árboles. Luego giramos hacia el oeste para descender el valle de Mira, que una vez tuvo bosque seco alto cerca del río y bosque nuboso en las laderas superiores. Ahora solo hay grandes extensiones de laderas sin árboles barridas repetidamente por incendios provocados deliberadamente. Pero a media tarde comenzamos nuestro ascenso por caminos secundarios hacia las altas montañas. En la zona de transición entre la destrucción y el paraíso, alcanzamos la hermosa hacienda La Primavera donde nos quedaremos. Tenemos tres días para explorar nuestras cuatro unidades de reserva, la más cercana a una media hora en auto de la hacienda. 
 
IMG – Nuestro Hotel, Hacienda Primavera (www.haciendaprimavera.com). ¡¡¡Altamente recomendado!!! Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
La lluvia cae constantemente, desde la mañana del primer día. La temperatura fría y la humedad al 100% son mortales para la electrónica y la óptica, y casi todas las cámaras (algunas de ellas Nikon y Canon de calidad profesional) empiezan a fallar electrónicamente, mientras que incluso las que no fallan tienen lentes empañadas. Sin embargo, todo el mundo está de buen humor porque este es exactamente el clima adecuado para las orquídeas en miniatura que buscamos. 
 
IMG – Lepanthes generi, una especie recientemente descrita para esta área. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga.
 
El género más diverso es Lepanthes. He publicado acerca de Lepanthes para esta área antes; tiene flores pequeñas pero intrincadas que atraen a los mosquitos del hongo macho que se aparean con la flor, pensando que es una mosca hembra. La flor produce feromonas de mosca hembra para atraer a los machos. Hay más de 300 especies de Lepanthes en Ecuador, y nuestras parcelas de Reserva Drácula parecen tener una amplia variedad de ellas. Muchas son especies recientemente descubiertas, aparentemente encontradas solo aquí en la vecindad de nuestra reserva, aunque algunas de estas seguramente llegan hasta la cercana Colombia. Nosotros tratamos de fotografiar tantas como podemos, pero la lluvia hace que este sea un ejercicio de frustración. Intentar balancear un paraguas en tu hombro mientras estabilizas una pequeña flor con una mano y una cámara pesada con la otra, para tomar una fotografía casi microscópica cuya profundidad de campo con estos aumentos puede ser tan pequeña como un par de milímetros. Si somos capaces de ver la flor a través de nuestras gafas mojadas y lentes empañadas, la vemos entrar y desenfocarse incontrolablemente mientras tratamos de quedarnos quietos, y si la flor está enfocada en el momento en que presionamos el obturador, es pura suerte. 
 
IMGLepanthes meniscophora en la reserva. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG –  Click para agrandar. Dracula andreettae en nuestra reserva. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Ya desde el primer momento, nos encontramos con nuestro género focal, Drácula. El siniestro y enrevesado Dracula andreettae es la cosa más espectacular que encontramos el primer día. Dracula gigas, en la misma zona, también es impresionante. Las plantas de Dracula sin flores son más comunes que las que las tienen; irónicamente, nuestro cuidador de reserva Hector Yela, explica que esto es se debe a que hubo una racha de sequía inusualmente larga de una semana justo antes de nuestra empapada visita. 
 
IMG Dracula gigas. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Steve Beckendorf fotografía Dracula gigas en nuestra Reserva Drácula. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
Drácula y la mayoría de otras orquídeas aquí son epífitas, creciendo en los árboles. Pero muchas de las orquídeas más interesantes y pasadas por alto son especies terrestres relacionadas a las orquídeas Norteamericanas de zonas temperadas. Pongo especial atención a estas, y nuestro invitado Spiro también tiene un ojo excepcionalmente bueno para ellas. En este viaje encontramos dos especies aparentemente diferentes de las orquídeas terrestres Psilochilus, un género relacionado al elusivo Triphora trianthophora de Norteamérica. Triphora es parcialmente saprofítico, una planta parecida a un buitre que vive de material en descomposición (en simbiosis con hongos) en lugar de producir su propia comida con sus hojas. Psilochilus tiene hojas más cercanas a lo normal y probablemente no necesita material en descomposición. Pero como Triphora, Psilochilus tiene flores que solo duran uno o dos días, por lo que se necesita un buen momento para encontrar una en flor. La mayoría de los científicos de orquídeas nunca las notan. Mi trabajo de campo también ha mostrado que hay muchas más especies de Psilochilus en Ecuador que las muy pocas especies descritas oficialmente. Quizás una o ambas de estas formas sean nuevas, o al menos nuevas para Ecuador. Muchas especies nuevas han sido recientemente descritas de la vecina Colombia. 
 
IMG – Una nueva especie de Psilochilus hermosa en la Reserva Dracula. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Otra especie terrestre, una especie de Cleistes, capta nuestra atención cada día a medida que pasamos el claro donde crece. En el primer día, los brotes parecían listos para abrirse, así que cada vez que pasamos, salimos ansiosos de nuestro vehículo y los revisamos. Día tras día simplemente se sientan allí, los pétalos y sépalos ligeramente entre abiertos como las flores están a punto de desplegarse, pero nunca lo hacen. Al principio pensé que podría ser autopolinizada, y las plantas tenían muchas cápsulas de semillas, lo que a menudo es un signo de autopolinización. Pero cuando diseccioné una, descubrí que tenía glándulas de néctar en la base de su labio (una pétalo modificado). Lo probé para estar seguro. ¡Muy dulce!
 
IMG – Una extraña especie de Cleistes (Orchidaceae) que nunca se abre más que esto. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Vista lateral de una extraña especie de Cleistes, la cual nunca se abre más que esto. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
En el último día completo, la lluvia esta peor de lo usual. Visitamos un sitio donde nos gustaría comprar, hogar de algunas de las especies de Dracula más raras. Pero cuando llegamos encontramos algunos de los bosques que han sido cortados. Los árboles caídos nos muestran la diversidad de las orquídeas del dosel de este bosque, que de otro modo estaría escondida. 
 
IMG – Un nuevo claro nos sorprendió cuando fuimos a buscar el raro Dracula trigonopetala. Eso era bosque la última vez que estuve ahí, y queríamos intentar comprarlo. Afortunadamente la mayoría de los bosques todavía permanecen intactos y llenos de orquídeas raras. Esto será una alta prioridad para comprar lo más rápido posible. Fotografía: Spiro Kasomenakis.
 
IMG Cyrtochilum geniculatum en la corona caída de un árbol talado en una propiedad que esperamos comprar pronto. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. La recientemente descrita Dracula trigonopetala, una de las especies de Dracula más raras del área. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Afortunadamente la rara Dracula que hemos venido a ver, la recientemente descrita Dracula trigonopetala, fue unas pocas docenas de metros del claro, todavía en buen estado. Ahora, algunos participantes especialmente empapados se vuelven hacia la carretera, pero algunos de nosotros continuamos. Después de una larga caminata fría y húmeda, llegamos a un área con Lepanthes por todas partes, de muchas especies diferentes. 
 
IMG Lepanthes nautica?, una de nuestras recientemente descritas especies de Lepanthes de esta área. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. Lepanthes nautica, vista lateral. El órgano blanco colgando debajo de la columna está el “apéndice”, que imita los genitales de un mosquito del hongo hembra. Los mosquitos machos se aparean con la flor, efectuando la polinización. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Una Lepanthes lycocephala empapada de la lluvia en la Reserva Drácula. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Porroglossum eduardii, una especie rara cuyos labios (con base negra en la foto) se levanta cuando un insecto se posa sobre él. El insecto atrapado debe aterrarse entre el labio y las partes femenina y masculina de la columna, en ese orden, polinizando la flor. Esta foto fue tomada en un viaje anterior; solo vimos plantas de esta especie que no florecen en este viaje. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Aquellos de nosotros cuyas cámaras todavía son semifuncionales manejan unos pocos disparos en la lluvia, y entonces nos damos la vuelta. Pero mientras regresamos, pensando en comida caliente y ropa seca, nuestro cuidador Héctor mira hacia nosotros y ve una enorme Dracula sobre nuestras cabezas. Es una magnífica Dracula terbohii, una especie que fue descubierta en cautividad en Europa, exportada de algún lugar en Ecuador, mal etiquetada como una especie diferente de Dracula. Por mucho tiempo, nadie supo dónde vive realmente en Ecuador, pero recientemente los especialistas de orquídeas ecuatorianos como Alex Hirtz, Luis Baquero (quien también co-describiió D. trigonopetala, junto con Gary Meyer) y Francisco Tobar han comenzado a encontrar unas pocas plantas de ella en esta región. Sus sépalos estaban estampados como una alfombra persa, y contra el bosque oscuro brillaba a pesar de la penumbra. Este fue el hallazgo más magnífico del viaje. Prometemos intentar comprar esta propiedad lo antes posible para mantenerla desde el principio para evitar que se aclare más. Esto no será fácil; habíamos intentado comprarlo antes, pero había títulos de propiedad en conflicto que complicaban las cosas. Aún así, hemos resuelto problemas peores. Todos estuvimos de acuerdo en que esto claramente vale la pena protegerlo. 
 
IMG – El labio de Dracula terbochii atrae mosquitos de hongos que polinizan la flor. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Sépalos de Dracula terbochii estan cubiertos con espinas gruesas y rígidas. 
 
IMG –   retroiluminado. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Mientras las lluvias dañan la última de las cámaras, nos dirigimos a casa. Los deslizamientos de tierra comienzan a caer en el camino de la montaña, pero los superamos. En la hacienda nos esperan duchas calientes y buena comida y compañía, un lindo final para un hermoso viaje. 
 
IMG – ¡En nuestro camino de vuelta a Quito, finalmente con clima soleado! De izquierda a derecha: Spiro Kasomenajis, Kathi McCord, Mary Gerritsen, yo, guardias de la reserva Héctor Yela, y Steve Beckendorf.
 
Muchas gracias a la Alianza para la Conservación de Orquídeas, cuyas donaciones a la Reserva Drácula fueron emparejados por el Rainforest Trust, un socio clave en esta iniciativa. Gracias también a Vera Lee Rao, Steven K. Beckendorf y Cynthia L. Hill, y Mark Wilson por su mayor donación a este proyecto. Heinz Schneider y el Jardín Botánico de la Universidad de Basilea, la cual tuvo el apoyo inicial de la Reserva Drácula y todavía es nuestro socio energético en este proyecto, también merece agradecimiento especial, junto con Susann Zeigler y Max Annen, Beat y Urs Fischer y las muchas otras donantes nombradas en la página web del Jardín Botánico de la Universidad de Basilea.
 
Un agradecimiento especial a la Asociación de Orquideología de Quito, Ecuador, quienes recaudaron dinero para la conservación en Ecuador durante varios años y nos lo donó todo para este proyecto. 
 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores
 
IMG – El labelo y la columna (un órgano que combina anteras y pistilo, característico de orquídeas) de la nunca abierta Cleistes. La fotografía original es una fotografía 100 Mb “apilada y unida” de 100 Mb hecha a partir de unas 30 imágenes, para aumentar la resolución y la profundidad de campo. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga.

Endemic Orchids Part 1: The importance of orchids. From a conference on endemic plants of Ecuador, Yachay, Ecuador, June 24-26, 2015.

Left to right: Lepanthes spruceana, endemic to the Cordillera Abitagua, L. neillii , endemic to the Cordillera del Condor, and L. llanganatensis, a species endemic to the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Left to right: Lepanthes spruceana, endemic to the Cordillera Abitagua, L. neillii , endemic to the Cordillera del Condor, and L. llanganatensis, a species endemic to the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I’ve just returned from a wonderful conference on the conservation status of Ecuador’s endemic plants, and the role of botanical gardens in conserving them. It was wonderful to see my colleagues, and to see that some of my former students have turned into good professional scientists. The location of the conference, Yachay, was also inspiring. This is a new university and city being built from scratch in the middle of nowhere, with top faculty and luxurious facilities, all intended to offer free top-level education to the best and brightest Ecuadorian students. Entry will be based only on merit and everyone who enters will receive room and board free as well. After the second year, classes will all be given only in English, forcing all students to become bilingual. It is a dramatic vision; we all hope it works out!

I spoke on the Biogeography and conservation of Ecuador’s endemic orchids, a talk that also should be credited to my friend Lorena Endara who kindly let me use her graphics and research results. Plants that are “endemic to Ecuador” are species that are found exclusively in Ecuador and nowhere else in the world; they are the species most in need of conservation efforts in Ecuador. There are about 4500 species of endemic plants in Ecuador, and 1706 of them (38%) are orchids! The family with the next-highest number of endemic species is Asteraceae, the daisy family, with only 361 endemic species (8% of all endemic species), so the orchids clearly dominate the endemic flora of this country. That’s why we at EcoMinga pay so much attention to them.

Some Lepanthes orchids of the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Painting: Lou Jost.

Some Lepanthes orchids of the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Painting: Lou Jost.

In my work I focus on the orchid genera with the highest number of endemic species, especially the genus Lepanthes. There are more than 1000 Lepanthes species in Latin America, including over 300 Ecuadorian species; 240 of those species are endemic to the country. These are miniature orchids with very specific habitat requirements and typically very limited distributions, so they provide a rich “language” for making fine distinctions between cloud forests that, to a casual observer, might appear identical.

A typical Lepanthes species, with flowers hidden under the leaves. This seems to be an undescribed species. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A typical Lepanthes species, with flowers hidden under the leaves. This seems to be an undescribed species Note added July 7 thanks to commenter kligo: this may be L. tracheia. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Hunting these tiny inconspicuous epiphytes in the forest is an adventure in sensory immersion. Botanists normally don’t collect plants that are not in flower, but the flowers of Lepanthes are mostly hidden under the leaves, so botanists unfamiliar with the genus don’t pay attention to them. The famous Scottish botanist Richard Spruce, who lived for six months in my town in 1857 and discovered many of the flowers, ferns, mosses, and liverworts of this area, never noticed even a single one of the more than a hundred species of Lepanthes that live here.

This Lepanthes shows the continuous flowering habit typical of the genus. The fishbone-like structures are old flower stems. Each time a flower falls off, a new one opens on the continuously-extending inflorescence. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This Lepanthes shows the continuous flowering habit typical of the genus. The fishbone-like structures are old flower stems. Each time a flower falls off, a new one opens on the continuously-extending inflorescence. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes ornithocephala, which I named for the distinctive large white appendix (fake female fly genitalia; see text), resembling a bird's head and beak. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes ornithocephala, which I named for the distinctive large white appendix (fake female fly genitalia; see text), resembling a bird’s head and beak. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

No one understood the flowers of Lepanthes until just ten years ago, when Mario Blanco and Gabriel Barboza discovered that a Costa Rican species was imitating the sexual organs and the pheromones of a female fungus gnat, luring male gnats to mate with the flower! It appears that each species of Lepanthes is pollinated by a single species of fungus gnat. Here and here are more erotic photos of fungus gnats having sex with Lepanthes flowers, taken by my friend Sebastian Vieira in Colombia. This discovery explains the unusual anatomy of most Lepanthes flowers, especially the “appendix”, a complex species-specific organ that taxonomists had often used to distinguish the species. It apparently mimics the female genitalia of a specific fungus gnat.

This new species, Lepanthes aprina Luer and Jost from what is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, shows the characteristic "lepanthiform" trumpet-shaped sheathes on the leaf stems. This species also has polymorphic leaves; the narrow canoe-shaped flower-bearing leaves rotate 180 degrees so that the flower stem, growing on the top (adaxial) surface of the leaf, ends up facing the substrate, with the leaf blade above it. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This new species, Lepanthes aprina Luer and Jost from what is now our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, shows the characteristic “lepanthiform” trumpet-shaped sheathes on the leaf stems. This species also has polymorphic leaves; the narrow canoe-shaped flower-bearing leaves rotate 180 degrees so that the flower stem, growing on the top (adaxial) surface of the leaf, ends up facing the substrate, with the leaf blade above it. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Since Lepanthes flowers are so often invisible, botanists need a strong search image for their vaguely-distinctive leaves, and especially their thin stems covered with characteristic trumpet-shaped sheaths. Picking these out from the clutter of moss and other epiphytes requires an almost zen-like diffuse concentration, an openness to an odd shape in the periphery of vision, a peculiar non-verbal reliance on subconscious image processing that takes years to develop. The excitement of the hunt comes from knowing that so many species are new to science—every time I turn over an unfamiliar Lepanthes leaf to look at the flower, a little adrenaline rush splashes through my body. But even the now-familiar species are a treat to find, for the beauty of their weird colors and shapes, but also for the interesting biogeographical relationships they reveal about the forests where I find them.

This image shows the peculiar trumpet-shaped sheaths on the leaf stems of Lepanthes mooreana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

This image shows the peculiar trumpet-shaped sheaths on the leaf stems of Lepanthes mooreana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes mooreana in habitat, partly covered with moss. This species is a recent discovery, now protected by our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes mooreana in habitat, partly covered with moss. This species is a recent discovery, now protected by our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

These are orchids that absolutely require misty wet forests that don’t experience long dry periods. The best Lepanthes habitats are bathed many times each day by mist, but are also exposed to lots of air movement and light. They are often nearly absent on the lower slopes of a mountain, but become common and diverse above the well-defined elevation at which clouds form on, or collide with, the mountain’s slope. The zone of Lepanthes richness and diversity often also has an upper limit, where solar insolation on clear days dries out the forest too much for them.

Andean landscape. Photo: Lou Jost.

Andean landscape. Photo: Lou Jost.

The Lepanthes-rich elevations differ from mountain to mountain. In the upper Rio Pastaza watershed, my area, the winds generally come from the Amazon basin to the east. As you might expect, they carry immense amounts of water vapor. When these wet winds brush up against the Cordillera Abitagua, the first line of mountains facing the Amazon, the water condenses and forms a cloud layer beginning at about 1700m-1800m. Lepanthes, Neooreophilus, and many other orchid genera suddenly become abundant and diverse above that elevation level. There are more than 34 species of Lepanthes on that front range!

Just twenty kilometers to the west lies the next major range of mountains. On that range the Lepanthes start in earnest at about 2200m. Maybe the Cordillera Abitagua clips the cloud layer below that elevation. This second mountain range has more than 28 species of Lepanthes, but less than 1/3 of them are shared with the Cordillera Abitagua! The farther west we go in this watershed, the farther we get from the Amazon basin, the drier it gets. Even though the forest in this second range is very mossy and wet, it is slightly less so than the Cordillera Abitagua, and these hyper-diverse orchid genera appear to be sensitive to these small differences in moisture.

A Maxillaria orchid exposed to the atmosphere in the cloud forest of Abitagua. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A Maxillaria orchid exposed to the atmosphere in the cloud forest of Abitagua. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

It makes sense that moisture-loving epiphytic orchids, exposed to the wind and without any connection to the soil, would be more sensitive to moisture gradients than terrestrial herbaceous plants and trees. Epiphytes would also be more sensitive to subtle variations in the frequency of mist and rain, even if the total amount of water were the same. Soil stores water and averages out those variations. To a tree rooted in soil, it makes no difference whether it rains 1.0 cm once a week, or 0.5 cm twice a week. But it makes a great deal of difference to a delicate plant with little water-storage capacity, whose roots are exposed to the air. The mean and maximum number of consecutive mist-less days are probably key parameters controlling the distributions of such orchids. Judging from the very restricted distributions of many Lepanthes species, it seems they specialize in particular fog/wind/rain regimes, perhaps more than any other flowering plants.

For many plants this extreme degree of specialization on unique microclimates might be a fatal evolutionary dead-end, as climates change and move around over geological time. Plants that are poor dispersers would get trapped by climate change and become extint if their preferred climate moved from one mountain range to the next. Orchids, though, have the smallest seeds of any flowering plant, naked embryos surrounded by a little cellular net. These seeds are blown long distances by the wind, so a species can explore large areas for suitable habitat. I think this dispersal ability is one of the key reasons why orchids, more than any other plants, can evolve hyper-specialization without becoming extinct.

There can be more than a million seeds in a single orchid pod. They weigh almost nothing and blow long distances. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

There can be more than a million seeds in a single orchid pod. They weigh almost nothing and blow long distances. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Most of the orchid species in the Galapagos are the same species as those on the mainland, suggesting gene flow via seed dispersal over 800km of open ocean. Graphic: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Most of the orchid species in the Galapagos are the same species as those on the mainland, suggesting gene flow via seed dispersal over 800km of open ocean. Graphic: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

In a few days, Part 2 will discuss the distributions of Lepanthes and other endemic orchids in our upper Rio Pastaza watershed, and how these distribution patterns can (mostly) be understood in terms of specialization on specific microclimates. It also turns out that the most locally endemic species are concentrated in very specific areas with unique microclimates; finding these areas is the key to protecting the endemic species from extinction. Unfortunately we are shockingly ignorant about the country-wide distributions of endemic orchids, as I will demonstrate with some surprising examples.

Lou Jost

New species discovered by EcoMinga staff and co-workers, Part 1: Plants

Meriania aurata, a tree species we discovered in what is now EcoMinga's Rio Zunac Reserve. Flower is large, about 7 cm across. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Meriania aurata, a tree species we discovered in what is now EcoMinga’s Rio Zunac Reserve. Flower is large, about 7 cm across. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

I’m compiling a list of all the plant and animal species discovered by our reserve manager Juan Pablo Reyes, our director Javier Robayo, myself, and our students and co-investigators in and around our EcoMinga reserves near Banos, Ecuador. In this first installment, I’ll deal with the plants. (I’ll be saving some major as-yet-unpublished plant discoveries for a later post.) Nearly all of these species are still known only from our immediate area and nowhere else in the world. Adding these new discoveries to the previously-known locally endemic plants of the area, there are now more plant species unique to this area (the upper Rio Pastaza watershed) than there are in the world-famous Galapagos Islands! This is one reason why we are so committed to its conservation.

I’ll start with two spectacular new species of trees in the melastome family, Meriania aurata and Blakea attenboroughii. Meriania aurata (above) is the most spectacular tree I have ever seen. Imagine big heavy inflorescences half a meter across whose stems look as if they are made of bright shiny yellow plastic, each yellow winged stem carrying an orange rosebud, which becomes a short-lived bright salmon flower 7 cm across with a bizarre row of anthers lined up under the stigma. I first noticed fallen buds of this species here in the Banos area in the 1990s, but that was before I realized just how special the area was. I wrongly assumed that such a dramatic flower must be well-known. By 2001 I understood the area better, and I organized a 15-man expedition to reach new elevations in the Rio Zunac watershed (now part of our Rio Zunac Reserve). David Neill, the renowned Ecuadorian tree expert, came along. We saw this tree; he recognized it as a new species (the sister species of the also-beautiful Meriania hernandoi) and published its description (co-authored by Carmen Ulloa). Even so, we did not find a fresh, fully-opened flower, so the paper does not include a full flower drawing (see below). It was only recently that I finally was able to make these close-up photos of the open flowers (with the help of EcoMinga’s agile tree-climbing guards).

Meriania aurata, from the scientific description of the species, Ulloa, Fernandez, and Neill (2007),  Meriania aurata (Melastomataceae), una Especie Nueva de los Llanganates, Ecuador. Novon 17: 525-528.

Meriania aurata, from the scientific description of the species, Ulloa, Fernandez, and Neill (2007), Meriania aurata (Melastomataceae), una Especie Nueva de los Llanganates, Ecuador. Novon 17: 525-528.

Meriania aurata inflorescence. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Meriania aurata inflorescence. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

The next species, Blakea attenboroughii from the same family (Melastomataceae) was discovered by Javier Robayo, myself, and Andy Orchard of Puro Coffee, donor to the World Land Trust for the first purchases of our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. I am not an expert in this plant group (I’m an orchid taxonomist), but as soon as I saw it I realized it was something I’d never seen before anywhere. Expert Darin Penneys confirmed it was a new species. We decided to name it after World Land Trust patron and famous BBC TV presenter and conservationist Sir David Attenborough, to thank him for his support for our conservation efforts. I had the pleasure of presenting a picture of it to him at a World Land Trust event in the Linnaean Society headquarters in London, where the centuries-old specimens of Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, are carefully kept. Sir David is a wonderful man.

Blakea attenboroughii, from our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria Reserves. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Blakea attenboroughii, from our Naturetrek and Cerro Candelaria Reserves. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Me presenting Sir David Attenborough with a photo of his tree, Blakea attenboroughii, in London. Photo: Nigel Simpson.

Me presenting Sir David Attenborough with a photo of his tree, Blakea attenboroughii, in London. Photo: Nigel Simpson.

On to the new orchids! First and foremost was an amazing evolutionary radiation my students and I discovered on the tops of the highest mountains in the area. At the time I started exploring, the orchid genus Teagueia had only six species in the world, three in Ecuador and three in Colombia. But here on these few mountaintops around Banos we discovered THIRTY new species of this genus!

Some of the thirty new species of Teagueia orchids my students and I discovered on the mountaintops here. You can see a high-resolution printed version of this picture on p 2545 of the Dec 2012 issue of the journal Ecology. Click to enlarge.

Some of the thirty new species of Teagueia orchids my students and I discovered on the mountaintops here. You can see a high-resolution printed version of this picture on p 2545 of the Dec 2012 issue of the journal Ecology. Click to enlarge.

One single mountain, which eventually became our Cerro Candelaria Reserve, had 16 of these new species! They are currently the subject of several ecological and evolutionary studies. It is an unprecedented local speciation event. So far taxonomist Carl Luer and I have described six of the thirty species, including one named after Puro Coffee and another named after the mother of Albertino Abela, in honor of their very important donations to the World Land Trust for EcoMinga, which let us preserve these mountain peaks for posterity.

Teagueia puroana, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Teagueia puroana, from our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

There are lots more new orchids….here are the citations for some of the first ones I discovered in the Banos area, published in Dr Carl Luer’s many volumes of orchid monographs for the Missouri Botanical Garden. (Note: Carl decided to name some of them after me…NOT my idea, though I am honored!)

Luer, C. A. 2002. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XXIV: A First Century of New Species of Stelis of Ecuador, Part 1. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
Lepanthes exigua Luer and Jost, p. 94.

Luer, C. A. 2000. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XX: Sytematics of Jostia, Andinia, Barbosella, Barbodria, and Pleurothallis subgen. Antilla, subgen. Effusia, subgen. Restrepioidia. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
New genus Jostia Luer, p. 1.
L. tetrachaeta Luer and Jost, p. 119.
Teagueia alyssana Luer and Jost, p. 131.
T. cymbisepala Luer and Jost, p.132.
T. jostii Luer, p. 132.
T. sancheziae Luer and Jost, p. 133.

Luer, C. A. 1999. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XVIII: Sytematics of Pleurothallis subgen. Pleurothallis sect. Pleurothallis subsect. Antenniferae, subsect. Longiracemosae, subsect. Macrophyllae-Racemosae, subsect. Perplexae, subgen. Pseudostelis, subgen. Acuminatia. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
Lepanthes abitaguae Luer and Jost, p. 139.
L. aprina Luer and Jost, p. 139.
L. barbigera Luer and Jost, p. 140.
L. elytrifera Luer and Jost, p. 140.
L. hispidosa Luer and Jost, p.141.
L. hydrae Luer and Jost, p. 141.
L. jostii Luer, p. 142.
L. marshana Luer and Jost, p. 142.
L. privigna Luer and Jost, p. 143.
L. ruthiana Luer and Jost, p. 147.
L. staatsiana Luer and Jost, p. 147.

Luer, C. A. 1998. Icones Pleurothallidinarum XVII: Sytematics of Subgen. Pleurothallis sect. Abortivae, sect. Truncatae, sect. Pleurothallis subsect. Acroniae, subsect. Pleurothallis, subgen. Dracontia, subgen. Unciferia. St. Louis: Missouri Botanical Garden:
Lepanthes ariasiana Luer and Jost, p.104.
L. mooreana Luer and Jost, p. 106.
L. serialina Luer and Jost, p. 107.
L. viebrockiana Luer and Jost, p. 108.
Scaphosepalum jostii Luer, p.116.

My painting of Lepanthes (now Neooreophilus) viebrockiana from our Rio Zunac Reserve.

My painting of Lepanthes (now Neooreophilus) viebrockiana from our Rio Zunac Reserve.

Lepanthes ruthiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes ruthiana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes pseudomucronata from our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes pseudomucronata from our Rio Zunac Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Some more recent discoveries or co-discoveries of mine in the Banos area include Masdevallia stigii, M. loui, Stellilabium jostii, Trichosalpinx jostii, Lepanthes spruceana, L. ornithocephala, L. mayordomensis, L. pseudomucronata, and quite a backlog of species I still haven’t had time to describe and publish.

Masdevallia stigii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Masdevallia stigii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Masdevallia (Alaticaulia) loui, discovered by Stig Dalstrom and myself. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Masdevallia (Alaticaulia) loui, discovered by Stig Dalstrom and myself. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Stellilabium jostii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Stellilabium jostii. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

All these discoveries in an area only 20 km x 40 km (12.5 miles x 25 miles), smaller than many cities! A paradise for botanists. And as we’ll see in the next installment, a paradise for herpetologists too.

Lou Jost
http://www.ecominga.com
http://www.loujost.com