Cloud forest images from our Rio Zunac Reserve, and canopy access at last



Aroids in our Rio Zunac cloud forest. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga

Last week our rangers and I went on a  camping trip in the wet cloud forests of our Rio Zunac Reserve. We were on a mission to put climbing ropes into the canopies of some of our Magnolia trees, so that we (and other researchers) could study their reproduction, and perhaps protect the seed capsules from insect predators, and try other techniques to help them reproduce. We never see very young plants of these species, so we are a bit worried about their future.

I also used the opportunity to capture some better photos of the complex interior of this beautiful cloud forest. The ridgetop forest above 1700m is very special, one of the wettest forests in Ecuador, with plant life bursting from every available surface, plants piled on other plants. We didn’t have many photos of this forest.


Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.



Rio Zunac cloud forest, 2000m. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A grant from BGCI allowed us to buy mountain-climbing rope and harnesses. In the 1990s I used to spend a lot of time climbing tropical rain forest trees, and I still had my powerful bow and arrows and fishing reel; with this I can shoot a fishing line over a chosen branch. Then the fishing line pulls up a heavier line, and then  a heavier line, and after a series of between three and six successively heavier lines, I can pull up the mountain-climbing cord.


Preparing the bow and arrows. The arrows, dragging the fishing line behind them through the moss and leaves, have a hard time coming down through all the vegetation. So I use heavy fishing arrows, and I put weights on their tips. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


Shooting a newly-described Magnolia vargasiana. Accidental photo of the exact millisecond when the arrow leaves the bow– a minor miracle. I think we could try a million times without ever managing to repeat this feat.  Click image to enlarge. An arrow can be shot with fair accuracy over a particular branch, though what happens after it passes the branch is partly up to chance…The arrows are easy to lose, and I lost two of my three remaining arrows (unobtainable in Ecuador) on this trip. The one I’m firing in this picture was one of them–it got embedded in the tree (even though it has a flat tip) and did not come down. Photo:Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


Shooting another tree, an unidentified species of Magnolia which Fausto Recalde had found the day before. It is not either of the two species previously found here (M. vargasiana and M. llanganatensis, which are both new species recently described by Dr Antonio Vazquez and his collaborators from specimens found on this ridge of the Rio Zunac cloud forest).  This is my last remaining arrow, bent and tattered, but it  worked. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


Pulling up heavier line. This is delicate work, as the knot sometimes gets caught on stuff. I tape the knots with electric tape to minimize that. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


While I pull from the far side of the  tree, our rangers release the mountain-climbing cord from the other side. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


The mystery Magnolia with the climbing rope in place. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


I dress for the climb: harness and helmet. I have a rule that everyone must use gloves on the rope, to keep the rope free of salts from our sweat. In a place with lots of animals, it is important that the rope not attract gnawing critters looking for salt. As a further precaution we normally take the rope down between uses (leaving a cheap string in its place), which also protects it from UV light degradation. But even when stored in the forest or in camp, rodents wouldfind the salt and cause potentially fatal damage. This happened to my rope in Costa Rica. Of course we also inspect the rope before each use…Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


Climbing the mystery Magnolia. It is thin but tall, and couldn’t be free-climbed. Photo: Santiago Recalde/EcoMinga.


Our rangers below me at the base of the Magnolia. Click to enlarge.  Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.



Here’s a flower of the mystery Magnolia. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


There are many other beautiful trees in this forest. Here is Meriania pastazana, similar to our recently-discovered Meriania aurata but without the yellow wings on the ovaries.


Flower of Meriania pastazana. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.


The anthers of Meriania pastazana. These are hollow and contain their pollen on the inside. The pollen comes out through small pores (one pore is visible on the top purple tip of the rightmost anther) when the anther is shaken rapidly by a bee or other agent. Click image to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

EcoMinga would like to thank Joachim Gratzfeld and Botanical Gardens Conservation International for a grant which enabled us to purchase climbing ropes and harnesses. I also want to thank our rangers, who risk their lives free-climbing some of the trees.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation



Visit to our Rio Zunac magnolias



Trunk of one of our Magnolia trees. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

I’ve written often about our exciting new magnolia species. Our first two undescribed species were discovered in our Rio Zunac Reserve, and they were recently described by Dr Antonio Vazquez (Mexico) as Magnolia vargasiana and M. llanganatensis.

We got a grant from Botanical Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), London, to try to enrich our populations of these species, which do not appear to be reproducing well. Last month Dr Joachim Gratzfeld of BGCI came to see our famous Magnolias for himself. He was guided by our  reserve caretakers Luis and Fausto Recalde, who are also co-authors with Dr Vazquez on the scientific papers describing the new Magnolias.


Joachim Gratzfeld photographing plants in the reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.


Fausto Recalde with rotten magnolia buds. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


These Magnolia species, like many other neotropical Magnolias, have flowers that open briefly at night and then close before dawn, trapping their pollinator inside. The next night, the flower opens again and releases its pollinator, now thoroughly covered in pollen. This secret drama unfolds each night in the top of the forest canopy, unseen by human eyes. The only way a visitor can see the process is for someone to climb the trees and bring down some ready-to-open buds. These can be kept in water and will open the following night if they are mature enough.


The buds of Magnolia llanganatensis high in the canopy. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.


Luis and Fausto are expert tree climbers, and were able to climb our giant trees to bring Joachim some buds of each species. (By the way, our grant from BGCI is for buying static climbing rope and harnesses to set up a safe system, so that anyone can reach the canopy of these magnolias and work on their pollination and propagation. We will deploy this system in late December.)


Luis and Fausto Recalde examining the crown of a tree with their camera zoom. The gold tubes attach together and have clippers at their tip, which can be pulled closed by a string. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


Luis Recalde climbing a magnolia. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


Luis Recalde (right) and Fausto Recalde studying magnolia buds. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


Magnolia vargasiana bud starts to open. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


As the flower opens it frees its trapped pollinators, such as the flea beetle at the base of this flower. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


Magnolia vargasiana  opening. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


Magnolia vargasiana fully open. Only a handful of humans have ever seen this. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

A trip to the Rio Zunac Reserve always has surprises in store, no matter what a visitor comes for. Joachim’s visit was no exception. He  had to climb some gentle mountains to reach the Magnolias, and at his highest point he had reached a poorly-known forest where other trees besides the Magnolias were newly-discovered or, in a few cases, still unknown to science. By chance Joachim came across a tree with large intense wine-purple flowers in the genus Meriania, a member of the large and important family known to botanists as the Melastomataceae. We had first seen this species a few years ago in the same area, and I sent pictures to experts but no one could identify it. There was also another species in the same genus, Meriania, which David Neill and I had discovered in this same forest fourteen years ago. This was Meriania aurata, one of the most spectacular trees in the world, which I have written about before.


Meriania aurata. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

In addition to exciting trees, Joachim visited our Black-and-chestnut Eagle (Spizaetus isidori) nest and saw the baby, nearly ready to leave the nest.


Black-and-chestnut Eagle adult and young at their nest in the reserve. Photo: Fausto Recalde/EcoMinga.

There were lots of other birds, and many species came to feed on the fruits of some melastomes that the guards had planted around our cabin and in old pastures:


Immature male Green-and-black Fruiteater eating melastome berries. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga


Golden Tanager eating melastome berries. The guards planted these melastomes here to attract birds. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.


Golden-winged Manakin, rarely seen in the reserve. Photo: Luis Recalde/EcoMinga.

Joachim found an unusual fern, Ophioglossum palmatum. It makes big rubbery hand-shaped leaves that look nothing like a typical fern, with club-shaped spore-bearing structures growing from the leaf margins. This fern is very seldom encountered here, but it has a very wide distribution that even reaches into southern Florida in the US.


The weird fern Ophioglossum palmatum. Note the spore-bearing finger-like projections where the leaf tapers into its stem. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.


The forest interior. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

Two of our new Magnolias are spotlighted in the Ecuadorian national press; and a fourth new species of Magnolia is found in our Dracula Reserve


Magnolia vargasiana with flea beetle pollinator. Click caption to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Over the weekend one of the largest newspapers in Ecuador ran a nice story about the two new species of Magnolia discovered in our Rio Zunac Reserve some years ago. The article quotes David Neill explaining the remarkable story of the recent explosion of Latin American discoveries in this genus: “As of two years ago only five species of magnolia were known from Ecuador; now there are 23.”

The article notes that Fundacion EcoMinga protects the two newly-discovered species, M. llanganatensis and M. vargasiana. Our “Keepers of the Wild” reserve guards played a crucial role in their discoveries and are co-authors of the scientific articles describing these species.


Magnolia llanganatensis. Click caption to enlarge. Photo: Lou Jost.

David mentions that many Magnolia species are endangered, but that these two species are safe thanks to our foundation.

The article only mentions two of our species, but as readers of this blog know, our guards had recently found a third undescribed species, in our new Forests in the Sky reserve near Banos, very close to the Rio Zunac Reserve where the other two Magnolias were found. That species had originally been discovered somewhat north of there, and is currently being described.

But that’s still not the end of it! Last month Alvaro Perez of the Universidad Catolica found a new population of an undescribed Magnolia in our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador. That species was originally discovered near Mindo in west-central Ecuador. I suspect we will still discover one or two more new species in our reserves. But even just these four make our reserve system one of the richest in South America for this genus.

Here is the Spanish text of the article:

En Ecuador se descubrieron dos magnolias

” Científicos de la Universidad Estatal Amazónica (UEA) y de la Fundación Ecominga descubrieron dos especies de plantas del género magnolia. Este grupo de árboles es uno de los antepasados más antiguos de las plantas con flor (angiospermas). Son fósiles vivientes que colonizaron la Tierra en la era de los dinosaurios, hace 70 millones de años.
Los árboles miden entre 11 y 27 metros de altura.

Tienen flores grandes que pueden alcanzar los 30 cm de ancho y algunas tienen hasta 50 pétalos, aunque el número varía entre especies e individuos. 
¿Por qué tantos pétalos? Las primeras flores evolucionaron de una especie de piñas características de las plantas de la época del Cretácico. Así lo explicó David Neill, uno de los investigadores del estudio.
 El descubrimiento de especies de magnolia es esencial para estudiar el origen y la evolución de las plantas con flor. En el mundo existen alrededor de 170 especies de este género. 
En la última década, se ha descubierto un gran número de especies neotropicales. Ahora las magnolias que se encuentran en el Nuevo Mundo han aumentado de un tercio a casi la mitad de todos los especímenes a escala mundial.

“Hace dos años se conocían apenas cinco especies de magnolia en Ecuador; ahora son 23”, cuenta Neill. Agrega que esta es una demostración de las pocas investigaciones que se han realizado del género.
 El Ecuador es el país neotropical con más especímenes por área. En especial la región de Zamora Chinchipe, la cual alberga nueve especies por ­cada 10 000 km². 
El descubrimiento de los dos nuevos árboles fue inesperado. Los científicos habían encontrado las flores de los especímenes durante un muestreo en la Cordillera de los Llanganates, en el 2014. Las archi­varon, guardando su secreto en el herbario de la UEA.

Meses más tarde, el botánico mexicano Antonio Vázquez las identificó como dos nuevas especies de plantas únicas en el mundo. A la primera, los científicos la llamaron Magnolia vargasiana, nombrada en honor al rector de la UEA, Julio César Vargas. Las segunda recibió el nombre del lugar donde la encontraron: Magnolia llanganatensis. 
Magnolia vargasiana tiene hojas más puntiagudas que la llanganatensis. Esta última, publicada recientemente como nueva especie, tiene frutos rojos, su flor mide 3 centímetros y posee seis pétalos.

Las dos especies son endémicas de un área limitada de la cordillera central de los Llanganates. Es decir, no se encuentran en ninguna otra parte del mundo. 
Ambas habitan dentro de un área protegida por la Fundación Ecominga, por lo que según Neill no presentan ninguna amenaza, al contrario de otras especies.

Un estudio -realizado por Vázquez y sus colegas- afirma que un 26% de las magnolias del neotrópico se encuentra amenazado de extinción, según la Lista Roja de la Unión Internacional para la Conservación (UICN).
El género magnolia es de origen norteamericano. Este migró a Europa, Asia y Sudamérica. Después de miles de años se extinguió en Europa, dejando solo restos fósiles de su existencia.

Actualmente, debido a la degradación del hábitat, muchas especies de estos fósiles vivientes ya no existen en estado natural . 
En Asia y América, este grupo de árboles tiene una importancia económica y cultural. Su madera es cotizada por ser dura. Muchas especies 
se siembran con fines ornamentales. Otras se utilizan para la industria farmacéutica y la de perfumes.”

Este contenido ha sido publicado originalmente por Diario EL COMERCIO en la siguiente dirección:
Lou Jost
Fundacion EcoMinga

First photos of our third Magnolia species


My last post described the wave of unexpected new discoveries of Magnolia species in the Neotropics, and celebrated the publication of our second new Magnolia species, M. llanganatensis. In an earlier post I had mentioned a possible third species of Magnolia that our guards Luis and Fausto Recalde had found in our new “Forests in the Sky” reserve (see also here). Well, Luis and Fausto were at last able to photograph an open flower of this Magnolia. Dr Antonio Vazquez of Mexico has confirmed that it is indeed different from our other two new Magnolia species (M. llanganatensis and M. vargasiana); it is an as-yet-undescribed species that had been discovered recently in Antisana National Park just north of our area. Dr Vazquez is in the process of describing it as Magnolia mercedesiarum ined. The guards’ flower photos are the first ever taken of a live flower of this species! The flower that Dr Vazquez had used in his scientific description was a bud that he had boiled in order to open it.

I bet we still have more unknown Magnolia species in our reserves….

Lou Jost

Primeras fotografías de nuestra tercera especie de Magnolia
Mi última publicación describió la ola de nuevos descubrimientos de especies de Magnolia en el Neotrópico, y celebró la publicación de nuestra segunda especie de Magnolia, Magnolia llanganatensis. En una publicación previa, mencioné una posible tercera especie de MagnoliaMagnolia que nuestros guardabosques Luis y Fausto Recalde han encontrado en nuestra nueva reserva “Forests in the Sky” (mire aquí también). Bueno, Luis y Fausto por fin pudieron fotografiar una flor abierta de esta Magnolia. El Dr. Antonio Vázquez de México ha confirmado que de hecho es diferente de nuestras otras dos nuevas especies de Magnolia (M. llanganatensis y M. vargasiana); es una especie aún no descrita que se había descubierto recientemente en el Parque Nacional Antisana, al norte de nuestra área. El Dr. Vázquez está en el proceso de describirla como Magnolia mercedesiarum ined. ¡Las fotografías de los guardias son las primeras alguna vez tomadas de una flor viva de esta especie! La flor que el Dr. Vázquez ha usado en su descripción científica fue un cogollo que había hervido para abrirlo. 
Espero que todavía tengamos más especies desconocidas de Magnolia en nuestras reservas
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores

Our second new Magnolia is now officially described and published: Magnolia llanganatensis

New Magnolia species #1. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Magnolia llanganatensis, currently known only from our Rio Zunac Reserve and no place else in the world. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

[Traduccion en espanol abajo]

I’ve written often here (see this, this, and this) about the tree genus Magnolia. Until very recently, everyone thought that the center of diversity of the family Magnoliaceae was Asia, and that Latin America was an evolutionary backwater with relatively few species. Only five species were known from Ecuador in 1999 (Perez 2015). Nevertheless, adventurous botanists are suddenly finding, over the last twenty years, that the unexplored mountains and forests of Latin America are peppered with rare, locally endemic Magnolia species. It now looks like Latin America may have as many Magnolia species as Asia. Ecuador alone now has at least 23 species (Perez 2015), with 17 of these new species discovered just since 2012! Our Banos-area reserves are good examples of this trend. On a single trail in our Rio Zunac Reserve, as of 2014 there were three undescribed species of Magnolia, all very rare.

The first of these three to be described was Magnolia vargasiana, published in late 2015 by Dr Antonio Vazquez, visiting from Mexico, and his colleagues. Our reserve guard, Luis Recalde, was a coauthor on that paper. Now the second species, named Magnolia llanganatensis after the Llanganates mountains, has just been published by Dr. Vazquez’ team. This time our forest guardian Fausto Recalde is one of the coauthors. Both of the Recaldes earned the honor, since they risked their livese to free-climb these tall trees to obtain the flower buds needed for their identification and description. These particular neotropical Magnolia (section Talauma, subsection Talauma) only flower at night, so flower buds have to be brought down and nurtured and watched until, at dusk, they pop open and fill our scientific station with an exotic fragrance like some imaginary tropical fruit.

Universidad Estatal Amazonica professor Dr Antonio Vazquez, expert on Neotropical magnolias, explaining evolution at our Rio Zunac scientific station. Dr Vazquez discovered two new species of Magnolia near this station, and last week confirmed the presence of a third newly-described species there. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Universidad Estatal Amazonica visiting professor Dr Antonio Vazquez, expert on Neotropical magnolias, explaining evolution at our Rio Zunac scientific station. Dr Vazquez is largely responsible for the new attention this genus is receiving in Latin America. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Luis high in the tallest Magnolia llanganatensis, free-climbing the thick hanging root just to the right of the trunk, in order to obtain a flower bud. He is about 3/4 of the way up in this photo; click to enlarge if you can't spot him. He is about to reach the hardest part, the transfer from the vertical root to the horizontal tree branch. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Luis high in the tallest Magnolia llanganatensis, free-climbing the thick hanging root of a hemi-epiphyte just to the right of the trunk, in order to obtain a flower bud. He is about 3/4 of the way up in this photo; click to enlarge if you can’t spot him. He is about to reach the hardest part, the transfer from the vertical root to the horizontal tree branch. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Luis Recalde collecting specimens in the canopy for Dr Vazquez. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Luis Recalde collecting specimens in the canopy for Dr Vazquez. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

 Click to enlarge. Yajaira Malucín and Efren Merino-Santi, students at the Universidad Estatal Amazonica, in the Magnolia habitat of our Rio Zunac Reserve. Yajaira holds the precious flower buds of M. llanganatensis collected in the canopy by Luis and Fausto Recalde, our reserve guards. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Click to enlarge. Yajaira Malucín and Efren Merino-Santi, students at the Universidad Estatal Amazonica, in the Magnolia habitat of our Rio Zunac Reserve. Yajaira holds the precious flower buds of M. llanganatensis collected in the canopy by Luis and Fausto Recalde, our reserve guards. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Here is the bud we will watch as it opens later that evening. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Here is the bud we will watch as it opens later that evening. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The opening bud of what would later be named Magnolia llanganatensis. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The opening bud of what would later be named Magnolia llanganatensis. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I found these social caterpillars on the leaves of Magnolia llanganatensis. I tried to raise them to obtain the adults,but the magnolia leaves did not stay fresh long enough. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I found these social caterpillars on the leaves of Magnolia llanganatensis. I tried to raise them to obtain the adults,but the magnolia leaves did not stay fresh long enough. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

We now know quite a bit more about the population of this tree, thanks to an independent study project done a few months ago by Jaelyn Bos, a student from the US who participated in the biology program of the School for International Training here in Ecuador. She and our reserve caretaker Fausto Recalde spent two weeks searching within 20 meters on either side of our trails near the known trees of this species, hoping to find more. Only four new trees was found, bringing the total to ten, in three clusters separated from each other by up to a kilometer. Strikingly, all of these trees were found in a narrow band of elevation from 1730m to 1860m. The elevation band from 1799-1820m contained seven of the ten individuals. A previous survey by John Clark, David Neill, and University of Alabama students (who found the original M. llanganatensis trees) carefully sampled a quarter-hectare of forest at 2100m elevation just up the trail from the original M. llanganatensis site, and did not find any there, though they did find two other, different new Magnolias in that higher plot. Magnolia llanganatensis thus appears to be extremely fussy about the elevation where it will grow. The two species found in the 2100m plot also seem to be hyper-specialists in a particular elevation, since no individuals of those species were found in the elevation band occupied by M. llanganatensis. This is a surprising degree of altitudinal specialization for cloud forest trees, though we see this same pattern in many of the area’s orchids and other non-woody species.

Jaelyn attempted to characterize the trees’ locations using climate and physical data, and then use ArcGIS computer software to predict where else the species might occur. Unfortunately this didn’t work, probably because of the small and highly nonrandom sample size. She also identified some of the individual Magnolia llanganatensis crowns in some aerial photos of the forest, in case their particular shade of green might be distinctive enough to identify other Magnolia crowns in the aerial photos. Unfortunately the leaves were not distinctive enough to be used for this purpose.

Jaelyn measured the trees she found. Some are canopy giants; the largest had a diameter of 59.4cm. No trees smaller than 13cm diameter were located. This may suggest that the tree is not successfully reproducing, or it could mean that the juvenile trees have leaves so different from the adults that they were not recognized by Jaelyn or Fausto. That often happens in Neotropical magnolias. In any case the tree is so rare that we are attempting to propagate it to augment the population and to get it into cultivation in botanical gardens. We have a grant from Botanical Gardens Conservation International to help us do it. We will rig the trees with climbing ropes and try to collect seeds before they are removed by predators.

Meanwhile Jaelyn and Fausto happened to find a large fallen branch from one of our big M. llanganatensis (maybe the same branch that Luis Recalde climbed to collect the original flower bud). The branch was full of capsules with ripe seeds! Some of these seeds were collected and sent to the Universidad Estatal Amazonica for propagation. I don’t yet know if they have sprouted.

Part of the massive fallen M. llanganatensis branch which Jaelyn Bos and Fausto Recalde found. This contained many fruits with seeds, which were rescued for the Universidad Estatal Amazonica's attempt at propagation of this species.

Part of the massive fallen M. llanganatensis branch which Jaelyn Bos and Fausto Recalde found. This contained many fruits with seeds, which were rescued for the Universidad Estatal Amazonica’s attempt at propagation of this species. Photo: Jaelyn Bos.

Magnolias have existed as a coherent, easily recognizable group for at least 100 million years. That gives them a lot of time to move around the globe and speciate. How did this particular species end up here and nowhere else? The locally endemic orchids that inhabit the same forest belong to young genera only ten million years old at best, and we have often found sets of local species that are more closely related to each other than to distant species. In other words, in these groups, speciation is so recent that the there has not been time for dispersal beyond their original area. The local high-elevation species of the genus Teagueia are good examples; the entire group is strictly endemic to the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. So I wondered whether our two new species of Magnolia were each other’s closest relatives. Was this a local evolutionary radiation? I asked Dr Vazquez this question, and he told me that no, Magnolia llanganatensis and Magnolia vargasiana were in fact fairly distant relatives, which must have diverged many millions of years ago. I hope some day a DNA-based phylogeny of Magnolia will be constructed so we can discover some of the details of how these ancient species got here.

New Magnolia sp. #2. The stamens fell off onto the petals as the flower opened. A  pollinating beetle is visible near the tip of the lower-right petal. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Magnolia vargasiana, which grows at elevations 200-300m higher than M. llanganatensis, on the same trail. The stamens fell off onto the petals as the flower opened. A pollinating beetle is visible near the tip of the lower-right petal. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Because of these recent Magnolia discoveries in our Rio Zunac Reserve, and the discovery of additional new species in the lowlands immediately to the east of that reserve, our tiny little region is now considered (Perez 2015) one of the richest in the world for Magnolias (maybe THE richest, for its size)!

The research station that made these discoveries possible was built under a grant from the IUCN-Netherlands and the Netherlands Postcode Lottery. Without this station these trees would not have been discovered.


Perez Castaneda, A. J. (2015). Taxonomía y conservación de la familia Magnoliaceae en el Ecuador. Thesis, Universidad Catolica, Quito.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

Nuestra segunda nueva Magnolia ahora está oficialmente descrita y publicada: Magnolia llanganatensis
IMG 01 – Magnolia llanganatensis, actualmente conocida solo de nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac y sin otra localización en el mundo. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
He escrito a menudo aquí (mire aquí, aquí y aquí) acerca del árbol del género Magnolia. Hasta hace muy recientemente, todos pensaron que el centro de diversidad de la familia Magnoliaceae estaba en Asia, y que Latinoamérica era un remanso evolutivo con relativamente pocas especies. Sólo cinco especies se conocían de Ecuador en 1999 (Pérez 2015). Sin embargo, los botánicos aventureros están descubriendo repentinamente, en los últimos veinte años, que las montañas y bosques inexplorados de América Latina están salpicados de especies de Magnolia raras y endémicas localmente. Ahora parece que América Latina puede tener tantas especies de Magnolia como Asia. Sólo Ecuador, ahora tiene al menos 23 especies (Pérez, 2015), ¡con 17 de estas nuevas especies descubiertas sólo desde 2012! Nuestras reservas del área de Baños son un buen ejemplo de esta tendencia. En un solo sendero en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac, en 2014 había tres especies no descritas de Magnolia, todas muy raras. 
La primera de estas tres en ser descrita fue Magnolia vargasiana, publicada en el último 2015 por el Dr. Antonio Vázquez y sus colegas, visitándonos desde México. Nuestro guardabosque, Luis Recalde, fue un coautor en esa publicación. Ahora la segunda especie, llamada Magnolia llanganatensis  en honor a las montañas Llanganates, ha sido publicada por el equipo del Dr. Vázquez. Esta vez nuestro guardabosque Fausto Recalde es uno de los coautores. Ambos Recaldes ganaron el honor *no sé cómo ponerlo de mejor manera*  debido a que arriesgaron sus vidas al escalar de forma libre estos altos árboles para obtener los brotes necesarios para su identificación y descripción. Esta Magnolia neotropical particular (sección Talauma, subsección Talauma) solo florece en la noche, así que los brotes de las flores deben ser derribados, cuidados y observados hasta que, al anochecer, se abren y llenan nuestra estación científica con una fragancia exótica como una fruta tropical imaginaria. 
IMG 02 – Universidad Estatal Amazónica visitando al profesor Dr. Antonio Vázquez, experto en magnolias neotropicales, explicando la evolución en nuestra estación científica Río Zuñac. El Dr. Vázquez es en gran parte responsable de la nueva atención que este género está recibiendo en Latinoamérica. Fotografía: Lou Jost/ EcoMinga
IMG 03 – Luis en lo alto de la Magnolia llanganatensis más alta, trepando libremente por la gruesa raíz colgante de una hemiepífita justo a la derecha del tronco, para obtener un capullo. Está aproximadamente a 3/4 del camino hacia arriba en esta foto; haga click para agrandar si no puede encontrarlo. Está a punto de llegar a la parte más difícil, la transferencia de la raíz vertical a la rama del árbol horizontal. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
IMG 04 – Luis Recalde colectando especímenes en el dosel para el Dr. Vázquez. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
IMG 05 – Click para agrandar. Yajaira Malucín y Efrén Merino – Santi, estudiantes de la Universidad Estatal Amazónica, en el hábitat de la Magnolia de nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac. Yajaira sostiene los preciosos botones florales de M. llanganatensis colectada en el dosel por Luis y Fausto Recalde, nuestros guardabosques. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
IMG 06 – Aquí está el botón que veremos cuando se abra más tarde esa noche. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
IMG 07 – El brote abierto del cual luego se nombrará Magnolia llanganatensis.  Fotografía: Lou Jost / Ecominga
IMG 08 – Encontré estas orugas sociales en las hojas de Magnolia llanganatensis. Intenté criarlos para obtener adultos, pero las hojas de magnolia no se mantuvieron frescas el tiempo suficiente. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
Ahora sabemos un poco más acerca de las poblaciones de este árbol gracias a un proyecto de investigación independiente hecho hace algunos años por Jaelyn Bos, un estudiante de Estados unidos que participó en el programa de biología de la School for International Training aquí en Ecuador. Ella y nuestro cuidador de la reserva, Fausto Recalde, pasaron dos semanas buscando dentro de 20 metros a cada lado del nuestros senderos cerca de los árboles conocidos de esta especie, esperando encontrar más. Sólo cuatro árboles nuevos fueron encontrados, lo que eleva el total a diez, en tres grupos separados entre ellos por hasta un kilómetro. Sorprendentemente, todos estos árboles se encontraron en una estrecha franja de elevación de 1730 a 1860 msnm. La banda de elevación de 1799 a 1820 contiene siete de los diez individuos. Un inventario previo realizado por John Clark, David Neill y los estudiantes de la Universidad de Alabama (quienes encontraron los árboles originales de M. llanganatensis) muestrearon cuidadosamente un cuarto de hectárea de bosque a 2100 msnm de elevación, justo sobre el sendero del sitio original de  M. llanganatensis, y no encontraron ninguna allí, aunque sí encontraron otras dos nuevas Magnolias en el punto más alto. Magnolia llanganatensis, por lo tanto, parece ser extremadamente quisquillosa acerca de la elevación a la que crece. Las dos especies encontradas en la parcela de 2100 msnm también parecen ser hiperespecialistas en una elevación particular, ya que ningún individuo de esa especie se encontró en la banda de elevación ocupada por M. llanganatensis. Este es un sorprendente grado de especialización altitudinal para los árboles de bosque nublado, aunque vemos este mismo patrón en muchas de las orquídeas del área y otras especies no leñosas. 
Jaelyn intentó caracterizar las ubicaciones de los árboles utilizando datos climáticos y físicos, y entonces usó el software de computadora ArcGIS para predecir donde más las especies pueden ocurrir. Desafortunadamente esto no funcionó, probablemente debido al tamaño de la muestra pequeño y no aleatorio. Ella también identificó algunas de las copas individuales de Magnolia llanganatensis  en algunas fotografías aéreas del bosque, en caso de que su tono particular de verde sea lo suficientemente distintivo para identificar otra copa de Magnolia en las fotografías aéreas. Desafortunadamente las hojas no fueron lo suficientemente distintivas para ser usadas con este propósito.
Jaelyn midió los árboles que encontró. Algunos son gigantes del dosel; el más grande tiene un diámetro de 59.4 cm. No se encontraron árboles menores a 13 cm de diámetro. Esto puede sugerir que los árboles no se reproducen exitosamente, o podría significar que los árboles juveniles tienen hojas diferentes a las de los adultos que no fueron reconocidos por Jaelyn o Fausto. Esto a menudo sucede en las magnolias neotropicales. En cualquier caso, el árbol es tan raro que estamos intentando propagarlo para aumentar la población y cultivarlo en jardines botánicos. Tenemos una subvención de  Botanical Gardens Conservation International para ayudarnos a hacerlo. Amañaremos los árboles con cuerdas para trepar e intentaremos recolectar semillas antes de que los depredadores las saquen. 
Mientras tanto, Jaelyn y Fausto encontraron una gran rama caída de uno de nuestros grandes M. llanganatensis  (talvez la misma rama que Luis Recalde trepó para recoger el capullo original). ¡La rama estaba llena de cápsulas con semillas maduras! Algunas de estas semillas fueron recolectadas y enviadas a la Universidad Estatal Amazónica para su propagación. Todavía no sé si han brotado. 
IMG 09 – Parte de la rama masiva caída de M. llanganatensis la cual Jaelyn Bos y Fausto Recalde encontraron. Esta contiene muchos frutos con semillas, los cuales fueron rescatados por la Universidad Estatal Amazónica en su intento por propagar esta especie. Fotografía: Jaelyn Bos.
Las magnolias han existido como un grupo coherente, fácilmente reconocible por al menos 100 millones de años. Eso les da mucho tiempo para moverse al rededor del globo y especializarse. ¿De qué modo esta especie en particular terminó aquí y en ningún otro lugar? Las orquídeas locales endémicas que habitaron el mismo bosque pertenecen a un joven género de sólo 10 millones de años en el mejor de los casos, y nosotros a menudo hemos encontrado conjuntos de especies locales que están más estrechamente relacionadas entre ellas que a especies distantes. En otras palabras, en estos grupos la especialización es tan reciente que no ha habido tiempo de dispersarse más allá del área original. Las especies locales de gran altitud del género Teagueia son buenos ejemplos; el grupo completo es estrictamente endémico de la cuenca alta del Río Pastaza. Así que me pregunté si nuestras dos nuevas especies de Magnolia eran parientes más cercanos. ¿Fue esta una radiación evolutiva local? Le pregunté al Dr. Vázquez y me dijo que no, Magnolia llanganatensis y Magnolia vargasiana  eran de hecho parientes muy distantes, que debieron divergir hace muchos millones de años atrás. Espero que algún día una filogenia de Magnolia basada en el ADN sea construida de modo que podamos descubrir algunos de los detalles de cómo estas especies antiguas llegaron aquí. 
IMG 10- Magnolia vargasiana, la cual crece a elevaciones de 200 a 300m más alto que M. llanganatensis, en el mismo sendero. Los estambres caen en los pétalos a medida que la flor se abre. Un escarabajo polinizador es visible cerca de la punta del pétalo inferior derecho. 
Debido a estos recientes descubrimientos en nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac, y al descubrimiento de nuevas especies adicionales en las tierras bajas inmediatamente al este de esa reserva, ¡nuestra pequeña región es ahora considerada (Pérez 2015) una de las más ricas del mundo para Magnolias (tal vez LA MÁS rica por su tamaño)! 
La estación científica que hizo estos descubrimientos posibles fue construida gracias al financiamiento de la UICN- Países Bajos y la Netherlands Postcode Lottery. Sin esta estación, estos árboles no hubiesen sido descubiertos. 
Pérez Castaneda, A. J. (2015). Taxonomía y conservación de la familia Magnoliaceae en el Ecuador. Tesis, Universidad Catolica, Quito.

Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga 
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores