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

 

_1100120

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

p1110282

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.

p1110295

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.

p1110309

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.

p1110315

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.

_1100050

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.

_1100052

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

p1110364

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.

p1110369

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

_1100062

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

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

_1100092

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.

_1100141

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

2017-01-13-10-10-27-zs-pmax-udr

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

 

dscn5893

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.

p1110304

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

dscn6255

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.

p1110223

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.)

dscn5928

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.

dscn5945

Luis Recalde climbing a magnolia. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6285

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

dscn6311

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

dscn6360

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

dscn6389

Magnolia vargasiana  opening. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

dscn6418

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.

_DSC0125

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.

P1100683.jpg

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:

p1110214

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

p1110210

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

p1110198

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.

dscn6144

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

dscn6037

The forest interior. Photo: Joachim Gratzfeld.

Lou Jost, EcoMinga Foundation.

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