Landscape-level conservation becomes a reality for EcoMinga


We’ve recenty signed the papers and made the down payment for a key six-hundred-hectare property that protects virtually the entire watershed of the Rio Machay, from the high peak of Cerro Mayordomo (3400m) in the Llanganates National Park down almost to the Rio Pastaza. This property adjoins the other large purchases (about 1000 ha) we made a few months ago (see this post) on the same mountain. We’ll call this the Rio Machay Reserve. This enormous block of forest, twice as large as our Rio Zunac Reserve, connects to our Naturetrek Reserve on the south side of the Rio Pastaza, which in turn connects to our largest reserve, Cerro Candelaria, which stretches south to the border of Sangay National Park.

We had been working since our inception ten years ago to complete this connection between the two major national parks, Llanganates and Sangay. This wildlife corridor was first proposed by the the World Wildlife Fund and the now-defunct Fundacion Natura many years ago to allow wildlife to pass between the national parks. Corridors from low to high elevations, such as this one, also help bird species which move to different elevations at different times of year, such as some tropical hummingbirds and some fruit-eating birds. Corridors across elevation gradients also provide some insurance against climate change; as the climate warms, species can move up the mountains to keep pace with the changes. All these things require unfragmented, continuous stretches of forest across a wide range of elevations.

The high alpine paramo boundary between our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and Sangay National Park. Photo: Recalde brothers/EcoMinga.

The high alpine paramo boundary between our Cerro Candelaria Reserve and Sangay National Park. Photo: Recalde brothers/EcoMinga.

This proposed corridor was incorporated into the strategic plan of the local municipal governments (Banos, Mera, Palora) in 2002, even before we existed as a foundation (though we played a role in this process as private individuals back then). Unfortunately the declaration existed only on paper, and there were no new regulations on land use. Initially I tried to get Fundacion Natura and the local municipal governments to buy and to make the corridor a reality, but they argued that they did not have the funds. This is one of the reasons we formed EcoMinga; it seemed that we would have to do it ourselves rather than get other entities to do it. So in 2006 we began to make it real with actual land purchases, financed by the World Land Trust. There are still some bottlenecks and small gaps, but we have now finished the hard part, the uncertain part, the part that required a small miracle to complete. That miracle was the World Land Trust’s choice of EcoMinga as the beneficiary of their annual October Big Match fund drive, and the generous support that this fund drive received. Thanks to WLT and to the many donors who helped make this corridor a reality, including Sam Crothers, Mark Wilson, Dan Thompson, Julie Wassermann, Paul and Katy and Al Jost, and Richard and Katie Brindle. Most of the donors made donations directly to WLT so we cannot thank them by name, but they have made a huge and very positive impact on the landscape here.

Teagueia alyssana, which I discovered on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost

Teagueia alyssana, which I discovered on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost

The addition of Cerro Mayordomo to our reserve system is exciting. The peak has inspired oral legends of enchanted lakes with ducks made of gold, and angry spirits that keep humans out by sending frightening thunderstorms when someone tries to enter. But the reality is even more fantastic than the legends. The highest forest of this mountain is the place where I first discovered the spectacular Teagueia orchid radiation that I described in last year’s Darwin Day post. The many Teagueia species on this mountain are completely different from the sixteen species of Teagueia at the other end of this new corridor, on Cerro Candelaria, even though Cerro Candelaria and Cerro Mayordomo have seemingly-identical climates and are only 13 km apart. No one knows why they are different.

The view from near the top of Cerro Mayordomo, looking southwest towards Volcan Tungurahua, the snow-capped peak on the left, and Chimborazo, the snow-capped peak on the right. Chimborazo is the highest point on earth, higher than Everest in terms of distance from the earth's center. Photo: Lou Jost.

The view from near the top of Cerro Mayordomo, looking southwest towards Volcan Tungurahua, the snow-capped peak on the left, and Chimborazo, the snow-capped peak on the right. Chimborazo is the highest point on earth, higher than Everest in terms of distance from the earth’s center. Photo:Lou Jost.

For this latest purchase, the World Land Trust went out on a limb for us. WLT still has to raise the money to make the final payment for this purchase in January 2017. Please help them if you can!

Lou Jost

 

La conservación a nivel de paisaje se vuelve una realidad para EcoMinga
 
IMG – Cerro Mayordomo, en el extremo norte de nuestro corredor forestal, visto desde el punto más alto al otro lado del corredor, Cerro Candelaria a 13 km.
 
Recientemente hemos firmado los artículos y hecho el pago inicial de una propiedad clave de seiscientas hectáreas que protegen relativamente la cuenca completa de Rio Machay, desde la cumbre del Cerro Mayordomo (3400 m) en el Parque Nacional Llanganates hasta casi el Río Pastaza. Esta propiedad colinda con las otras grandes compras (unas 1000 Ha.) que hicimos hace unos meses (ver este post) en la misma montaña. A esto lo llamaremos Reserva Rio Machay. Este enorme bloque de bosque, dos veces más grande que nuestra Reserva Río Zuñac, se conecta con nuestra Reserva Naturetrek en el lado sur del Río Pastaza, que a su vez conecta con nuestra reserva más grande, Cerro Candelaria, que se extiende hacia el sur hasta la frontera con el Parque Nacional Sangay. 
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. Nuestro corredor entre el Parque Nacional Llanganates (izquierda, borde verde) y el Parque Nacional Sangay (derecha, borde verde). La Reserva Rio Machay (borde naranja) es la tierra recién comprada a través del llamamiento “Bosques en el cielo” de World Land Trust. Nuestra Reserva Naturetrek (delineada en amarillo) y nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria (delineada en rojo) son las otras partes del corredor.
 
Hemos estado trabajando desde nuestro inicio diez años atrás para completar esta conexión entre los dos mayores Parques Nacionales, Llanganates y Sangay. Este corredor de vida silvestre fue propuesto por el Fondo Mundial para la vida Silvestre y la ahora desaparecida Fundación Natura muchos años atrás para permitir a la vida silvestre pasar entre los parques nacionales.  
 
Los corredores de bajas a altas elevaciones, como esta, también ayudan a las especies de aves las cuales se mueven a diferentes elevaciones en diferentes momentos del año, como algunos colibríes tropicales y algunas aves que comen fruta. Los corredores a lo largo de gradientes de elevación también brindan cierta seguridad contra el cambio climático; a medida que el clima se calienta, las especies pueden ascender por las montañas para seguir el ritmo de los cambios. Todas estas cosas requieren extensiones de bosque continuas y no fragmentadas en una amplia gama de elevaciones. 
 
IMG – El límite alto del páramo entre nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria y el Parque Nacional Sangay. Fotografía: Hermanos Recalde /EcoMinga
 
Este corredor propuesto fue incorporado al plan estratégico de los gobiernos locales municipales (Baños, Mera, Palora) en 2002, incluso antes de que existamos como una fundación (aunque jugamos un rol en este proceso como individuos privados en aquel momento). Desafortnunadamente la declaración existió sólo en papel, y no hubo nuevas regulaciones de uso de tierra. Inicialmente traté de que la Fundación Natura y los gobiernos municipales locales compraran e hicieran realidad el corredor, pero argumentaron que no tenían los fondos. Este es una de las razones por las que formamos EcoMinga; parece que tendríamos que hacerlo nosotros mismos en lugar de que otras entidades lo hicieran. Así que en 2006 comenzamos a hacerlo realidad con compras reales de tierras, financiadas por World Land Trust. Todavía hay algunos cuellos de botella y pequeñas lagunas, pero ahora hemos terminado la parte difícil, la parte incierta, la parte que requirió un pequeño milagro para completarse. Ese milagro fue la elección de EcoMinga por parte de la World Land Trust como beneficiaria de su campaña anual de recaudación de fondos Big Match de octubre, y el generoso apoyo que recibió esta recaudación de fondos. Gracias a WLT y a los muchos donantes que ayudaron a hacer realidad este corredor, incluidos San Crothers, Mark Wilson, Dan Thompson, Julie Wasserman, Paul y Katy y Al Jost, y Richard y Katie Brindle. La mayoría de los donantes hicieron donaciones directamente a WLT, por lo que no podemos agradecerles por su nombre, pero han tenido un impacto enorme y muy positivo en el paisaje aquí. 
 
IMG – Teagueia alussana, la cual descubrí en el Cerro Mayordomo. Fotografía: Lou Jost. 
 
La adición del Cerro Mayordomo a nuestro sistema de reservas es emocionante. El pico ha inspirado leyendas orales de lagos encantados con patos hechos de oro y espíritus enojados que mantienen alejados a los humanos enviando tormentas eléctricas aterradoras cuando alguien intenta entrar. Pero la realidad es aún más fantástica que las leyendas. El bosque más alto de esta montaña es el lugar donde descubrí por primera vez la espectacular radiación de la orquídea Teagueia que describí en la publicación del año anterior del Día de Darwin. Las varias especies de Teagueia en esta montaña son completamente diferentes de las 16 especies existentes de Teagueia en el otro final de este nuevo corredor, en Cerro Candelaria, aunque Cerro Candelaria y Cerro Mayordomo tienen climas aparentemente idénticos y están a solo 13 km de distancia. Nadie sabe por qué son diferentes. 
 
IMG – La vista de cerca de la cima del Cerro Mayordomo, mirando al suroeste hacia el Volcán Tungurahua, el pico nevado a la izquierda y el Chimborazo, el pico nevado a la derecha. Chimborazo es el punto más alto de la tierra, más alto que el Everest en términos de distancia desde el centro de la Tierra. Fotografía: Lou Jost
 
Para esta última compra, el World Land Trust se arriesgó por nosotros. WLT todavía tiene que recaudar el dinero para realizar el pago final de esta compra en enero de 2017. ¡Ayúdelos si puede!
 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores

In the London high-fashion district, supermodels and superstars and even Superman come to learn about EcoMinga’s miniature orchids!

A couple of years ago our major UK supporters, the World Land Trust, sent a team of creative professionals– Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero–to our Cerro Candelaria Reserve to make a short film about its new species of orchids. Jonny Lu’s studio does mainly fashion work, with clients like Victoria Beckham, Givenchy, and Louis Vuitton, so I was initially a bit worried about their intention to spend day after day climbing high muddy mountains in pouring rain. I needn’t have worried– they did it in style and with real pleasure! The results of their four-day trip were presented last Tuesday at the famous Bourdon House in London, once the home of the Duke of Westminster and now home to the Alfred Dunhill fashion house. Fabrizio Cardinali, CEO of Dunhill, graciously opened this house to us at no charge and donated the catering for the event. Sir David Attenborough, the great natural history presenter whose voice is instantly recognized around the world, came to the screening and also appeared in the film’ introductory segment. Thanks to Jonny’s and Emma Beckett’s and the WLT’s hard work and personal connections, an amazing set of people, including not only Sir David but many well-known British stars and supermodels, came to this event.

I gave a short talk to them about our orchids. It was an unusual venue and audience for an orchid talk, but it went well, and everyone was genuinely interested.

Embed from Getty Images
Embed from Getty Images

The audience even attracted paparazzi and the British tabloid press!

Film maker Jonny Lu, right, and Brooklyn Beckham, the paparazzi’s main target:
Embed from Getty Images

David Attenborough and Henry Cavill (aka Superman):
Embed from Getty Images

One of the main purposes of the event was to raise funds for the conservation of the forests where these special orchids live. We are in the process of naming some of our new species of orchids after our major donors, past and present, as a way of thanking them for their help. In this event we attempted to encourage new donors by offering to name some additional species after them or after a loved one. Several donors came forward, and the World Land Trust has set up a website where the remaining un-named species can be viewed by potential donors:
http://www.wlt-orchids.com/donate
This site will be updated as the orchids are named.

The site also contains the story of Jonny’s, Jeremy’s, and Vava’s challenging trip to our Cerro Candelaria mountain to film these orchids in their extraordinary remote habitat. The photos nicely capture the ambiance and the challenges of working in this area.

Click to enlarge. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero filming in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga.

Click to enlarge. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, and Vava Ribiero filming in our Cerro Candelaria Reserve.
Photo: Lou Jost/Ecominga.

Lou Jost

En el distrito de alta moda de Londres, los supermodelos y las superestrellas e incluso Superman vienen a aprender sobre las orquídeas miniatura de EcoMinga
 
Un par de años atrás, nuestros principales partidarios del reino unido, el World Land Trust, envió un equipo de profesionales creativos – Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, y Vava Ribiero – a nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria para hacer una película corta sobre sus nuevas especies de orquídeas. El estudio de Jonny Lu hace en su mayoría trabajo de moda, con clientes como Victoria Beckam, Givenchy, y Luis Vuitton, de modo que inicialmente yo estaba un poco preocupado por su intención de pasar el día después de trepar montañas muy embarradas en la lluvia torrencial. No tenía que preocuparme – ¡lo hicieron con estilo y verdadero placer! Los resultados de su viaje de cuatro días fueron presentados el ultimo martes en la famosa Bourdon House en Londres, una vez el hogar del Duque de Westminster y ahora hogar de Alfred Dunhill casa de modas. Fabricio Cardinali, CEO de Dunhill, graciosamente abrió esta casa para nosotros sin cargo y donó el catering para el evento. Sir DAvid Attenborough, el gran presentador de historia natural cuya voz es instantáneamente reconocida alrededor del mundo, llegó a la proyección y también apareció en el segmento introductorio de la película. Gracias a Jonny y Emma Beckett y el trabajo duro de la WLT y conexiones personales, una increíble cantidad de personas, incluyen no solo Sir David pero también muchas estrellas bien conocidas y supermodelos, vinieron a este evento. 
 
Les di una corta charla sobre nuestras orquídeas. Fue un lugar y una audiencia inusuales para una charla sobre orquídeas, pero salió bien y todos estaban realmente interesados. 
 
La audiencia incluso atrajo paparazzis y la prensa sensacionalista británica!
 
IMG – El cineasta Johny Lu, a la derecha, y Brooklyn Beckham, el principal objetivo de los paparazzi:
 
IMG – David Attenborough y Henry Cavill (aka Superman):
 
Uno de los principales propósitos del evento fue captar fondos para la conservación de los bosques donde estas orquídeas especiales viven. Estamos en el proceso de nombrar algunas de nuestras especies de orquídeas en honor a nuestros principales donantes, pasado y presente, como una manera de agradecerles por su ayuda. En este evento intentamos alentar nuevos donantes ofreciendo donar algunas especies adicionales después de ellas o de un ser querido. Varios donantes se presentaron y World Land Trust ha creado un sitio web donde los posibles donantes pueden ver las especies restantes sin nombre: http://www.wlt-orchids.com/donate. Este sitio será actualizado a medida que las orquídeas son nombradas. 
 
El sitio también contiene la historia del viaje de Jonny, Jeremy y Vava a nuestra montaña Cerro Candelaria para filmar estas orquídeas en su extraordinario hábitat remoto. Las fotografías capturan muy bien el ambiente y los desafíos de trabajar en esta área.
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. Jonny Lu, Jeremy Valender, y Vava Ribiero filmando en nuestra Reserva Cerro Candelaria. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga. 
 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores

Darwin Day Special: Some of Ecuador’s evolutionary radiations

The Beagle in the Galapagos.

The Beagle in the Galapagos.

When Charles Darwin first landed on Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands in 1835, he was not impressed:

“The black rocks heated by the rays of the Vertical sun, like a stove, give to the air a close & sultry feeling. The plants also smell unpleasantly. The country was compared to what we might imagine the cultivated parts of the Infernal regions to be… I proceeded to botanize & obtained 10 different flowers; but such insignificant, ugly little flowers…” —Diary

“Nothing could be less inviting than the first appearance. A broken field of black basaltic lava, thrown into the most rugged waves, and crossed by great fissures, is everywhere covered by stunted, sun-burnt brushwood, which shows little signs of life… With the exception of a wren with a fine yellow breast, and of a tyrant-flycatcher with a scarlet tuft and breast, none of the birds are brilliantly coloured….All the plants have a wretched, weedy appearance, and I did not see one beautiful flower. The insects, again, are small-sized and dull-coloured…. I took great pains in collecting the insects, but excepting Tierra del Fuego, I never saw in this respect so poor a country.”—Voyage of the Beagle

Galapagos scene. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Galapagos scene. Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Still, as was his custom, he collected specimens of as many distinct plants and animals as he could. There was as yet no evolutionary insight, just curiosity. He wrote in his diary at the time

“It will be very interesting to find from future comparison to what district or “centre of creation” the organized beings of this archipelago must be attached.”

His first flash of insight about the nature of the Galapagos flora and fauna came after the Beagle had already left the islands to go to Tahiti. During the long travel days with blank seascapes stretching in all directions, he worked on his specimens. It was only then that he noticed something surprising. Ten years later (in his second edition of “Journal of Researches” p. 394) he wrote about that moment on the Beagle:

“My attention was first thoroughly aroused, by comparing together the numerous specimens, shot by myself and several other parties on board, of the mocking-thrushes [mockingbirds], when, to my astonishment, I discovered that all those from Charles Island belonged to one species (Mimus trifasciatus); all from Albemarle Island to M. parvulus; and all from James and Chatham Islands (between which two other islands are situated, as connecting links) belonged to M. melanotis. These two latter species are closely allied, and would by some ornithologists be considered as only well-marked races or varieties; but the Mimus trifasciatus is very distinct. Unfortunately most of the specimens of the finch tribe were mingled together…”

“This bird which is so closely allied to the Thenca [mockingbirds] of Chili … is singular from existing as varieties or distinct species in the different islands.

“…I never dreamed that islands about 50 or 60 miles apart, and most of them in sight of each other, formed of precisely the same rocks, placed under a quite similar climate, rising to a nearly equal height, would have been differently tenanted ….”

“It is the fate of most voyagers, no sooner to discover what is most interesting in any locality, than they are hurried from it; but I ought, perhaps, to be thankful that I obtained sufficient materials to establish this most remarkable fact in the distribution of organic beings.”—-Zoology notes p. 298

Gould's plate of Darwin's Finches. Creative Commons

Gould’s plate of Darwin’s Finches. Creative Commons

When he eventually returned to England, he gave his plant and animal specimens to specialists who could distinguish which ones were new species, and could figure out how they were related to each other. The great ornithologist Gould was the first to finish this task. His report to Darwin was quite a shock. Darwin had rather casually collected many dingy birds on the Galapagos. As he mentions in the excerpt above, he didn’t even bother to label some of them with the names of the specific islands where they had been collected. (Luckily some of his shipmates did make properly-labeled specimens, so their distributions were eventually sorted out.) He thought some of these dingy birds were finches, some were warblers, some were wrens, and some were blackbirds (icterids). Ornithology was not one of Darwin’s strong points. (He once ate an important new species of rhea before realizing that it was the bird he had long been searching for!) Gould, however, was a good ornithologist, and recognized that all these different birds actually belonged to twelve closely-related species of a single subfamily, not found anywhere else in the world at the time, known today as Darwin’s finches (later one additional species was discovered on Cocos Island off Costa Rica). This was an astonishing discovery, that birds with such outwardly-different beaks and habits would all be so closely related, and that there would be different sets of them on different islands.

Leaf shapes of different species of Scalesia . From U. Eliasson (1974) Studies in Galápagos Plants. XIv. The Genus Scalesia Arn. Opera Botanica 36: 1–117, under Fair Use.

Leaf shapes of different species of Scalesia . From U. Eliasson (1974) Studies in Galápagos Plants. XIv. The Genus Scalesia Arn. Opera Botanica 36: 1–117, under Fair Use.

The same turned out to be true of Darwin’s Galapagos plants, which he had first given to his old teacher Henslow and then to his close friend Hooker. Hooker discovered that many of Darwin’s plants belonged to a single genus, Scalesia, found nowhere else in the world. Just like the birds, there were different species of Scalesia on different islands. Darwin wrote:

“Scalesia, a remarkable arborescent genus of the Compositae, is confined to the archipelago: it has six species: one from Chatham, one from Albemarle, one from Charles Island, two from James Island, and the sixth from one of the three latter islands, but it is not known from which: not one of these six species grows on any two islands.”

“The distribution of the tenants of this archipelago would not be nearly so wonderful, if, for instance, one island had a mocking-thrush, and a second island some other quite distinct genus, — if one island had its genus of lizard, and a second island another distinct genus, or none whatever; — or if the different islands were inhabited, not by representative species of the same genera of plants, but by totally different genera, as does to a certain extent hold good: for, to give one instance, a large berry-bearing tree at James Island has no representative species in Charles Island. But it is the circumstance, that several of the islands possess their own species of the tortoise, mocking-thrush, finches, and numerous plants, these species having the same general habits, occupying analogous situations, and obviously filling the same place in the natural economy of this archipelago, that strikes me with wonder.”

“Although the species are thus peculiar to the archipelago, yet nearly all in their general structure, habits, colour of feathers, and even tone of voice, are strictly American.”

“… Hence, both in space and time, we seem to be brought somewhat near to that great fact – that mystery of mysteries – the first appearance of new beings on this earth…..one might really fancy that from an original paucity of birds in this archipelago, one species had been taken and modified for different ends…..”

These patterns, which would now call “evolutionary radiations”, were some of the most important clues in Darwin’s intellectual journey towards his theory of evolution. In 1837 he wrote in a private notebook:

“In July opened first note-book on ‘transmutation of species.’ Had been greatly struck from about month of previous March on character of South American fossils, and species on Galapagos Archipelago. These facts origin (especially latter), of all my views.”

The plant and animal radiations on the Galapagos Islands went on to become icons of evolutionary theory. Later explorers pushed the number of species of Darwin’s finches to about fourteen. New Scalesia species continued to be discovered until as recently as 1986, pushing the total Scalesia species to fifteen, with up to four species on a single island. The total number of plants that are unique to the Galapagos Islands, and not found anywhere else in the world, is now about 175-180 species. Because of its immense scientific importance it was made a national park by the Ecuadorian government and declared a World Heritage site by the UN.

Even today, seeing these kinds of evolutionary radiations leaves one with a palpable sense of direct contact with Darwin’s “mystery of mysteries”, the evolution of new species. I got my first taste of this feeling in the Ecuadorian Andes around Banos twenty years ago, as I explored the mountains of the upper Rio Pastaza watershed looking for new orchid species.

The upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Photos: Andreas Kay.

The upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Photos: Andreas Kay.

Evolutionary radiation of Lepanthes orchids in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Left: a widespread species, L. mucronata. Middle and right: two new species I discovered here, closely related to L. mucronata. These are L. abitaguae (middle) and L. pseudomucronata (right). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Evolutionary radiation of Lepanthes orchids in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Left: a widespread species, L. mucronata. Middle and right: two new species I discovered here, closely related to L. mucronata. These are L. abitaguae (middle) and L. pseudomucronata (right). Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

At first I discovered lots of little radiations, mostly in the orchid genus Lepanthes–two or three new closely related species, sometimes different “sister species” on each mountain, as if these mountains were acting like islands in the clouds. In other cases, I found sets of closely-related new species all living together on a single mountain, analogous to the multiple species of Scalesia that lived on some individual Galapagos islands. Slowly, over the years of hiking, patterns began to emerge from the maps I made of the distributions of these species. It was like watching the construction of a stained-glass window, each beautiful fragment adding more detail until order began to triumph over chaos.

Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Then in the year 2000 everything changed. After a year of failed attempts, I finally figured out how to get up a high unexplored mountain between Banos and Puyo. It was called “Mayordomo” on the maps. After two day’s climb, I reached a beautiful mossy cloud forest at 3100m. I looked down and at my feet I saw little orchid plants creeping through the thick moss, with single leaves widely spaced on a thin stem. I began to find a few with flowers, but still I had no idea what they were. I couldn’t even recognize their genus –quite embarrassing for me, who claimed to be an orchid expert! The strangest thing was that there were four clearly-different species of these strange creeping orchids right here in one square meter of moss. How could such a big group of species be unfamiliar to me?

Mysterious Teagueia orchids creeping through moss on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Mysterious Teagueia orchids creeping through moss on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I could hardly wait to get home and look them up in books. But there was nothing like them in any book. I sent them to the world’s specialist in miniature orchids, Carl Luer, and he wrote back excitedly that these were all new to science, and belonged to a tiny genus of orchids called Teagueia. Up until that moment, there had been only six species of Teagueia known in the whole world, three from Ecuador and three more from Colombia, all very local endemics. In my one square meter of moss I had more than doubled the number of species of Teagueia in Ecuador. Most interesting was that all of my new species were long-stemmed creeping plants, unlike any of the previously-known Teagueia species. The new species also shared floral traits not found in any of the previously-known species. Such clues suggested that these new species had evolved right here, from a recent common ancestor, just like Darwin’s finches or his Scalesia plants in the Galapagos. Carl quickly described the new species: Teagueia sancheziae (after my friend Carmen Sanchez who climbed the mountain with me), T. alyssana (after my dear friend Alyssa Roberts who helped support my research), T. cymbisepala (a Greek word referring to the shape of the flower), and T. jostii, which Carl decided to name after me.

Teagueia alyssana, one of the new Teagueia species I discovered on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Teagueia alyssana, one of the new Teagueia species I discovered on Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The discovery of this evolutionary radiation raised an obvious question: How many more of these species might be hidden on this and the many other unexplored mountaintops around my town of Banos? I eventually returned to Mayordomo and got higher up the mountain on a long camping trip with my hiking companions Robert and Daisy Kunstaetter. There was no rain during the whole trip, so we had to use rainwater I had collected and stored in a big plastic bag at an old campsite of mine several years earlier. It was still good, thanks to a few drops of iodine I had added when I stored it. When that ran out we were forced to squeeze dew out of moss; this was horrible, though I discovered a new Maxillaria orchid while collecting the moss. We had to abort the trip early, but we still managed to find three or four more new Teagueia species! All had long creeping stems and shared floral characteristics with my previous discoveries. This unexpected evolutionary radiation of plant species was turning out to be bigger than I could have imagined.

Some Mayordomo Teagueia species. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Some Mayordomo Teagueia species. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

A year or so later, Robert and Daisy came back from the next mountain to the west of Mayordomo with an interesting leaf to show me. They thought it might be from a Lepanthes, but it was another of these creeping Teagueia species! I went up that mountain and found it covered with creeping species of Teagueia. Some were the same species as on Mayordomo, but many of them new to science. All of these new one were clearly related to the ones on Mayordomo.

One of the new Teagueia species I discovered on the mountain just west of Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

One of the new Teagueia species I discovered on the mountain just west of Cerro Mayordomo. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Unexplored mountains south of the Rio Pastaza. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Unexplored mountains south of the Rio Pastaza. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Did every mountain around here have its own new species of Teagueia? I sometimes give a guest lecture to visiting biology students at the School for International Training, in Quito the capital of Ecuador. After I talked about these Teagueias, two students, Pailin Wedel and Anderson Shepard, volunteered to do an independent study project on the genus. They wanted a challenging project, so I trained them to recognize Teagueia plants (Andy discovered a fantastic new Teagueia on one of his training trips!) and then I sent them off with a local guide for a week to look for Teagueia on a mountain south of the Rio Pastaza that I had never explored. Andy was a mountain rescue guide from Colorado so I figured they’d be alright. The deep valley of the Rio Pastaza separated this mountain from both Mayordomo and my other Teagueia mountain, so none of us knew what to expect.

The students survived, though they said it was the hardest thing they had ever done, and Pailin lost a toenail from the long muddy climb. They didn’t mind; they had found eight or nine species of creeping Teagueia, each new to science! None of the species on their mountain were shared with the two mountains on the other side of the Rio Pastaza valley. This was unexpected, since the other orchids I had studied showed a different distribution pattern.

A new Teagueia discovered by Andy and Pailin. I'll name this one after Pailin. Photo: Andreas Kay.

A new Teagueia discovered by Andy and Pailin. I’ll name this one after Pailin. Photo: Andreas Kay.

Another new ,em>Teagueia discovered by Andy and Pailin. I'll name this one after their local guide Ali Araujo. Photo: Andreas Kay.

Another new Teagueia discovered by Andy and Pailin. I’ll name this one after their local guide Ali Araujo. Photo: Andreas Kay.

There was still one more big unexplored mountain between Banos and the Amazon lowlands, known on the maps as Cerro Candelaria. It rose to 3860m, much higher than the other mountains we had looked at. It was like a magnet. My friends the Kunstaetters and I finally climbed all the way to the top at the end of 2002. It was a difficult nine day camping trip, eased somewhat by the help of some local people (who later became EcoMinga’s forest guards) whom we hired to carry our packs the first (and steepest) day. This mountain not only had all the new Teagueia species my students had found on their mountain, but also another six Teagueia species that were completely new! For a magnificent photographic album of Cerro Candelaria, including many Teagueia species, see Andreas Kay’s Cerro Candelaria Flickr album.Highly recommended!

Some of the new creeping Teagueia species discovered by my students and I in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. All flowers are photographed at the same magnification so relative sizes are accurately shown. Click to enlarge! Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Some of the new creeping Teagueia species discovered by my students and I in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. All flowers are photographed at the same magnification so relative sizes are accurately shown. Click to enlarge! Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

As a result of these expeditions, we now know that this evolutionary radiation of Teagueia species contains almost double the number of species of the famous Galapagos radiations, even though the Galapagos islands are much bigger and more numerous than these four mountains, and even though geographic isolation here is much less complete than in the Galapagos. And unlike any island in the Galapagos, a single mountain here can have 8-15 Teagueia species growing together. (In a future post I’ll write about what DNA analysis tells us regarding the speed of this evolutionary radiation relative to that of the Galapagos Scalesia radiation.) Counting these new Teagueia species, there are now about 190 unique endemic plant species in our upper Rio Pastaza watershed. That is more locally endemic species than there are in all of the Galapagos. This is a region that has much to tell us about the mysteries of speciation, maybe even more than the Galapagos.

Teagueia distribution in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Teagueia distribution in the upper Rio Pastaza watershed. Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Conservation can have many motives, but one of mine is to preserve enough of the earth’s legacy that future generations will still be able to unravel those fundamental mysteries that we have not yet been able to figure out. The answer to the question of the origin of species is written here in these mountains, but we are tearing up the pages before we have learned how to read them. One of the reasons my friends and I founded EcoMinga was to save some of those pages, hopefully the most strategic ones. Thanks to our partner the World Land Trust, we have now bought the mountain that has sixteen species of Teagueia; it also turns out to have many other unique newly-discovered species of orchids, trees, frogs, and more. Thanks to them and many other donors (Rainforest Trust, Orchid Conservation Alliance, University of Basel Botanical Garden, Montreal Botanical Garden, and some generous individual donors to EcoMinga) we have also begun to buy land on Mayordomo, and other places where unusual evolutionary forces have led to high concentrations of new, locally endemic species of plants and animals. Not only do we want to preserve the biodiversity of these places, we also want to preserve the clues they contain to the origin of biodiversity itself.

Can't have a Darwin Day post without including a picture taken by our own Darwin Recalde. Darwin is Jesus' son and a great young naturalist. Here he has managed to photograph an elusive Rufous Antpitta standing on a bunch of Teagueia. Photo: Darwin Recalde/EcoMinga.

Can’t have a Darwin Day post without including a picture taken by our own Darwin Recalde. Darwin is Jesus Recalde’s son and a great young naturalist. Here he has managed to photograph an elusive Rufous Antpitta standing on a bunch of Teagueia. Photo: Darwin Recalde/EcoMinga.

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