A glass frog whose organs can be seen through its transparent skin. A smiling bat. A hideously ugly salamander. These are just a few of the discoveries unearthed on a recent CI RAP expedition in Ecuador.
A Refuge for Species
Located in southeastern Ecuador, near the Peruvian border, the Nangaritza River valley is mountainous, heavily forested and relatively inaccessible to most people. The upper river valley is known for its Tepuyes, or tabletop mountains, which are home to many species that are found nowhere else on earth, as well as other species whose populations are threatened in other locations but remain plentiful here.
EXPEDITION NANGARITZA: Follow along with scientists through videos, maps and photos of the area.
Nangaritza’s isolation has not only helped to protect the mountain ecosystem from destruction, it has also long posed a challenge to detailed scientific study. Part of the region is under the protection of the Nangaritza Protected Forest, but wildlife experts believe that more land must be protected for this unique environment to thrive.
The Shuar indigenous association and a local farming organization have been granted management over much of the protected forest, but these groups are proposing that the lands be upgraded to a higher protection status, where they will be more sustainably managed. Before this step can be taken, however, more scientific data is needed.
Rapid Assessments, Exciting Discoveries
In-depth biodiversity surveys can often take years to complete – a frustrating reality when many of the world’s ecosystems are constantly under threat of destruction. CI’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) conducts quick biodiversity surveys all over the world to identify species and make recommendations for conservation action.
During April’s three week survey of the Nangaritza region, more than 16 researchers and support staff from CI and partner organizations from Ecuador and the U.S. hiked, measured and photographed their way through the steamy Tepuy forests in search of wildlife. Despite endless rain, flat tires and other inevitable obstacles of field work, they had great success.
LEARN MORE: Find out what CI's Rapid Assessment Program is all about.
Among the hundreds of species documented, the RAP team found four species of amphibians, one reptile, at least seven katydids, at least two plants, and possibly one rodent species thought to be unknown to science. In addition, several bird species were found outside of their known ranges, possibly indicating the existence of larger bird populations than previously thought.
Researchers also found a healthy population of Atelopus toads. The toads’ presence is very promising, as other Atelopus populations throughout Central and South America have faced massive declines due to the chytrid fungus.
Taking Conservation Action
How does finding a healthy toad affect human well-being? The absence of the chytrid fungus in the Nangaritza Atelopus population indicates a thriving ecosystem that must be preserved for the survival of future generations of people as well as animals. Further study of local amphibians, as well as other key species like birds, will be necessary in order to continue to monitor ecosystem health.
IN PHOTOS: Discovering Species in Nangaritza, Ecuador
In response to the RAP survey, CI-Ecuador and partners including Fundacion Arcoiris and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador plan to produce a booklet to educate locals about their region’s biodiversity and the value conservation will have for their own lives. CI also hopes to involve more communities in the Socio Bosque (Forest Partners) Program, developed by the Ecuadorian government with support from CI, which provides financial incentives to communities in return for forest stewardship. They also plan to survey other Tepuyes in the region to determine if they also have healthy ecosystems supporting Atelopus.
The survey’s findings provide strong support for local communities’ proposal to strengthen environmental protection and plan for the management of research, ecotourism (particularly bird watching) and other economic alternatives.
By presenting alternative livelihood choices that benefit communities while promoting conservation, we not only improve the lives of many people today, but also preserve our resources for tomorrow.
READ MORE: A Grand Plan: Ecuador and "Forest Partners"