Lima, Peru – Scientists announced today the discovery of four species, three of which are confirmed as new to science and one likely new, in the forests around the world-renowned White Mountain Range in Peru. The species: a mouse (Akodon sp.nov), a high-Andean plant (Senecio sanmarcosensis) and two beetles (Eriopis canrash and Cycloneda andresii) were discovered during a series of expeditions conducted between 2005 and 2008.
The small rodent from the genus Akodon lives between 2,880m (9449ft) and 4,733m (15,528ft) above sea level and is only found in the Ancash region. The mouse plays an important role in controlling insect populations and dispersing seeds throughout the ecosystem.
The other surprising discovery is the plant Senecio sanmarcosensis which is part of the high-Andean wetlands vegetation. This vegetation serves as a water reservoir for the local people, and purifies the mountain water that sustains communities at the foot of the mountains. The plant blooms between May and July, and it is only found in three locations, all above 4,500m (14,764ft).
The Asociación de Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN), Conservation International’s partner and leader in the discoveries, believes that, using IUCN’s Red List criteria, this endemic plant species from the Ancash region should be listed as Near Threatened (NT) because it is only found in a handful of areas that face threats such as unsustainable shepherding.
The two beetles, Eriopis canrash and Cycloneda andresii, are unique creatures that control the aphid and Acarus populations that devastate crops that are important to local communities.
“It has been an amazing experience to have participated in a scientific expedition, studied the biodiversity of 13 Andean forests or queñuales – common Spanish name for Polylepis – in Peru, get to know the landscapes and overall, you have the chance to talk to the local population” said Constantino Auca, ECOAN’s President.
The queñuales forests, where these species live, are vital to restricting soil erosion and, at the same time, produce a vast amount of vital oxygen. These forests are among the highest in the world, and many of them are located near snow-capped mountains. They are reservoirs for water that is critical to the valley populations.
These queñuales forests also host 50 percent of the plants that local communities use for medicinal purposes and they are home to mammals such as the mountain lion (Puma concolor), Southern viscacha (Lagidium viscacia), Andean cat (Leopardus jacobita) and the North Andean deer (Hippocamelus antisensis), among others.
The major threats to the area include uncontrolled logging, unsustainable shepherding practices, forest fires and mining.
“Conservation International is very proud to be part of this initiative. The discovery of the species allows us to highlight the importance of the Polylepis forest ecosystems because of its high concentration of biodiversity and because of its function as water sources for many of the communities living in the area,” said Luis Espinel, Executive Director of Conservation International in Peru.
More than 130 families from four local communities – Aquia, Huasta, Challhuayaco and Pujun – live in the surrounding area of the Polylepis forests and depend on the forest for firewood and other resources.
These communities are supporting the conservation and restoration of the Polylepis forests using conservation agreements, a tool promoted by Conservation International in partnership with the Instituto Montaña, ECOAN and the sponsorship of the Asociación Ancash and the Compañía Minera Antamina S.A.
In order to achieve long-term conservation of these areas, it is crucial to declare them Private Conservation Areas and to maintain long-term financial support for the conservation agreements that will protect these amazing ecosystems and, at the same, provide economic alternatives to the local communities.
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Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit www.conservation.org.