Rediscovering lost species in the “heart” of Bolivia’s cloud forest

Results from a Rapid Biological Assessment of Chawi Grande in the Zongo Valley of Bolivia

© Trond Larsen

 

High in the Andean foothills, an expedition led by Conservation International scientists uncovered 20 species new to science and rediscovered several species that had not been seen for decades.

The new species included the mountain fer-de-lance viper, the Bolivian flag snake and the Lilliputian frog, as well as four orchid and four butterfly species. Among the most exciting rediscoveries: the reclusive “devil-eyed” frog — Oreobates zongoensis — which had only ever been spotted once and was thought extinct.

About the region

© Conservation International

Conservation International's most recent Rapid Assessment Program — expeditions that evaluate biodiversity around the world — brought 17 scientists to Chawi Grande, an area of the Hualylipaya community in the Zongo Valley near La Paz, Bolivia.

Known as the "heart" of Bolivia, the Zongo Valley is blanketed by misty cloud forests, cascading waterfalls and peaks that tower some 10,000 feet above sea level. Clouds drifting from the Amazon rainforest collide with the Andes mountains and release rain into the forests of the Zongo, which provide a haven for frogs, snakes, butterflies and plants that are found nowhere else on the planet. This largely untouched ecosystem provides a wide range of benefits: It stores carbon from the atmosphere, protects soil erosion and provides fresh water for people living near La Paz, one of Bolivia's largest cities.

 

Why is this work important?

Conservation International is working with the municipality of La Paz and rural communities to use the results from the rapid assessment to strike a balance between protection and production in the Zongo Valley. The goal is to help the people of La Paz create a municipal conservation area in the valley to ensure the ecosystems — and the services they provide — are protected for the well-being of local communities and the country at large.

 

What we found

Over the course of two weeks, a team of Bolivian researchers from partner organizations including the National Museum of Natural History of Bolivia and the Bolivian National Herbarium hiked across more than 3,000 meters (2 miles) of elevation. Of the more than 1,200 species recorded during the expedition, 770 were new to the Zongo Valley. This includes 20 species previously unknown to science and four species not seen in many years. Here are some highlights:

 

© Trond Larsen

Fauna

Making its home under the thick carpet of moss that covers the forest floor, the “devil-eyed” frog (Oreobates zongoensis) had not been seen in more than 20 years prior to the expedition to the Zongo Valley. This black frog with striking red eyes was among 10 species of amphibians found by researchers — an important discovery as frog populations around the world are declining and even disappearing quickly. In addition, scientists found two snake species that are new to science, one an Eutrachelophis colubrid and the other a Bothrops viper.

Scientists rediscovered the butterfly Euptychoides fida, a species found only in the Zongo Valley but not seen for nearly 100 years, and successfully identified three other diurnal butterflies — each one new to science.

See images of these species and more in the slide show below.

© Stephan Beck

Flora

Of the 746 land plant species identified during the rapid assessment, eight are new to Bolivia — including the flowering Pearcea hispidissima — and at least 13 are new to science, underscoring the area’s high conservation value.

The expedition identified two plant species not seen in more than 100 years: Stromanthe angustifolia, an understory plant with folding leaves that resemble hands in prayer, was spotted after 125 years, and Alzatea verticillata, a small flowering tree previously known only from a single record in Bolivia, was rediscovered after 127 years.

See images of these species and more in the slide show below.

 

Photo gallery

© Trond Larsen
Mountain fer-de-lance viper

The mountain fer-de-lance, a new species of pit viper discovered during the Zongo Valley expedition, prepares to strike.

© Trond Larsen
Bolivian flag snake

The Bolivian flag snake (Eutrachelophis sp. nov.) is a slender terrestrial snake distinguished by red, yellow and green colors — similar to the Bolivian flag.

© Steffen Reichle
Lilliputian frog

A well-camouflaged Lilliputian frog (Noblella sp. nov.), one of the world's smallest amphibians at approximately 10 mm in length (about half the diameter of a dime).

© Steffen Reichle
“Devil-eyed” frog

The “devil-eyed” frog (Oreobates zongoensis), not seen in the Zongo Valley for more than 20 years, was found by researchers to be relatively abundant in the cloud forest.

© Trond Larsen
Cup orchid

A new species of Brachionidium, or cup orchid, discovered in the Zongo Valley. The generic name comes from Greek and refers to the protrusions on the stigma.

© Ivan Jimenez
Adder's mouth orchid

The adder's mouth orchid (Malaxis) shows off flower parts that appear to mimic an insect and may serve to fool unwitting pollinators.

© Ivan Jimenez
Merostachys sp. nov.

This species of bamboo (Merostachys sp. nov.) is new to science but well known by Indigenous communities in the Zongo Valley — they use it to make musical instruments called sikus or zampoñas.

© Stephan Beck
Sciodaphyllum sp. nov.

A new plant species (Sciodaphyllum sp. nov.) discovered on the Zongo RAP survey in Bolivia. It is related to the popular houseplant Schefflera.

© Stephan Beck
Alzatea verticillata

Over the past 127 years, numerous expeditions have been made in Bolivia to find the mysterious Alzatea verticillata tree, and all have failed until now.

© Alfredo Fuentes
Weinmannia sp. nov.

A new species of plant (Weinmannia sp. nov.) discovered during the Zongo RAP survey in Bolivia.

© Yuvinka Valdez
Euptychoides fida

The ventral view of a satyr butterfly (Euptychoides fida), which was rediscovered in the Zongo Valley after 98 years.

© Fernando Guerra
Pseudeuptychia sp. nov.

A second species of satyr butterfly (Pseudeuptychia sp. nov.) spotted by researchers. This species seems to prefer the cloud forest canopy, descending to the understory only to feed.

© Fernando Guerra
Metalmark butterfly

A new species of metalmark butterfly (Setabis sp. nov.), which feeds on flower nectar in the cloud forest canopy.

© Trond Larsen
Orchid bee

An orchid bee (Euglossa sp.) patrols the cloud forest. Orchid bees have long tongues for collecting nectar, and male bees collect perfumes from orchids, acting as important pollinators in the process.

© Trond Larsen
Rhinella leptocelis

Rhinella leptocelis is a species of toad that is found only in humid montane forests in northern Bolivia and southern Peru. This toad was found throughout the forest during expedition, a promising sign since many Rhinella species are experiencing dramatic declines in the Andes.

© Trond Larsen
Morpho butterfly caterpillar

The caterpillar of a Morpho butterfly, which feeds on bamboo in the cloud forest.

© Trond Larsen
Pleasing fungus beetle

A 'pleasing fungus beetle' (Erotylus voeti). These beetles feed on fungus and represent just some of the incredibly diverse beetle assemblages in the Zongo Valley.

© Trond Larsen
Dipsas cf. catesbyi

Dipsas cf. catesbyi is a snake that feeds on snails and slugs in the cloud forest.

 

RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 70

The full assessment "A Rapid Biological Assessment of Chawi Grande, Comunidad Huaylipaya, Zongo, La Paz, Bolivia" is available for download. The 204-page report is predominantly in Spanish.

Download report