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New mining concessions will severely decrease biodiversity and ecosystem services in Ecuador

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Ecuador has the world’s highest biodiversity, despite being a tiny fraction of the world’s land area. The threat of extinction for much of this biodiversity has dramatically increased since April 2016, during which time the Ecuadorian government has opened approximately 2.9 million hectares of land for mining exploration, with many of the concessions in previously protected forests. Herein, we describe the system of protected lands in Ecuador, their mining laws, and outline the scale of threat by comparing the mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and orchids from several now threatened protected areas, classed as “Bosques Protectores” (BPs), in the NW montane cloud forests. We examine two large (>5,000 ha) BPs, Los Cedros and El Chontal, and two medium BPs, Mashpi (1,178 ha) and Maquipucuna (2,474 ha). Since BP El Chontal is so poorly explored, we used several other small reserves (<500 hectares) in the Intag Valley to gain an idea of its biodiversity. Together, these BPs and reserves form a buffer and a southern corridor for the still-protected Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, which is otherwise now surrounded by mining concessions. We gathered published literature, “gray literature”, information from reserve records and websites, and our previously unpublished observations to make comparative species tables for each reserve. Our results from these still incompletely known reserves reveal the astonishing losses that mining will incur: eight critically endangered species, including two primates (brown-headed spider monkey and white-fronted capuchin), 37 endangered species, 149 vulnerable and 85 near threatened and a large number of less threatened species Our data show that each of the reserves protects a unique subset of taxa in this land of highly localized endemics. Each of the reserves also generates sustainable income for the local people. The short-term national profits from mining will not compensate for the permanent biodiversity losses, and the long-term ecosystem service and economic losses at the local and regional level.
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New mining concessions will severely decrease
biodiversity and ecosystem services in Ecuador
by Bitty Roy1, Martin Zorrilla2, Lorena Endara3, Dan Thomas1, Roo
Vandegrift1, Jesse M. Rubenstein4, Tobias Policha1, Blanca Rios-Touma5
1Institute of Ecology and Evolution, University of Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403
2 Nutrition Technologies Ltd./Research Institute of Biotechnology and Environment, Ho Chi Minh City,
Vietnam
3Department of Biology, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611
4 Department of Geography, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY 14261
5Grupo de Investigación en Biodiversidad Medio Ambiente y Salud -BIOMAS- Facultad de Ingenierías y
Ciencias Agropecuarias, Universidad de Las Américas, Quito-Ecuador.
Abstract
Ecuador has the world’s highest biodiversity, despite being a tiny fraction of the world’s
land area. The threat of extinction for much of this biodiversity has dramatically
increased since April 2016, during which time the Ecuadorian government has opened
approximately 2.9 million hectares of land for mining exploration, with many of the
concessions in previously protected forests. Herein, we describe the system of protected
lands in Ecuador, their mining laws, and outline the scale of threat by comparing the
mammals, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and orchids from several now threatened protected
areas, classed as “Bosques Protectores” (BPs), in the NW montane cloud forests. We
examine two large (>5,000 ha) BPs, Los Cedros and El Chontal, and two medium BPs,
Mashpi (1,178 ha) and Maquipucuna (2,474 ha). Since BP El Chontal is so poorly
explored, we used several other small reserves (<500 hectares) in the Intag Valley to gain
an idea of its biodiversity. Together, these BPs and reserves form a buffer and a southern
corridor for the still-protected Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, which is otherwise
now surrounded by mining concessions. We gathered published literature, “gray
literature”, information from reserve records and websites, and our previously
unpublished observations to make comparative species tables for each reserve. Our
results from these still incompletely known reserves reveal the astonishing losses that
mining will incur: eight critically endangered species, including two primates
(brown-headed spider monkey and white-fronted capuchin), 37 endangered species, 149
vulnerable and 85 near threatened and a large number of less threatened species Our data
show that each of the reserves protects a unique subset of taxa in this land of highly
localized endemics. Each of the reserves also generates sustainable income for the local
people. The short-term national profits from mining will not compensate for the
permanent biodiversity losses, and the long-term ecosystem service and economic losses
at the local and regional level.
Key Words:
ABVP, birds, bosque protector, cloud forest, corridors, copper mining, Ecuador,
elevational gradient, endangered, frogs, jaguar, orchids, primates, protected areas, SNAP
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INTRODUCTION
New mining concessions in Ecuador
Figure 1 Maps showing the overlap between mining concessions and extant Andean
forests and important bird and biodiversity areas (IBAs). In A, the Andean forest zone is
shown, with deforested areas (yellow green), existing forest (dark green), and existing
forest under mining concession (plum red). In B, mining concession are shown in yellow;
Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) are shown in blue, and the overlap of these
concessions with IBAs is shown in purple. Used with permission (Vandegrift, Thomas,
Roy, & Levy, 2017).
During the years of 2016 and 2017, the Ecuadorian Ministry of Mining increased
exploratory mining concessions across the country from roughly 3% to more than 13% of
the country’s continental land area (Vandegrift et al., 2017). These new concessions
significantly decrease forest protected areas, with more than 30% of the total land area
protected by Bosques Protectores included in new exploratory mining concessions
(Vandegrift et al., 2017). The majority of the concessions are located in the hyper-diverse
Andean Forest Zone, composed of montane and cloud forests (Fig. 1A), the eco-region
with the highest biodiversity in the region (Gentry, 1992)and one of the most threatened
eco-regions on the planet (Myers, Mittermeier, Mittermeier, da Fonseca, & Kent, 2000).
These new mining concessions also overlap strongly with International Bird and
Biodiversity Areas, another strong indicator of biodiversity (Fig. 1B).
Both mining and mining exploration decrease biodiversity through deforestation (Fig.
2A) and increased access and disturbance brought by the associated new roads (Asner et
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al., 2010; Bruijnzeel, 2004; Gross, 2017; Sonter et al., 2017). Forest cover is of key
importance for both water quantity and quality because forests capture water, purify it,
slow its movement through the landscape, and are themselves important for generating
the clouds that produce the rain (Brauman, Daily, Duarte, & Mooney, 2007; Bruijnzeel,
2004; Foley et al., 2005). Water quality is best measured by aquatic macroinvertebrates
because they live in the water and integrate both its physical and chemical environments
(Rios-Touma, Acosta, & Prat, 2014). A recent study in Ecuador showed that water
quality was excellent in Andean streams only when the headwater catchments had
undisturbed native vegetation cover of >70% (Iniguez-Armijos, Leiva, Frede, Hampel, &
Breuer, 2014).
Deforestation reduces inputs of leaf litter into streams, changing energy inputs to the
streams shifting trophic structure toward algal-based autotroph systems in Montane
Choco-Andean Streams (Encalada, Calles, Ferreira, Canhoto, & Graca, 2010), leading to
diminished aquatic macroinvertebrate and fish assemblages (Allard, Popee, Vigouroux, &
Brosse, 2016; Teresa & Casatti, 2012). Moreover, after deforestation, mercury
mobilization of soil is the main source of methylated mercury in aquatic systems in the
northern Amazon basin (Roulet et al., 2000), with enormous negative effects on aquatic
life and human health (Webb, 2005). Landslides, soil loss, increases in stream sediments,
and changes in stream flows are additional problems that result from deforestation, see
Figure 2 (Molina, Vanacker, Balthazar, Mora, & Govers, 2012; Restrepo, Kettner, &
Syvitski, 2015; Roering, Schmidt, Stock, Dietrich, & Montgomery, 2003).
Figure 2 Consequences of mining exploration. A. Image of deforestation and landslide
associated with mineral exploration in Imbabura Province, Ecuador, taken in September
2017. Photographer: anonymous. B. Water quality degradation (waterfall to right
compared to left) caused by CODELCO exploration activities in the Junín Community
Cloud Forest Reserve in late 2017. Photographer: C. Zorilla.
Ecuador is the hottest hotspot of biodiversity in the world
The tropical Andes of Ecuador are at the top of the world list of biodiversity hotspots in
terms of vertebrate species, endemic vertebrates, and endemic plants (Myers et al., 2000).
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The dominant pattern of biodiversity is to increase towards the equator and to decrease
towards the poles (Brown, 2014). About half of all plant species occur in tropical forests
near the equator, in only about 7% of the world's total land surface area (Eiserhardt,
Couvreur, & Baker, 2017). Tree diversity is highest in the tropical lowlands of the
"Amazonas" part of South America, including Ecuador's Oriente, whereas non-tree
vascular plant diversity is concentrated in the highly dissected mountainous terrain and
cloud forests of Northwestern South America, largely due to the high levels of endemism
in such terrain (Gentry, 1992; Jørgensen & Léon-Yánez, 1999; Leon-Yanez et al., 2012;
Ulloa et al., 2017).
Although biodiversity typically decreases with elevation, there is a secondary increase in
diversity in the Andean cloud forest zone, which occurs between about 800 and 3500 m,
depending on the distance from the sea and size of the mountain (Bruijnzeel, Mulligan, &
Scatena, 2011). These persistently foggy and rainy forests are speciose with epiphytes,
such as orchids and bromeliads (Gentry & Dodson, 1987; Kuper, Kreft, Nieder, Koster,
& Barthlott, 2004). Several other taxa have higher diversity in the cloud forest zone
relative to either higher or lower elevations, including: moths (Brehm et al., 2016), frogs
(Willig & Presley, 2016), caddisflies (Blanca Ríos-Touma, Holzenthal, Huisman,
Thomson, & Rázuri-Gonzales, 2017), and tree ferns (Ramirez-Barahona, Luna-Vega, &
Tejero-Diez, 2011). Ecuador is crossed by two main mountain ranges, the Cordillera
Occidental and the Cordillera Oriental, each with cloud forest zones that differ in floristic
composition and that harbor specialized microhabitats with narrow endemic species and
due to its latitude, Ecuador’s vegetation has northern and southern elements (Jørgensen &
Léon-Yánez, 1999).
Tropical regions are diverse, to a large degree, because there is a constant supply of
energy from the direct angle of the sun at the equator combined with high rainfall as a
result of the heating (Kreft & Jetz, 2007). Water supply and energy drive about 70% of
the variation in species diversity (Kreft & Jetz, 2007). However, some diversity can also
be ascribed to habitat stability. Both fossil and phylogenetic methods suggest that some
lineages have been present for 67–115 million years, indicating climate stability and low
overall extinction rates (Eiserhardt et al., 2017). To the stability of climate at the low
elevations, the Andes added rapid change in the uplands. Recent uplift, steep elevation
and climate gradients over short distances, and spatial complexity, have led to vast
changes in species composition on short spatial scales (Kreft & Jetz, 2007). The rapidity
of the uplift of the Andes has also increased speciation rates by forming physical and
climatic barriers to gene flow, and by opening up new niches (Antonelli, Nylander,
Persson, & Sanmartin, 2009; Bell, 2004; Eiserhardt et al., 2017; Hughes & Eastwood,
2006; Kreft & Jetz, 2007; Scherson, Vidal, & Sanderson, 2008)Thus, the neotropics are
acting both as a museum of biodiversity
accumulated over a long time in the lowlands,
and as a cradle of new innovations
and speciation spurred by the uplift of the Andes
(Kreft & Jetz, 2007).
A Fragile Diversity
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The spatial complexity that is partially responsible for Ecuador’s hyperdiversity also
represents a particular vulnerability to land changes such as those posed by the proposed
mining projects. Many Andean species have very limited ranges due to a combination of
microclimatic and topographical barriers reducing dispersal (Eiserhardt et al., 2017;
Hughes & Eastwood, 2006). For example, 27% of the known plants in Ecuador are
endemic, and many of the endemics are known from only one of a few localities in a
single province, and are thus not found anywhere else in the world (Jørgensen &
Léon-Yánez, 1999; Leon-Yanez et al., 2012; Valencia, Pitman, León-Yánez, &
Jorgensen, 2000). The rates of endemism are greater in the mountains than in the
lowlands that straddle them (Borchsenius, 1997; Pitman & Jorgensen, 2002). With such
spatially limited endemism, even a single mining project threatens the survival of species,
such as the critically endangered longnose harlequin frog (Atelopus longirostris
), which
is in danger of extinction by the Llurimagua mining project (Tapia, Coloma,
Pazmiño-Otamendi, & Peñafiel, 2017).
Protected Lands in Ecuador
There are several major types of protected areas in Ecuador (Horstman, 2017;
Lopez-Rodriguez & Rosado, 2017).
1. Heritage Natural Areas (= Patrimonio de Áreas Naturales del Estado, or Sistema
Nacional de Área Protegidas = SNAP), including National Parks, which are set aside and
funded by the Ecuadorian national government and run as public institutions.
2. Areas of Forest and Protected Vegetation (= Áreas de Bosque y Vegetación Protectora
= ABVP = Bosques Protectores = BP), which are recognized by the national government
but not funded by it. Recognition by the government of Bosques Protectores enables legal
support when conflicts in land use occur, including help with illegal logging and squatters
(Horstman, 2017).
3. Private Reserves, which are not necessarily recognized by the national government,
nor funded by it. However, some national programs exist to promote the conservation of
forests by private landowners, such as the successful Socio Bosque program. These are
owned by individuals or private collectives.
4. Community Reserves, which are neither recognized by the national government, nor
funded by it. These are “private” reserves that are owned and managed by local Parish
governments for the benefit of the community.
There are numerous habitats and associated biodiversity that are underrepresented in the
SNAP system, but three stand out in particular as needing more protection: coastal dry
forests, which are located near population centers (Horstman, 2017), and the forests of
southern and western Ecuador (Borchsenius, 1997; Sierra, Campos, & Chamberlin,
2002). The forests of the west, including cloud forests, are nearly gone. In 2000, it was
estimated that more than 96% of the primary forested land in western Ecuador had been
cleared (Myers et al., 2000), and much of that remaining 4% has been lost since then. A
large portion of the remaining forest is in Bosques Protectores, and now 30% of these are
under threat due to new mining concessions (Vandegrift et al., 2017). Figure 1A shows
how the concessions disproportionately affect the southern and northwestern regions of
the Andes, the areas with the highest biodiversity.
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Bosques Protectores arose in the late 1980’s, with the enactment of the National Forestry
Law (Horstman, 2017). While typically smaller than the nationally protected SNAP
areas, Bosques Protectores are often relatively large (averaging 13,155 ha), and in total
they currently make up about one third of protected lands in Ecuador (Vandegrift et al.,
2017). Because they cover a wide diversity of habitats, even small Bosques Protectores
are of great importance for protecting a diversity of endemic species, which are typically
found at only a few localities (Borchsenius, 1997). In addition to Bosques Protectores, the
Ministry of the Environment manages the Socio Bosque program, where landowners are
paid up to $30 per hectare to conserve native forests on their land. Private reserves and
community reserves often fail to qualify for formal status as protected areas, but represent
a significant portion of conserved land in Ecuador. In the Intag valley, the local
organization DECOIN (Organización de Defensa y Conservación Ecológica de Intag) has
helped 38 communities purchase and manage community reserves, leading to the
protection of some 12,000 hectares (28,650 acres) of land (Veintimilla 2017), including
the Júnin Community Cloud Forest Reserve (discussed below).
Deforestation accounts for 12–24% of greenhouse gas emissions due to human activities
(Gibbs, Brown, Niles, & Foley, 2007; IPCC, 2014). The Socio Bosque program pays
communities or individuals to preserve forest to reduce climate change. For the last
several years, Ecuador has been moving to increase the value of standing forests by
investing in the Socio Bosque program, with the financial help of REDD+ (Lima,
Visseren-Hamakers, Brana-Varela, & Gupta, 2017). More than 173,000 Ecuadorians
have benefited from this program (Lima et al., 2017); however, recent ministry budgetary
constraint has resulted in members failing to receive payments since 2015, with many
questioning the program’s survival (Ortiz, 2017). This, in addition to the new mining
concessions, indicate that the government is turning away from conservation.
Mining and Environmental Legislation
Metal mining in Ecuador has historically been small-scale and artisanal, the majority of it
concentrated in the south of the country. Ecuador’s mining legislation was
correspondingly rudimentary and was not well defined until 1937, when subsoil metals
were named property of the state. Environmental legislation specific to mining was
absent from Ecuador until new laws came into effect in 1991 (Congreso 1991). This
legislation limited the granting of concessions in protected lands and mandated
environmental impact assessments for all mining activities. In 1994 the World Bank
funded the Project for Mining Development and Environmental Control (Spanish
acronym: PRODEMINCA) with the aim of developing the Ecuadorian mining sector
(Davidov 2013). The project collected mineralogical information from 3.6 million
hectares of mostly western Ecuador, including seven protected regions. The regulatory
recommendations made by PRODEMINCA were codified into law in 2000, identifying
mining as a national priority and significantly deregulated the sector (Congreso Nacional,
2000). However, under the revamped regulations, mining development remained
prohibited in government protected areas (Tarras-Wahlberg et al., 2000), which have thus
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far been interpreted to be only the SNAP protected areas described above, leaving the
Bosques Protectores vulnerable.
The next major changes occurred with the adoption of Ecuador’s new constitution in
2008, which included the “Mining Mandate” that reverted the majority of mining
concessions to state ownership (Wacaster, 2010). The new constitution also included the
historic decision to give nature inherent rights (articles 71–74, (Asamblea Nacional,
2008)). However, the new laws also allowed mining in protected areas by special request
of the president and approval by the National Assembly. In 2009 the government of
Rafael Correa authored a new Mining Law, which increased regulation on mining
companies. While the law did augment some environmental standards, it was met by
widespread protests by indigenous and social movements that had hoped for stronger
environmental and social guarantees. In 2015 and 2016 the Correa government made
deregulatory modifications to the mining law to incentivize foreign investment. These
changes included decreasing the corporate tax rate and windfall tax on mining companies
(Unda, 2017). This made the acquisition of mining concessions much easier, leading to
the bidding and auctioning of mineral concessions in State possession throughout that
year (Ministry of Mines, 2016), and resulting in the recent increase in granted
concessions (Figure 1).
A more sustainable way forward
Responsible development of the region’s infrastructure with an eye for long-term
sustainability, education, ecotourism, and research represents a much more sustainable
way forward for Ecuador’s last uncut forests, and the people who call them home
(Asquith, Vargas, & Wunder, 2008; Kocian, Batker, & Harrison-Cox, 2011; Pozo,
Aguirre, & Sanchez, 2016; Welford & Barilla, 2013). In fact, stable local businesses
already exist adjacent to many Bosques Protectores and ecotourism in the area has
experienced steady growth (Kocian et al., 2011). These local businesses promote
ecotourism and science, and typically involve many community members of all ages and
genders. This is in sharp contrast to the effects of mining, which typically creates a
short-term economy that ends when the mines close, and with 95% of the jobs being held
by men (Walter, Tomás, Munda, & Larrea, 2016).
In the rest of this review, we illustrate the major role that Bosques Protectores are playing
in preservation of biodiversity and related ecosystem services, while also serving as a
sustainable engine for local economies. To illustrate the biodiversity, we have built
comparative species lists from several reserves in the exceptionally biodiverse Chocó and
Tropical Andes regions of NW Ecuador. We also briefly indicate how each reserve is
benefiting the local economy.
METHODS
Localities:
The medium and large Bosques Protectores discussed herein are shown in Figure 3. They
lie just to the South of the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, and include: Los
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Cedros (68% in concession), El Chontal (95% in concession), Mashpi (96% in
concession), and Maquipucuna (36% in concession). Since BP El Chontal is so poorly
explored (virtually no published data), we used several other small reserves (<500
hectares) in the Intag Valley from which we could find data to gain an idea of the
biodiversity in that region (BP La Florida Cloud Forest Reserve (abbreviated La Florida),
El Refugio de Intag Lodge (abbreviated El Refugio), and the Júnin Community Cloud
Forest Reserve (abbreviated Junín), see Figure 4. Hereafter, we will refer to this set of
reserves as the “Intag”.
All the reserves studied herein lie in the region that is recognized to be the most
important for the conservation of two critically endangered species, the brown-headed
spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps
ssp. fusciceps
) (Peck et al., 2010), and the black-breasted
puffleg hummingbird (Eriocnemis nigrivestis
) (Jahn, 2008). It is also home to hundreds
of other endangered species from birds to frogs to orchids (Tables 1–4 and Appendices
1–6), and includes Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (Figure 1B). Two of the
reserves, Los Cedros and El Chontal, share a border with the nationally protected
Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve.
Figure 3. Maps showing the extent of the mining concessions and overlap with Bosques
Protectores and Indigenous lands in the region around the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological
Reserve. A. The Indigenous Awá lands (yellow) are to the north and are covered by
almost 70% concessions, indicated in darker yellow; indigenous lands are discussed in a
different publication (Vandegrift et al. 2017). All the Bosques Protectores under
discussion herein are to the S of Cotacachi; they are dark green, unless covered by a
concession, then they are brown. B. An expanded panel of the Intag Valley showing the
smaller reserves in blue.
Data Collection:
Species lists were assembled for all the reserves for mammals, birds, amphibians, and
reptiles (Appendices 1–4). The orchids were assembled for the two reserves with
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specimen vouchered data (Maquipucuna and Los Cedros, Appendix 5), and a partial list
of plants was assembled for Los Cedros, primarily from published papers, but also
including some previously unpublished data (Appendix 6). Nomenclature follows that of
the Tropicos (2017) plant database.
To assemble the bird table, we used records from eBird for each of the localities for
which these lists existed (Los Cedros (eBird, 2017c), La Florida (eBird, 2017b),
Maquipucuna (eBird, 2017d), Mashpi (eBird, 2017e), and El Refugio (eBird, 2017a).
eBird is vetted by local experts who verify the occurrences, and it uses a standardized
format. We added in any published bird data found, if it was not yet in eBird, and
additional data from the reserve managers at La Florida and El Refugio. For bird
common names in English, we used eBird, for common names in Spanish we used the
Lista de las Aves del Ecuador
(J. F. Freile et al., 2015-2017). To assemble the other
species lists we used reserve records when backed up by photos, videos, or experts, and
to search for publications we used the reserve names as keywords in Google Scholar,
Web of Science, and the Google search engine. We also searched for protected area place
names in the excellent online databases for amphibians (Ron, Yanez-Muñoz,
Merino-Viteri, & Ortiz, 2017), reptiles (Torres-Carvajal, Pazmiño-Otamendi, &
Salazar-Valenzuela, 2017), and mammals (Brito, Camacho, Romero, & Vallejo, 2017)
produced by the Museo de Zoología, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador
(PUCE). We used the Spanish common names for all animals from these databases, and
the English common names from either the Museo de Zoología websites or IUCN (2017).
To assess rarity:
We used a combination of international and national (Ecuadorian) databases. For birds
and animals, we used the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species
(IUCN, 2017), and for the
plants, the Tropicos database (Tropicos, 2017). Since the international databases are not
updated as regularly as the Ecuadorian Red lists as cited in the Museo de Zoología
databases (Brito et al., 2017; Ron et al., 2017; Torres-Carvajal et al., 2017), we give both
assessments when they differ, with the national red list proceeding that of the IUCN in
our lists. Most of the rare species in Ecuador are endemics that do not occur anywhere
else, so the Ecuador Red list is usually the most accurate rarity assessment. All the
databases use the IUCN graduated system of rarity (IUCN, 2017), ranging from least
threatened to extinct: NT=near threatened, VU=vulnerable to extinction,
EN=Endangered, CR=Critically endangered, EW=Extinct in the wild, EX=Extinct. There
are three other categories not included as rare in our lists: LC=least concern, DD=data
deficient, and NE=never evaluated. We note, however, that quite often organisms that are
in the DD or NE categories are also rare, they simply have not been assessed yet (NE) or
there is insufficient data to assess them (DD), which is often an indication of rarity.
RESULTS
Los Cedros (0°18'35.62"N, 78°46'47.01"W)
(http://reservaloscedros.org) is located between 980 and 2,200 m elevation. It is fully in
the cloud forest zone. It receives 2903±186 mm of rain per year at the 1,300 m elevation
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of the fieldstation, based on 15 years of reserve records (J. DeCoux, pers. comm.). At the
higher elevations, considerably more rain falls. Los Cedros is remote; it takes 6–7 hours
to get to Los Cedros from Quito, including a two-hour mule ride. Sixty-eight percent of
its 5,256 hectares of protected cloud forest have recently been put into mining
concessions. Candidate areas for copper-containing porphyries in the reserve have been
identified by aeromagnetic surveys, conducted without permission of the landowners. Los
Cedros is not accessible by road, and for this reason has been, to date, both better
protected and less scientifically explored than some other Bosques Protectores.
Table 1. The 163 rare species known to occur at Bosque Protector Reserva Los
Cedros as of 15 Jan 2018. Orange color indicates the rare classes, in order of most
endangered, as defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Unique species are those not found at any of the other areas we studied.
GROUP
(CR)
(EN)
(VU)
(NT)
(LC)
(DD)
(NE)
total
unique
Orchidsa
0
2
57
11
16
2
95
184
106
Birdsb
0
3
9
13
276
0
1
302
22
Mammals-
Non-bat
2
2
9
4
13
2
0
32
7
Mammals-Batsc
0
0
0
0
1
0
0
1
0
Reptilesc
0
0
1
4
4
0
0
9
4
Amphibians
0
4
2
4
2
2
1
15
4
Other plants d
0
9
16
10
5
0
190
236
-
TOTAL
2
20
94
47
323
6
290
782
a Understudied; 400 orchid species likely occur there says expert C. Dodson.
b About 100 more are likely; to protect the reserve there are few trails and it is
infrequently visited due to distance from Quito.
c Not yet studied at the reserve.
d Understudied; the expected number of plants is well over 2,000. The reserve has never
been catalogued. The plants listed here were mentioned in studies for other things, such
as monkeys, or were genera specifically targeted for study by a specialist.
Species:
Los Cedros is known to protect at least 163 rare species (critically endangered = 2,
endangered = 20, vulnerable = 94, and near threatened = 47) see Table 1 and Appendices
1–6). Its remoteness is why it still has three species of monkey: the critically endangered
brown-headed spider monkey (Ateles fusciceps fusciceps),
the vulnerable white-headed
capuchin (Cebus capucinus
), and the endangered mantled howler monkey (Alouatta
palliata
), as well as the vulnerable Andean Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus
)
(Appendix 1). Remoteness and good habitat also explain why there are six species of
cats, including the critically endangered Jaguar (Panthera onca
), the vulnerable Oncilla
(Leopardus tigrinus
) and the near threatened Margay (Leopardus wiedii
). Jaguars are
now extremely rare in western Ecuador due to habitat loss and need for large ranges
(Zapata-Ríos & Araguillin, 2013)In addition to Los Cedros (BirdLife International,
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2017), a Jaguar was recently photographed in nearby (<5 km) Manduriacu Reserve (Jost,
2016)on the Manduriacu river, which originates in Los Cedros, and have also been seen
in the adjacent Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve (Zapata-Ríos & Araguillin, 2013).
Prey include the Little Red Brocket Deer (vulnerable), which—along with other prey
such as the agouti, peccary, and monkeys—are rapidly hunted out of reserves by people
when there are nearby roads.
Los Cedros is a bird hotspot (eBird, 2017c). Of the 302 bird species seen at Los Cedros
(Appendix 2), at least 25 are endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened due to habitat
loss, even before the latest mining concessions. Many of the birds at Los Cedros are
found only in the cloud forests of the Chocó region (BirdLife International, 2017;
Cooper, Ridgely, Ortiz, & Jahn, 2006), and include very recently described species such
as the cloud-forest pygmy owl (Glaucidium nubicola
) (J. Freile et al., 2013). In addition,
these forests harbor a number of vulnerable and near threatened neotropical migrants that
summer in Canada and the United States, such as the cerulean warbler (Setophaga
cerulea)
and olive-sided flycatcher (Contopus cooperi)
, whose populations depend on
having winter habitat. Comparing the reserves being highlighted here, twenty-two species
of bird are only found at Los Cedros and not at the other reserves, including 5 of the 25
rare birds (Appendix 2). Based on the number of reported species in nearby reserves, and
habitats present, it is expected that the final list for Los Cedros will have around 400 bird
species; it is less frequently “birded” than more accessible reserves.
The frogs are fantastic, almost all rare and found only in the local cloud forests
(Appendix 3). For example, the recently described rainfrog, Prisimantis mutabilis,
is only
known from two streams, one of which is at Los Cedros (Guayasamin, Krynak, Krynak,
Culebras, & Hutter, 2015). This remarkable frog is able to change its skin texture, a
feature never before seen in frogs (Guayasamin, Krynak, et al., 2015). Another of the
rainfrogs was described from and named for Los Cedros: Pristimantis cedros
. This
species is locally common at Los Cedros, but has not been collected elsewhere (Hutter &
Guayasamin, 2015).
Reptiles (Appendix 4) and bats (Appendix 1) are yet to be systematically studied at Los
Cedros, but incidental records indicate that the reptiles are likely to be interesting. For
example, there are coral snakes (Micrurus ancoralis
, NT) and their mimics (Oxyhopus
petolaris
, LC) and the bizarre reticulate worm snake (Amerotyphlops reticulatus
), which
looks like a very fat foot-long worm and lives in the litter layer of the forest. Bats tend to
be widespread without local endemics as can be seen in Table 2, but it would still be
useful to determine which bats are at Los Cedros.
The Los Cedros forest is extraordinarily rich in plant species, with at least 299 tree
species per hectare (Peck et al., 2010; Thomas, Vandegrift, Ludden, Carroll, & Roy,
2016). Associated with this forest are many fungi (Dentinger & Roy, 2010; Policha et al.,
2016; Thomas et al., 2016), which are essential for forest growth (Vandenkoornhuyse,
Quaiser, Duhamel, Le Van, & Dufresne, 2015) and decomposition (Yang et al., 2016).
Two species of fungi proposed to the relatively new IUCN Global Fungal Red List
Initiative, Lamelloporus americanus
and Hygrocybe aphylla
, are known from Los Cedros
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(Newman, Vandegrift, Roy and Dentinger, unpublished data), and many additional rare
taxa are anticipated. Collections made there since 2008 have resulted in several hundred
morphospecies, whose precise identifications are the subject of ongoing research.
Many plants in the Los Cedros forest are local endemics with small ranges (Appendix 6),
including several orchids only known from Los Cedros (Appendix 5). Los Cedros
currently has 187 orchid species on its list (Appendix 5). Of these, 71 (38.5%) are known
to be some category of rare (endangered, vulnerable, threatened) and most of these are
localized endemics. Seventeen of these rare orchids were originally described from Los
Cedros, and at least seven of these have never been found elsewhere. Ninety-eight (52%)
of the orchid species from Los Cedros have never been evaluated for rarity because they
are not endemics and it is difficult to assess rarity across country borders (Endara & Jost,
2011). However, we note that at least a dozen of the NE species barely range into
Colombia, and are thus likely threatened.
The numbers of orchid species found to date at Los Cedros (Appendix 5) are
underestimates because of its inaccessibility; the final list is likely to be near 400 species
(C. Dodson pers. com.). The absolute size of the orchid floras cannot be compared with
our data, since the orchids have not been completely catalogued at Los Cedros, but we
could examine the overlap of what was known at Los Cedros with the only other reserve
for which orchid data was available, the better studied Maquipucuna. Los Cedros shares
only 43% of its known orchid diversity with Maquipucuna. For a specific example, there
are 14 species in the orchid genus Dracula
at Los Cedros (Appendix 5), all of but three of
which are endangered or vulnerable. Only four of the 14 Dracula
species at Los Cedros
also occur at Maquipucuna, at which only five species of Dracula
have been recorded
(Appendix 5 and (Webster & Rhode, 2001)).
Note that each orchid species is associated with pollinators, which themselves are
speciose and understudied. For example, studies of the mushroom-mimicking orchid
Dracula lafleurii
uncovered at least 60 new species of fruit flies that pollinate it (Endara,
Grimaldi, & Roy, 2010; Policha, 2014; Policha et al., 2016; Policha et al., submitted).
These unnamed flies are related to a model organism, the common fruit fly (Drosophila
melanogaster
), which is widely used in genetics and neurobiology studies that benefit
humans (Roberts, 2006).
Los Cedros protects the origins of three rivers: the Río Manduriacu, the Río Verde, and
the Río Los Cedros, plus it encompasses the south bank of the upper Río Magdalena
Chico. These rivers supply freshwater to people lower down, and are the habitat for an
amazing diversity of life themselves. In an exploratory three- night survey, almost 40
species of caddisflies (Trichoptera) were collected, of which more than a third are
probably new to science (Blanca Ríos-Touma et al., 2017). Considering that this is only
one of the eleven orders of aquatic macroinvertebrates in the area (Knee & Encalada,
2014), the potential number of novel species is enormous.
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The field station at Los Cedros can lodge up to 40 people at a time, and is visited by local
and university classes, ecotourists, and scientists. It benefits the nearby communities of
Magdalena Alta and Chontal with employment (guides, cooks, etc.) and by buying
supplies and services there. Ecuadorian visitors and scientists are charged lower rates
than tourists and foreign scientists. Los Cedros is governed by Fundación Los Cedros,
which includes staff, local community leaders, and representatives from environmental
groups.
Mashpi (0° 9'57.17"N, 78°52'39.38"W)
(https://www.mashpilodge.com) is located between 550 and 1400 m elevation, and thus
encompasses both tropical forest (to about 900 m) and lower montane cloud forest above
that. The reserve website states Mashpi receives up to 6 meters of rain, but to our
knowledge, there is not a weather station at the lodge. Mashpi is less remote than Los
Cedros--about a three-hour drive from Quito. Ninety-six percent of its 1,178 hectares are
now in mining concessions.
Table 2. The 69 Rare species known to occur at Bosque Protector Mashpi as of 15
Jan 2018. Orange color indicates the rare classes, in order of most endangered, as
defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Unique species
are those not found at any of the other areas we studied.
GROUP
(CR)
(EN)
(VU)
(NT)
(LC)
(DD)
(NE)
totals
unique
Orchidsa
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
Birdsb
0
4
5
13
278
0
1
301
33
Mammals-
Non-batc
1+1?
2
6
4
15
2
1
31
5
Mammals-Bats
0
0
0
1
15
2
2
20
10
Reptiles
0
2
7
9
10
1
0
29
20
Amphibians
0
2
7
6
8
8
0
31
18
Other plantsa
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
TOTAL
1+1?
10
25
33
326
13
4
412
a Not yet systematically studied at the reserve.
b There are several eBird localities in or near Mashpi; we used the records from the lodge
and associated trails (i.e., not including the road in).
c The CR brown headed spider monkeys are rumored to be present, but neither photos at
the reserve nor expert documentation have been found, so it is represented in the table
with a question mark.
Species:
Mashpi is known to protect at least 69 rare species (critically endangered = 1+1?,
endangered = 10, vulnerable = 25, and near threatened = 33, see Table 2 and Appendices
1–5). The forest at Mashpi is still in excellent condition, as indicated by the presence of
two primate species (the critically endangered white-fronted capuchin (Cebus
aequatorialis
) and the endangered howler monkey (Alouatta palliata)
, as well as several
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cats (Table 2). Historically, Mashpi was part of the range for the critically endangered
brown-headed spider monkeys (Peck et al., 2010), and though there are rumors that
spider monkeys have been seen at Mashpi, we found no photos or expert sightings to
verify this; we represent this uncertainty with a question mark in Table 2 and Appendix 1.
The lower elevation of Mashpi compared with all the others we discuss in this region
enables the presence of species that occur in warmer, lower elevation forests, such as
anteaters (Tamandua mexicana
).
Mashpi is also a bird hotspot (eBird, 2017e), with 301 species recorded from the lodge
and trail system (Appendix 2). It protects a different set of birds than Los Cedros, with 33
unique species (Appendix 2), in part reflecting its lower elevation than the other reserves
and its combination of montane tropical and lower cloud forests. Of the 22 rare &
endangered bird species at Mashpi (Appendix 2), seven are not found at any of the other
reserves examined. Perhaps the most interesting of these is the endangered Chocó vireo
(Vireo masteri
),
which is only known from a few localities in Colombia and one, Mashpi,
in Ecuador (BirdLife International, 2018).
About half of Mashpi’s observed amphibians, 15/31, are endangered, vulnerable, or near
threatened, and about a third are endemic to Ecuador (Table 2, Appendix 3). The
amphibians very clearly indicate the lower elevations at Mashpi. Eighteen of its 31
amphibians have thus far only been found there (Appendix 3) and not at the other
reserves we are profiling, and all 18 of these have ranges mostly under 900 m (Appendix
3), the lower elevation limit for the other reserves included herein. Most of the lower
elevation amphibians are widespread lowland forest “chocoan” species, whereas
endemism and rarity is concentrated in the higher elevation cloud forest taxa (Appendix
3). Mashpi is the primary home for the Mashpi stream tree frog (Hyloscirtus mashpi
),
which was described from its streams. This frog is only known from a total of three
localities and is most common at Mashpi (Guayasamin, Rivera-Correa, et al., 2015).
Of the reserves reported on here, Mashpi is the only one that has had dedicated attention
paid to the reptiles, and thus its list is more complete: 29 species to date. Similar to the
amphibians, many of the reptiles at Mashpi are reported from there and not the other
reserves (20/29 or 69%, Table 2, Appendix 4). Warmer, lower elevations likely led to a
higher number of species present, including the South American snapping turtle
(Chelydra acutirostris)
and the Northern eyelash boa (Trachyboa boulengeri
), which do
not occur at higher elevations. More than half the reptiles are rare, including two vipers,
which are usually killed when humans encounter them.
Mashpi has also paid attention to its aquatic biodiversity. Preliminary results indicate
there are at least 21 fish species (Franco, Falconí, Ríos-Tourma, Morochz, & Tobes,
2017) and up to 96 genera of aquatic macroinvertebrates (B. Ríos-Touma, Morabowen,
Tobes, & Morochz, 2017), including around 60 species of caddisflies (Blanca
Ríos-Touma et al., 2017).
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The ecolodge at Mashpi is a five-star hotel that has garnered international praise for its
innovation and sustainability (Mashpi, 2018). As part of their commitment to
sustainability, they use some of their profits to maintain a scientist on staff. Support of
the local communities includes education opportunities, the hiring of guides and staff for
the lodge and buying of supplies from local producers. Also, at San José de Mashpi,
preserves like Mashpishungo and Pambiliño work in conservation, grow sustainable
produce, and community empowerment through ecotourism.
Maquipucuna (0° 7'0.12"N, 78°37'45.23"W)
(https://www.maquipucuna.org) is located between 900 and 2,700 m elevation. Thirty-six
percent of its 2,474 hectares of protected land are now in mining concessions. Rainfall
has never been systematically measured at Maquipucuna, but is likely to be at or above
that of nearby Nanegalito (3230 mm) according to Webster and Rhode (2001). Of the
reserves detailed here, Maquipucuna is the least remote; taking only two hours on
developed roads from Quito. For this reason, it has more visitors and is better understood
scientifically, but its wildlife and birds are adversely affected by the proximity to roads.
For example, there are no longer monkeys at Maquipucuna.
Table 3. The 99 Rare species known to occur at Bosque Protector Maquipucuna as
of 15 Jan 2018. Orange color indicates the rare classes, in order of most endangered, as
defined by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Unique species
are those not found at any of the other areas we studied.
GROUP
(CR)
(EN)
(VU)
(NT)
(LC)
(DD)
(NE)
totals
unique
Orchids
0
1
45
14
16
2
204
282
207
Birds
0
1
4
6
296
0
0
307
18
Mammals-
Non-bat
0
2
4
5
15
4
0
30
9
Mammals-Bats
0
0
0
0
11
0
0
11
3
Reptiles
1
0
2
4
6
2
2
17
6
Amphibians
0
5
3
2
4
1
2
17
5
Other plantsa
-
-
-
-
-
-
-
1714
-
TOTAL
1
9
58
31
348
9
208
2378
a A flora has been completed (Webster & Rhode, 2001, 2005), but with the exception of
the orchids, we did not individually query each of the 1,996 species in Tropicos for rarity;
quite a few will be rare.
Species:
Maquipucuna is known to protect at least 99 rare species (critically endangered = 1,
endangered = 9, vulnerable = 58, and near threatened = 31, see Tables 3 and Appendices
1–5). The most interesting mammal (Appendix 1) is the endangered Spectacled Bear
(Tremarctos ornatus
), the only South American bear, which also occurs at two of our
other highlighted reserves, Los Cedros and in the Intag Valley. When the wild avocados
are fruiting, the bears migrate to a few places where they are easily seen in Maquipucuna,
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creating a tourist attraction (Maquipucuna, 2018). About a third (9/30) non-bat mammals
at Maquipucuna do not appear on the lists of any of our other studied reserves (Appendix
1). Of these, six are common LC species, but two are interesting near threatened small
mammals, the water opossum Chironectes minimus
and the
mountain paca, Cuniculus
taczanowskii,
and one, the beady-eyed mouse, Thomasomys baeops
, is data deficient.
Maquipucuna is also a bird hotspot (eBird, 2017d), with 307 species recorded from the
lodge and trail system (Appendix 2). It protects a different set of birds than the other
reserves, with 18 unique species. However, of the 11 rare and endangered bird species at
Maquipucuna (Appendix 2), only one is unique to Maquipucuna, the black and chestnut
eagle (Spizaetus isidori)
. Some of the rare birds missing from Maquipucuna, but present
at the other reserves, are the ground-dwelling birds, such as the Baudo guan, Penelope
ortini,
which suffer when nearby roads facilitate illegal hunting.
Ten of the seventeen amphibians reported from Maquipucuna are some category of rare,
including eight species of rainfrog, one toad, and one salamander (Appendix 3). Similar
to Los Cedros and Mashpi, Maquipucuna has a frog species, Hyloxalus maquipucuna
,
that was discovered there and is known only from this locality, but in this case, it is
member of the poison dart frog family (Dendrobatidae) instead of being a rainfrog
(Strabomantidae). Four other frog species from Maquipucuna are also not found at our
other reserves (Appendix 3), following the pattern of localized cloud forest endemics.
Seventeen species of reptiles have been reported from Maquipucuna (Appendix 4). The
most endangered species is an endemic snake, Tantilla insulamontana,
which is critically
endangered.
Very little is known about this snake, which has been rarely seen; the main
threats are habitat destruction, fragmentation and contamination (Torres-Carvajal et al.,
2017).
Orchids (Appendix 5) were largely discussed under Los Cedros, the only other BP under
discussion here for which we have detailed and at least partially vouchered data for
orchids. Maquipucuna has one endangered orchid species, Masdevallia ventricularia
,
which is also at Los Cedros, and it has 45 vulnerable and 14 near threatened orchids
(Table 3 & Appendix 5). Maquipucuna only shared 75 species with Los Cedros. While
Los Cedros is particularly rich in Dracula
and other pleurothallids such as Acronia
,
Maquipucuna is richer in Cyrtochilum
, Elleanthus
and Epidendrum
species. These
differences may be real due to topographic or climatic differences (the Río Guayllabamba
runs between the reserves and could be a barrier, for example), or they may be due to
collection bias at Los Cedros. We hope that our lists spur future work.
Social & Economic:
Maquipucuna has an ecolodge frequented by birders and other ecotourists, and its website
(Maquipucuna, 2018) states that “over 120 families benefit from ecotourism projects
initiated and supported by Maquipucuna”. For example, they helped the nearby village of
Yungilla to switch from charcoal production to reforestation and ecotourism
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(Gosdenovich, 2015; Houns, 2013), and are working to find ways to grow coffee and
cacao more sustainably (Gosdenovich, 2015; Justicia, 2007).
Intag Valley
The Intag Valley is a region in the Cotacachi canton of the Imbabura province, partially
defined by its location as the watershed of the Intag river, but also defined culturally by
the network of communities in eastern Cotacachi canton that cooperate on conservation
and economic development projects. Due to earlier mining concessions and rich copper
deposits, exploration has progressed the furthest in the Intag Valley as compared to
elsewhere in NW Ecuador, with significant environmental consequences already
apparent, just from “exploration” (Figure 2). We aggregated all data from the Intag area
into a single column (“Intag”) in the Appendices, but kept the source of the data separate;
most of what we found was from reserves 2–4, below, for location in the Intag Valley see
(Fig. 3):
1. Bosque Protector El Chontal (0° 21' 45'' N, 78° 42' 4" W)
(http://www.zoobreviven.org/elchontal.htm) with an elevation range between 1,000 and
4200 m. Ninety five percent of its 6,989 hectares are now in mining concessions
(Agencia de Regulación y Control Minero, 2017; Vandegrift et al., 2017).
2. Bosque Protector La Florida Cloud Forest Reserve (0° 22' 0.01" N, 78° 28' 54.17" W)
(https://intagcloudforest.com) with an elevation range between 1800 and 2800 m.
El Refugio de Intag Lodge (0° 22' 25.32'' N, 78° 28' 33.6'' W),
(www.elrefugiocloudforest.com), a private reserve.
3. Júnin Community Cloud Forest Reserve (0° 17' 18.11" N, 78° 40' 0.47" W), a
community owned reserve (http://www.junincloudforest.com/).
Table 4. The 61 Rare species known to occur in the Intag Valley as of 15 Jan 2018.
Orange color indicates the rare classes, in order of most endangered, as defined by the
International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Unique species are those not
found at any of the other areas we studied.
GROUP
totals
unique
Orchidsa
13
-
Birdsb
285
50
Mammals-
Non-batc
5
2?
Mammals-
Bats
11
8
Reptiles
10
4
Amphibians
37
19
Other plantsa
-
-
TOTAL
362
a Not yet studied in the Valley; any records are from isolated studies.
b The CR black-breasted puffleg was recently rediscovered in the Toisán range, which
borders the Intag Valley (Jahn, 2008).
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c The CR brown headed spider monkey is not known from the Valley but is thought likely
in Bosque Protector El Chontal.
Species:
The Intag Valley is known to protect at least 61 rare species (critically endangered =
4+1?, endangered = 11+1?, vulnerable = 28, and near threatened = 18, see Table 4, &
Appendices 1–5). The Intag Valley is home to four critically endangered species (Table
1): the black-breasted puffleg (Eriocnemis nigrivestis)
, two frogs (Ectopoglossus
confusus
and Hyloacalus jacobspetersi
), and a toad, confusingly called the harlequin frog
(Atelopus longirostis
). A fifth critically endangered species, the brown-headed spider
monkey, is likely to be in the under-explored Bosque Protector El Chontal (Peck et al.,
2010).
The only non-bat mammals that have been reported from Intag are all large, and all but
one is rare (Table 4, Appendix 1), including the endangered Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos
ornatus
). Another endangered mammal that may be in El Chontal/Intag Valley, is the
mountain tapir (Tapirus pinchaque
). According to the El Chontal website (Fundación
Zoobreviven, 2018) mountain tapirs are present and being hunted, but there are no photos
and we could find no other modern records of this species being present in the Intag, so
we represent the potential presence of this species with a question mark in Appendix 1.
There is good data on the bat fauna of the Intag Valley, because they were mist netted in
the Junín Cloud Forest Reserve (Cueva-A, Pozo-R, & Peck, 2013). The only other
reserve that has comparable bat data is Maquipucuna (Appendix 1). None of the bats in
Maquipucuna are rare, but three are near threatened (NT) in the Intag.
The Intag combined list of birds is 277, just a few short of the 300 eBird uses to define a
“hotspot”. This list (Appendix 2) is likely incomplete since neither the extensive El
Chontal Reserve nor the nearby Junín have been surveyed. The Intag provides homes for
a different subset of birds than Los Cedros, Mashpi, or Maquipucuna, with the most
unique species (50) (Appendix 2). Some of the difference in species from the other
reserves may be due to the region’s proximity to drier, inter-Andean valleys, such as the
beautiful jay (Cyanolyca pulchra),
and others, such as the gray-breasted mountain toucan
(Andigena hypoglauca)
and the critically endangered hummingbird (Eriocnemis
nigrivestis
) reflect the high elevations (> 1500 m and up to 4,000 m) in this valley.
The amphibian fauna from the Intag is breathtaking, with an astonishing 26 species,
mostly frogs, in some form of endangerment (Appendix 3), including three that are
critically endangered. The majority of the rare amphibians in Ecuador are in the montane
cloud forests, such as in the Intag, where the localized responses to small climate
differences led to numerous speciation events and the formation of localized endemics
(Arteaga et al., 2016). In 2016, researchers rediscovered the longnose harlequin frog
(Atelopus longirostris
) within the Junín Cloud Forest Reserve. This is an endemic species
last seen in 1989 and previously listed as Extinct by the IUCN (Tapia et al., 2017). The
rediscovery of the harlequin frog highlights the need for further research on amphibian
diversity in the Intag.
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Reptiles (Appendix 4) and orchids (Table 4) have not been well-studied in the Intag
region, although the steep altitudinal gradients suggest the community of orchid species
in Intag’s upper montane cloud forests are likely to differ significantly from those found
in Los Cedros and other lower elevation forests (Gentry, 1992).
Social & Economic:
El Chontal is run by the community Chalguayacu Alto, the Association Ganaderos y
Agricultores, and Fundación Zoobreviven. The Junín Cloud Forest Reserve is owned and
managed by a community organization that also manages a tourism business, the
Ecocabañas Junín. Founded in 2000 with the help of DECOIN, the Ecocabañas provide
an additional source of income for 40 local community members (Murillo & Sacher,
2017). The La Florida Cloud Forest Reserve is privately managed, and also supports the
livelihoods of surrounding families via a tourism and education center. In addition to
guiding and homestays the center provides environmental education to local and visiting
students. Similarly, the El Refugío Lodge is a social enterprise that employs only local
community members and supports cultural events in the town of Santa Rosa. The reserve
managers and associated tourism operators regularly coordinate with local schools to host
field trips, encouraging students to learn about their local watersheds as well as the
wildlife that can be found within them.
DISCUSSION
The reserves highlighted in this paper collectively protect an astonishing 269 rare species,
including eight critically endangered species—of which two are primates (brown-headed
spider monkey and white-fronted capuchin)—37 endangered, 140 vulnerable, and 84 near
threatened species, as well as a very large number of more common species. Importantly,
each reserve protects a unique subset of species that are not found at the other reserves.
The reserves also serve their surrounding communities by providing sustainable jobs,
which have gradually been increasing over time (Walter et al., 2016), and through
ecosystem services such as clean and abundant water.
The still federally protected SNAP areas in Ecuador do not do a good job of protecting
the localized endemics, which are scattered around the country (Endara, Williams, &
León-Yánez, 2009). Furthermore, the SNAP system primarily protect the lower
elevations of the eastern slopes of the Andes, missing the highly diverse mountains
(Endara et al., 2009). We show here that a large number of endemics are currently being
protected in Bosques Protectores, but that these are now endangered by mining. The BPs
highlighted are near or adjacent to the Cotacachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, and are
acting both as buffers and corridors for it, and they extend the protected elevation
gradient. Cotacachi is largely at high elevation (>2,500 m) at its southern end. The BPs
discussed here extend protection into the critically endangered NW cloud forest zone and
upper montane forests that occur between 900-2500 m. These are the habitats preferred
by the most endangered species in our study, including the primates (Jack & Campos,
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2012; Peck et al., 2010) cats (Zapata-Ríos & Araguillin, 2013), and bears (Castellanos,
2011), as well as the frogs (Arteaga et al., 2016; Tapia et al., 2017), birds (Jahn, 2008;
Willig & Presley, 2016) and orchids (Endara et al. 2009). We recommend that the
entire Bosque Protector system be extended the same protections as the SNAP
system, particularly with regards to prohibition of mining.
As water resources throughout the world increasingly come under pressure, unlogged
watersheds in Bosques Protectores and other reserves are accordingly precious. The
tropical montane cloud forests of Ecuador are particularly important for water cycling
across a much larger area than they cover due to water capture by their biodiverse
epiphytes, plants such as orchids that live on top of other plants. The epiphytes comb
water out of the fog, helping these forests to capture up to 75% additional water through
fog drip (Bruijnzeel et al., 2011; Cavelier, Solis, & Jaramillo, 1996), enabling cloud
forests to maintain dependable flow downstream during dry periods (Bubb, May, Miles,
& Sayer, 2004). Our results underscore that these montane forested ecosystems are
valuable for not only for water, they also contain a very large number of rare species.
Mining, particularly of copper and gold, will not only destroy the biodiversity and its
water generating and holding capacity, but also strongly decrease the quality of water
downstream—where people, invertebrates, and fish depend on it—for generations, by
changing acidity and releasing toxic compounds such as mercury and arsenic (Bundschuh
et al., 2012; Leblanc, Morales, Borrego, & Elbaz-Poulichet, 2000; Oyarzun et al., 2006).
Preservation of the primary forests in Bosques Protectores would allow the current
economic benefits of these reserves to grow. It would also enable future economies
through ethical and ecologically-minded bioprospecting by Ecuadorian researchers,
leading to long-term economic returns for the people of Ecuador and scientific and
medical rewards for all of humanity (Cragg & Newman, 2013; Harvey, 2000; Mathur &
Hoskins, 2017; Rafiq et al., 2017; Strobel & Daisy, 2003). For example, a recently
described species found at Los Cedros, Cuatresia physalana
(Orozco & Canal, 2011), is
related to tomatoes and potatoes and thus may contain genetic materials valuable for
agriculture. Furthermore, Cuatresia
are known to contain anti-malarial compounds
(Deharo et al., 1992; Krugliak, Deharo, & Shalmiev, 1995). It is not only plants that are a
source of antimicrobials and other bioactive compounds, so are plant- and soil-associated
microbes (Cragg & Newman, 2013; Strobel & Daisy, 2003); microbes too are lost with
deforestation and land conversion (Rodrigues et al., 2013).
In 2008, Ecuador set a new moral standard for the world when the National Assembly
included the rights of Nature in the Constitution of Ecuador (articles 71–74, (Asamblea
Nacional, 2008)). It is time to follow through on this commitment.
Funding
The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication
of this article.
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certified by peer review) is the author/funder, who has granted bioRxiv a license to display the preprint in perpetuity. It is made available under
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Acknowledgements
We are grateful to all the reserve managers, but especially José Decoux and Carlos
Zorilla, for being on the frontlines. Carlos Morozch from Mashpi Lodge and Alejandro
Solano, Agustina Arcos and Oliver Torres from Mashpishungo and Pambiliño preserves
in Mashpi were helpful during stream surveys. Mashpi’s blog posts about nature were
particularly informative about what species are there. We thank John Seed and the
Rainforest Information Centre for their leadership in conservation and for the many
conversations we have had over the last year. Danny Newman’s comments improved the
manuscript. Shuheng Ni and Ali Luddon helped with the orchid table. Andreas Kaye,
Michael Wherley, and Sidney Glassman provided access to photographs. Bruce Holst at
Marie Selby Botanical Gardens and Susan Leon-Yanez at the QCA Herbarium provided
plant voucher information. Inspiration for writing this paper came from checking a list of
“potential” species (based on range maps) in the Intag by students at Cornell University
for DECOIN (Defensa y Conservacion Ecologica de Intag). We wanted to know what
was known to be present.
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