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  • Writer's pictureLuis A Mazariegos

Jan 2021 - Uncovering a “Lost World” in the western Andes – MPNR, a new biodiversity hotspot.

Nestled in a strategic corridor between the western (Chocó) and eastern slopes of the Colombian west Andes, lies the Mesenia-Paramillo nature reserve (MPNR). Spanning altitudes from 1,700 m (5,600 ft) to 2,950 m (9,700 ft), the reserve includes cloud forests, as well as subparamo vegetation at three isolated massifs: “Paramillo”, “Abejorro” and “El Oso”. The climate differences between the slopes, the availability of water, the effect of elevation, and the influence of mesoamerican fauna during the crash of two former continents, have rendered this area a speciation pump. That is, thousands of unique animal and plant species originated and throve during the last 13 million years. Certainly, biogeographic and climatologic conditions must have influenced this phenomenon and made this a special location, which can be inferred from the fact that in other tropical forests at similar altitudes, only a handful of amphibian and reptile species are found.

Indeed, it has been recently demonstrated that plant diversity in the Chocó, considered the Earth’s ninth most biodiverse hotspot, is derived mostly from Andean immigrants, which immediately points to the western Andes as a major contributor to this biodiversity. Which then raises several questions on how biodiverse the mountain ecosystems are and how much still remains to be uncovered.

For instance, the approximate 3,500-hectare (7,500-acre) reserve area, yet to be thoroughly studied, has yielded a significant number of amphibians and reptiles. At least 36 species of the former and 34 of the latter have been found, with an additional eight lizards and ten frogs being new to science; remarkable numbers for such a small area and expecting more. To put these figures into perspective, the reserve has more species of these groups than most major European countries. When species richness is calculated by unit area, the reserve has about 10,000 times more species per square kilometer than the next country. Because a whole country includes agricultural, urban and industrial areas, a fairer comparison would be with preserved areas where species richness peaks. Comparing those biodiversity hotspots of Europe rather than entire countries, the reserve hosts about 100-times more species than the former.

Protecting this corridor and describing the new species for science is imperative. Missing the scientific support to demonstrate the importance of conserving these ecosystems would allow for roads to be built, and further land clearing for cattle grazing and crops to be cultured with the consequential fragmentation and destruction of the surrounding forests. Let alone the negative impacts on the San Juan Antioquia and San Juan Bravo river watersheds also located within the reserve’s boundaries, which provide water to many communities and towns downstream.

Pholidobolus sp. nov.

In order to consolidate and secure a 6000-hectare (13,000-acre) corridor, The Hummingbird Conservancy is seeking 2-million USD intended to acquire several plots to improve the connectivity between current forest fragments, as well as to prevent fragmentation of this critical ecosystem.

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