- An expedition into the cloud forests of the Bolivian Andes has uncovered 20 species new to science including a frog smaller than a coin, a new venomous pit viper, four butterflies, and four orchid species.
- Along with the newly described species, the research team also “rediscovered” four species believed to be extinct, including the devil-eyed frog not seen for 20 years.
- Overall, the expedition in the Zongo Valley near La Paz, Bolivia, uncovered rich diversity and endemism and recorded more than 1,200 plants, 247 insects, 10 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 161 birds, nine small terrestrial mammals, nine large mammals, and 12 species of bats.
- The Zongo Valley contributes drinking water and hydroelectric energy for the cities of La Paz and El Alto and is known to provide important ecosystem services. The report calls for urgent measures for formal conservation of this largely intact ecosystem.
An expedition into the cloud forests of the Bolivian Andes has uncovered 20 species new to science, including a frog that may be the smallest in the Andes, a new venomous pit viper, four butterflies, and four orchid species.
Along with the newly described species, the research team also “rediscovered” four species believed to be extinct, including the devil-eyed frog (Oreobates zongoensis), not observed on record for 20 years, and a satyr butterfly (Euptychoides fida), not recorded for 98 years.
“These discoveries are the result of 14 days of intense field work spread across the rugged terrain, misty cloud forests and cascading waterfalls of the Zongo — a truly beautiful and diverse landscape,” Trond Larsen, director of Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), said in a statement.
Larsen, along with Claudia Cortez, head of conservation and wildlife management for the municipal government of La Paz, led a group of 17 scientists into Chawi Grande, a locality belonging to the Huaylipaya community in the Zongo Valley, or “heart” valley, region, near the Bolivian capital, La Paz.
The expedition was part of Conservation International’s RAP, which began in 1990 to collect information on biodiversity and ecosystem health rapidly to guide conservation policy- and decision-making.
This rapid assessment of Chawi Grande revealed high levels of diversity and endemism: twelve of the species that live here are found nowhere else on Earth, including several amphibians. Given the worldwide amphibian declines, the researchers write, the high concentration of unique amphibians found here makes it a high-priority area for conservation.
Overall, the number of species counted during the expedition included more than 1,200 plants, 247 insects, 10 amphibians, 10 reptiles, 161 birds, nine small terrestrial mammals, nine large mammals, and 12 species of bats. The results of the assessment are published in the RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment series.
The expedition revealed 22 animals listed as threatened on the IUCN Red List, including the channel-billed toucan (Ramphastos vitellinus), straw-backed tanager (Stilpnia argyrofenges), spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus) and dwarf brocket deer (Mazama chunyi).
The Zongo Valley contributes drinking water and hydroelectric energy for the cities of La Paz and El Alto and is known to provide important ecosystem services including carbon storage, regulation of the regional water cycle and precipitation, and erosion control. However, few studies have explored the region’s biodiversity.
The Zongo Valley forests are in good condition, the report says, with 90% of the vegetation remaining intact and undisturbed by humans. However, the area faces threats from the expansion of crop and livestock farming, and small-scale mining. The report calls for urgent measures for formal conservation of this largely intact, biologically rich, and ecologically significant region, and that those conservation measures be coordinated with local communities.
“The remarkable rediscovery of species once thought extinct, especially so close to the city of La Paz, illustrates how sustainable development that embraces conservation of nature can ensure long-term protection of biodiversity as well as the benefits ecosystems provide to people,” Larsen said. “This area has become a safe haven for amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, and plants that haven’t been found anywhere else on earth.”
Here are a few of the 20 newly discovered species:
Cortez, C. F., Larsen, T. H., Forno, E., & Ledezma J. C. (eds.) (2018). Evaluación Biológica Rápida de Chawi Grande, Comunidad Huaylipaya, Zongo, La Paz, Bolivia. RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment 70. Conservation International, Arlington, VA, U.S.
Banner image of the newly discovered mountain fer-de-lance (Bothrops monsignifer) © Trond Larsen.
Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find her on Twitter @lizkimbrough
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