As a young aspiring biologist I picked up Darwin’s Origin of Species in high school and struggled my way through all 14 chapters. At age 16, the language Darwin uses throughout the book coupled with the complexity of the topic sadly made reading the Origin of Species more of a chore than a pleasure. Notwithstanding its difficulty, three overarching facts stuck with me from that first reading: 1.) animal groups evolve from common ancestors, 2.) natural selection is the mechanism by which animals evolve, and 3.) the Galapagos Islands are an amazingly interesting natural laboratory.

It was the seeding of this last fact in my mind that would eventually lead me to pursue a career as a Tropical Biologist. In college in 2001 I took the first opportunity I had to travel to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands to study Natural History and Ecology. The moment I stepped foot in Ecuador I knew I was hooked – the warm climate, the variety of ecosystems in such a small geographic area, the astounding level of diversity and the history of the site were awe-inspiring. No longer would the temperate zones fulfill my need for discovery and adventure.

Fast forward another 10 years, following college, grad school, and years of come-and-go travel in Ecuador, and I finally made the permanent move to Ecuador. I unfortunately haven’t made my way back to the Galapagos Islands since 2001, but I have had the privilege of working as a Biologist and Photographer with the non-profit The Biodiversity Group and a Research Director for the Third Millennium Alliance on mainland Ecuador since moving to Ecuador. Both of these great Amphibian Survival Alliance partners carry out incredibly important research and conservation work in Ecuador, much of which is focused on the incredibly threatened and overlooked coastal forests in the northwest of the country.

Much of my work with these organizations has been based in the Jama-Coaque Reserve in the coastal Province of Manabi. Named after the pre-Incan Jama Coaque culture that inhabited the region, the Jama-Coaque Reserve currently protects 411 hectares of tropical moist forest and premontane cloud forest in one of the last major remnants of Pacific Equatorial Forest in the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena Biodiversity Hotspot along the coastal mountain range of northwest Ecuador. The hotspot is characterized by an exceptional diversity of forest types; tropical dry forest, semi-deciduous forest, tropical moist forest, and pre-montane cloud forest can all be encountered within a distance of 3 km of the Jama-Coaque Reserve thanks to an altitudinal range of 250 to 700 m.

Figure 1. Location of the Jama-Coaque Reserve with details and photos of surrounding forest types and the Jama-Coaque Research Station.

Figure 1. Location of the Jama-Coaque Reserve with details and photos of surrounding forest types and the Jama-Coaque Research Station.

Unfortunately, the region surrounding the Jama-Coaque Reserve has one of the highest rates of deforestation in South America, and is recognized as one of the areas most at risk of biological extinction on the planet (see Dodson & Gentry 1991). A recent study that looked at biological diversity and conservation zones in Ecuador highlighted the central coast of Ecuador in the province of Manabi, where the Jama-Coaque Reserve is located, as one of the most critical conservation priorities in the country (see Lessmann et al 2014). High levels of species diversity combined with low levels of existing protection along the central coast of Ecuador illustrate the critical conservation importance of the Jama-Coaque Reserve.

Figure 2. A.) Deforestation in coastal Ecuador over time; green is forested areas; adapted from Dobson & Gentry 1991 under Creative Commons License. B.) Aerial photography of clear-cut deforestation near the Jama-Coaque Reserve. C.) Complete deforestation and aridification of landscape immediately neighboring the Jama-Coaque Reserve.

Figure 2. A.) Deforestation in coastal Ecuador over time; green is forested areas; adapted from Dobson & Gentry 1991 under Creative Commons License. B.) Aerial photography of clear-cut deforestation near the Jama-Coaque Reserve. C.) Complete deforestation and aridification of landscape immediately neighboring the Jama-Coaque Reserve.

In this introductory blog entry I share some of the amazing amphibian species that call the Jama-Coaque Reserve home via a free downloadable full-color field guide. To date, The Biodiversity Group and Third Millennium Alliance, in partnership with the local community of Camarones, have documented 28 species of amphibian in the Jama-Coaque Reserve, including eight threatened species. At least four currently unrecognized (i.e. new) species of amphibian have also been documented from within the Reserve’s boundaries, making the Jama-Coaque Reserve one of the most amphibian-interesting protected forests on the coast of Ecuador.

By: Ryan Lynch

Literature:

Dodson, C.H. & A.H. Gentry. 1991. Biological Extinction in Western Ecuador. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden. 78(2): 273-295.

Lessmann, J., Muños, J. & E. Bonaccorso. 2014. Maximizing species conservation in continental Ecuador: a case of systematic conservation planning for biodiverse regions. Ecology and Evolution 4(12): 2410-2422.