RAPID BIODIVERSITY ASSESSMENTS & CONSERVATION
EVALUATIONS IN THE COLOMBIAN ANDES
20 November 1999
COLOMBIAN EBA PROJECT REPORT EDITED BY
THOMAS M. DONEGAN & PAUL G.W. SALAMAN
BY ANDRES M. CUERVO, THOMAS M. DONEGAN , CARLOS E. GONZALES, JOSÉ M. OCHOA, JUAN LÁZARO, & PAUL G.W. SALAMAN
Colombian EBA Project ‘99 is an Anglo-Colombian student initiative which conducted rapid biodiversity surveys and conservation assessments in the Colombian Andes in the Summer of 1999. As a follow-up expedition to "Colombia '98", our experienced 5-person team completed six flora and fauna study sites at elevational steps along two altitudinal transects of the Central and Eastern Cordilleras of Colombia from July to September 1999.
The aim was to document as fully and effectively as possible the biodiversity of our study areas, using standardised methods in order to collect comparable data and have targeted searches for species at risk. Fieldwork concentrated on birds, plants, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. A 1000m transect was used at each study area along which mist-nets, were placed, and direct observations and collection occurred, with additional information gathered from informal interviews with local hunters. These assessments were urgently needed in order to obtain biological information, which is planned to lead to the conservation of two highly threatened and poorly-known regions.
This Preliminary Report presents the results and conservation assessment from two regions investigated in the
1. Serranía de los Churumbelos
Study Sites were situated at SS1 - lowland humid forest (300 m); SS2 - foothill humid forest (700 m); SS3 -premontane very humid forest (1,100 m); SS4 – upper premontane humid forest (1,450 m); SS5 – lower montane humid forest (1900 m); SS6 - montane cloud forest (2,200 m); SS7 – upper montane cloud forest (2,450 m). The three upper elevation sites were studied in 1999, to complete the altitudinal analysis of habitats and associated biota from Amazonia through foothills to montane forest on the eastern slope of the Cordillera Oriental, Colombia. A total of 45 fieldwork days with 324 person days effort was employed over the two years.
Detailed botanical descriptions of each site were completed. SS 3 to SS 7 were found to correspond closest to the Northern Andean characterisation, with SS 1 and SS 2 resembling Amazonia North Ecoregion. Several new species were discovered (in Gesneriaceae, Piperaceae and others). Increasing elevation corresponded to a lower canopy (30 to 10 m) and increasing epiphyte diversity. A high diversity of plant species in primary forest was encountered at all sites, excellent for conservation.
Using observation and mist-netting, a total of 421 bird species have been registered in Serranía de los Churumbelos, including the addition of 93 species in 1999 to those recorded in 1998. A total of 2,834 mist-net captures (1,057 in 1999) were made up of 229 species over 142,730 Mist-net Metre Hours. A total of two Threatened and 10 Near-Threatened species were recorded, with five Ecuador-Peru East Andes EBA (SS2 – SS4) and four Colombian Inter-Andean Slopes EBA (SS5 – SS7) endemics recorded. It is estimated that the probable total bird species inventory exceeds 550 species: an exceptional diversity, making the Serranía a global avian "hotspot" and extremely important for bird diversity.
A total of 46 species of amphibians (30 spp.) and reptiles (16 spp.) were recorded in 1998 and 1999. Many poorly-known species were recorded, with several significant range extensions including two new species for Colombia. Several unidentified individuals potentially relate to undescribed species. Mammals registered include Spectacled Bear Tremarctos ornatus and Mountain Tapir Tapirus pinchaque.
Our Conservation assessment draws attention to the many biological justifications, and critical urgency for conservation to be implemented in Serranía de los Churumbelos, as road construction projects and uncontrolled colonisation threaten the region. The Serranía de los Churumbelos encompasses an immense variety of ecosystems, with a complex topography and variable climatic conditions, influencing an outstandingly high biodiversity. The direct biological justifications for the implementation of conservation are many. The eastern slope of the Andes has been subject to great human population pressures and associated habitat degradation in recent years, but fortunately the Churumbelos Mountains have largely avoided the catastrophic human impact that other regions have suffered. However, threats to the area associated to the recently completed Mocoa-Bogotá highway, the proposed Puerto Asís-Florencia road, and the recent discovery and exploitation of petroleum and precious metals will lead to escalating human encroachment, exploitation and deforestation.
Colombian EBA Project ’99 and Colombia '98 demonstrate the great conservation importance of, and looming threats to, the Serranía de los Churumbelos. Our conclusions strongly support the idea of legal protection. It is important to incorporate the entire altitudinal gradient from lowland humid forest to cloud forest, maximising the biodiversity of any protected area. Perhaps the most feasible protective measure would be in the form of a Parque Régional Natural administered by CRC. Another plan already proposed by the Colombian National Parks Authority following our work involves extending Parque Nacional Natural Cueva de los Guácharos into the Churumbelos. The third phase of the project is now being implemented to develop a conservation strategy for the entire Serranía, involving the CRC, expedition team members, the Parks Authority, and local communities. The final report will specify a conservation strategy for future investigations and protection of the Serranía de los Churumbelos.
2. Northeast Antioquia
In the north-eastern Cordillera Central and mid-Magdalena valley, study Sites were situated at SS1 - lowland humid forest (300 m); SS2 - foothill humid forest (800 m); and SS3 - premontane humid forest (1,550 m). A total of 14 fieldwork days with 70 person days effort in August 1999.
Detailed botanical descriptions of each site were completed, with SS 1 and SS 2 resembling Northern Colombia-Nechí Ecoregions and SS3 containing characteristics of the North Andean Ecoregion. Good primary forest, with a high variety of plant species was encountered at all sites, although increasing epiphyte content and changing flora groups was most prominent between SS1/2 with SS3.
A total of 318 bird species were registered with observation and mist-netting, with a total of 811 mist-net captures of 92 species. Avifauna assemblages showed close affinities between SS1 and SS2, with SS3 being highly distinct. A total of 3 Threatened and 6 Near-Threatened species were recorded, with 11 Endemic Bird Area endemics. Notably range and/or elevation extensions for 40 species were recorded. The most notable find was a new species for science in the genus Lipaugus. Conservation measures in this area should be instigated as a matter of extreme urgency, especially in lowland areas to protect the Blue-knobbed Curassow Crax alberti and premontane areas for the new species of Lipaugus and many other Threatened species.
12 species of amphibians (9 spp.) and reptiles (3 spp.) were recorded, including several range extensions, and one species described as recently as 1997. With several poorly-known or unknown species on both transects, SS2 and SS3 in particular appear important areas for conservation, based on limited herpetological results.
Mammals recorded include the first evidence of Spectacled Bear Tremarctos ornatus in Serranía de San Lucas, and sightings of 6 Primates (5 of which are Threatened species): Silvery-brown Bare-face Tamarin Saguinus leucopus, Lemurine Night Monkey Aotus (l.) lemurinus, White-fronted Capuchin Monkey Cebus albifrons, Red Howler Monkey Alouatta seniculus, Common Woolly Monkey Lagothrix lagothricha and (White-bellied?) Spider Monkey Ateles sp. (belzebuth?). Jaguar Panthera onca was photographed in captivity.
Conservation assessment: The conservation situation in the north-eastern Antioquia (Central Cordillera and Serranía de San Lucas) is an ecological catastrophe. Gold-mining was rampant across the region, contaminating freshwater and endangering wildlife in even the remotest of locations. Subsequent colonisation and deforestation has been on a scale unseen in Colombia in recent years. The region suffers from local government apathy, severe political turmoil, coca and coffee production, and frequent armed conflict. Based on the difference between aerial maps in 1995 and surveys in 1999, we consider that at least 30% forest cover has been lost in Serranía de San Lucas area and surrounding lowlands; an area once considered the largest tract of forest in north-western South America.
The future plight of the endemic Blue-knobbed Curassow and other species endemic to the northern lowlands of Colombia is very bleak. And above 1000 m, only a few isolated forest patches survive. However, owing to the foresight of one farmer, Luis Angel Ramirez, 300 ha of primary premontane humid forest at 1,500 – 1,820 m. has been set aside with all forms of human intervention prohibited, despite immense social and economic pressures. This land was recently purchased by the local environmental authority, CORANTIOQUIA. It is hoped that this newly-protected region can be extended and enforced further into the highly-threatened lowland and foothill areas.
You can view the entire report (including maps and detailed reports) at http://www.proaxis.com/~salaman/eba99.html
Last updated 07/16/2001
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