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Sunday, 16 November 2008

Cataloging the Biodiversity of Reptiles and Amphibians in Western Ecuador - Page 2

Written by Stephen J. Bugaj
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It wasn’t quite 9:30 in the morning and I was already wringing wet with perspiration. As we trudged up the steep slope of the mountain, the mud made my footing both arduous and precarious. Moreover, my left insole had an industrial-grade bruise from hiking several days across rocks and hardened mud, and I had several blisters on both feet.

We were briefed about our areas of operations, as well as some of the species that we might encounter during our field excursions, including fer-de-lance, coral snakes, and bushmasters. After hearing Paul elaborate on the many diseases that one might contract in the tropics (including Dengue Fever, Leishmaniasis and Chagas’ disease) I lost any residual fear I might have had about venomous snakes.

We learned that the Andes Mountains acted as an effective barrier for the migration of many animals across the country. I was very surprised to hear that more herp research had been completed in the Amazon basin than in western Ecuador. In fact, little is known about the herps in this part of the country, particularly reptiles. Much of the present taxonomic classification has been done using incomplete data, and there is relatively little information on population trends.

Paul told us that below 900 meters there is a high degree of biological endemism in Western Ecuador. So much so that specific flora and fauna may be limited to a single microhabitat of a certain life zone and could be found no where else in the world but on a hilltop in the Ecuadorian cloud forest. Destruction of a small patch of habitat may lead to the extinction of several range-limited species.

Bosque La Protector La Perla

After two days of instruction, we boarded a bus and traveled from Quito through the city of Santo Domingo to our first field site, Bosque La Protector La Perla, near the town of La Concordia, Ecuador. I had read somewhere that Quito to Santo Domingo is the most dangerous bus trip in the country. I quickly agreed with this statement. Our bus dropped about ten thousand feet on a crisscrossing road pelted by rain and covered with fog. I also observed that motorists on this highway tended to drive without regard for life or limb, and relied on their horns and headlights to warn vehicles that they were passing.

We arrived, white knuckled, at Bosque La Perla at approximately 1530 hours and went about establishing our lab and living quarters. La Perla is essentially a private reserve. Its proprietor, Lucia is a native-born Ecuadorian of American parentage, whose mother and father immigrated to Ecuador as colonists immediately after World War II. Though of a different generation, Lucia’s parents were very far-sighted; they cleared and planted considerable acreage for bananas (and later palm trees) but left much of it in its native jungle state. Paul categorized the area more appropriately as “subtropical humid forest.” Regardless of the term, we were happy to find that there still were stands of uncut balsa and mahogany on the property.

After a daylight reconnaissance, we began a series of forays at La Perla in what was known as the Area Intangible. Cataloging the Biodiversity of Reptiles and Amphibians in Western Ecuador, Reptile and Amphibian Ecology International, RAEI, study herptiles, reptiles Ecuador, amphibian Ecuador, herps, Ecuador, Bosque La Protector La Perla, Pata de Pajaro, Cloud Forest, TRANSECT, Stephen J. BugajOur guide, Placido, led us in and out of swamps, streams and canals under the cover of night. We dressed in comfortable clothing that covered all exposed skin and knee-high rubber boots known as ”gauchos.” We also hauled additional gear that included snake sticks/tongs, cameras, cloth and plastic bags, a GPS, and devices to perform the required measurements.

(Page 2 of 5)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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