The End of an Era

After over 6 years of intensive research and community development work in and around the Yachana Reserve, GVI Amazon is coming to a close. We have finished our final research project (look forward to our Road Effects paper, coming soon!) and are handing over the project to our partner, The Yachana Foundation. They will continue to maintain and monitor the reserve, using it as an hands-on science education center for students -- we're very excited to see what fabulous things this next generation of scientists find! For more detail on GVI Amazon's closure, and our accomplishments over the years, please read on...
GVI Amazon Closure Statement

Monday, June 18, 2012

Troubles of a Biologist in the Amazon

Here at GVI Amazon, in the rainforest of Ecuador, you’d think it would be the thought of coming face-to-face with a viper while scrambling up a steep ravine in the jungle… Or getting stung (again) by a bullet ant… Or facing another week of food without meat. But you’d be wrong. Do you know what keeps me up at night?

Unidentified frogs.

I would love to see another viper, getting stung by bullet ants always leave you with a good story, and I, carnivore, actually really enjoy our bean-based meals on base (we live with no electricity, so meat refrigeration isn’t possible).

However, some of the frogs we have been seeing lately have been troublesome, to say the least. It all revolves around one genus of frogs, Pristimantis, or the Rain Frogs. This is the largest genus of frogs in the world and is only found in the neotropics (tropical Americas) containing over 500 species. We currently have found 14 species in the Yachana Reserve, including Pristimantis kichwarum, P. malkini, P. lanthanites, and P. altamazonicus as our all-stars.

One of many unidentified Pristimantis. The orange/red groin suggests Pristimantis condor, 
currently only recorded in Peru.
Throughout the Amazon, new species of Pristimantis are being found every year. We’ve recently found a species that has only been recorded in Yasuni National Park in Ecuador, Pristimantis luscombei, and our specimen may actually be a new species. In fact, many of the odd frogs we’re seeing are likely either new records for the region or new species to science entirely.

The trouble begins here: resources. Coming from a background in entomology (the study of insects), lack of resources for merely identifying specimens is a well experienced situation. While groups like birds or butterflies, with nice colors and a (relatively) low number of species, tend to have guide books galore, groups of animals with more drab or less ‘exciting’ looks tend to be, well, overlooked. This leaves us to hitting articles and checking museum specimens which can be difficult to do in the middle of the rainforest with limited power.

Another unidentified Pristimantis
We’ve seen a couple with this ‘T’ stripe pattern on them and they remain a mystery.
While frustrating, this in fact makes groups like Pristimantis an often more exciting group to work with. The fact that we may be discovering new species, or new records, makes every day in the forest one with unlimited potential. We’re working with our partners at the Museo Ecuatoriano de Ciencias Naturales and other researchers at the Universidad Catolica in Quito to get to the bottom of our froggy situation. So don’t worry, we’ll sleep easy soon enough.

Phil Torres, GVI Amazon Base Manager