A NEW “HEAVEN” OF UNKNOWN BIODIVERSITY DISCOVERED IN THE NORTHERN PERUVIAN ANDES

A team of Peruvian and Mexican biologists under the leadership of 2006 Whitley Award Gerardo Ceballos from the Institute of Ecology of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) and Horacio Zeballos from Peru’s Arequipa Museum of Natural History have made one of the most remarkable biodiversity discoveries of the last two decades.

Working together In the Tabaconas – Namballe National Sanctuary they have discovered a “new heaven of unknown biodiversity” hidden in the cloud forests and alpine grasslands of the sanctuary. They discovered at least 8 new species of mammals and 3 species of amphibians. This is the most remarkable discovery of biological diversity in recent years because all these animals were discovered in a very small reserve, surrounded by deforested areas and villages, located in the Atlantic versant of the Peruvian Andes, close to the Ecuador border.

The new mammals include a shrew (Cryptotis sp.), one species of night monkey (Aotus sp.), an enigmatic porcupine (Coendou sp.), one marsupial (Caenolestes sp.), several rodents (Oecomys sp., Oligoryzomys sp., Chilomys sp., Thomasomys sp.) and possibly a new gray fox (Urocyon) and. A new species of olingo (Bassaricyon sp) was also discovered a few years ago in the sanctuary. The frogs include the recently described Pristimantis bustamante, and 2 more species of the same genus. Very likely more species of vertebrates are found in the unexplored areas of the Sanctuary. The new species of mammals and frogs are now being scientifically described.

In 2009, Zeballos and his team, including Kateryn Pino, Alexander Pari, César Medina, Juan Carlos Chaparro, José Ochoa and Roberto Gutiérrez surveyed two localities of the Sanctuary: The Lakes Arrebiatadas in the alpine grasslands and montane forest in Miraflores. This expedition wassponsored by Nature Consulting SAC, and the Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary and the Belgian Cooperation. . They were astonished by the number of new species found there. Zeballos, one of the most prestigious mammalogists in Peru and Curator of the Arequipa Museum, recalls: “I was extremely perplexed when I discovered among the small mammals a new species of a South American marsupial of Paucituberculata Order, far larger in size than all three Peruvian known species”. Zeballos said that many more new species of vertebrates are likely to be found in Peru, where he is actively surveying new promising areas.

Zeballos and his Mexican colleague, Prof. Gerardo Ceballos, an expert in ecology and conservation, organized an international course of conservation biology and
continue the biological survey of the sanctuary, that lead to more discoveries in September 2011. The field work was full of surprises since the very beginning. The Biological Station of Tabaconas – Namballe Sanctuary is reached by road and then by a two hour trek. Ceballos with his colleagues Andres Garcia, Jesus Pacheco, and Lourdes Martinez drove more than 18 hours from the Chiclayo airport in northern Peru, to reach the sanctuary. Ceballos recalls that they were getting close o the sanctuary when they spotted with great surprise a gray fox (Urocyon sp) along the road, which represents the most southernmost record of the species in the Americas, and is likely a new species.

The Tabaconas – Namballe Sanctuary cover 32,000 hectares (70,000 acres) from 1800 to 3200 masl. The dominant plant communities are montane evergreen forest, montane rainforest, and paramo scrubland and grassland. The diversity of the Sanctuary is impressive and includes 85 species of mammals, 326 of birds, and 23 of reptiles and amphibians. The Sanctuary protects endangered species such as the Mountain Tapir or Woolly Tapir (Tapirus pinchaque) and the Spectacled bear (Tremarctos ornatus). The Sanctuary Director, Douglas Cotrina, said that deforestation outside the park, and both illegal hunting and mining are the most important threats to the long-term conservation of the Sanctuary. Gerardo, who published a seminal paper in 2009 indicating that almost 500 new mammals have been described in the last 15 years, indicated that the Tabaconas – Namballe Sanctuary is one of the ten most important zero extinction sites (i.e. areas critical for the conservation of species found exclusively on those sites) in the World. Only a few other sites in Mexico, Madagascar, and Papua New Guinea have similar number of microendemic species. So, the conservation of this new “heaven” of hidden biodiversity must be a priority for Peru.

For more information, contact:

Gerardo Ceballos. gceballo@ecologia.unam.mxCel: (52)1-722-264-2361. Instituto de Ecologia, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, Mexico D.F. 04510. Mexico.

Horacio Zeballos. horaciozeballos@gmal.com. Cel: (51)973-868202 Centro de Investigación para la Promoción de los Pueblos, Coop. V. A. Belaúnde I-8 Yaahuara, Arequipa, Perú

Tags: Peru