Exploring Ecuador’s Los Cedros Reserve

4/15/2020
By Teresa Nichta

This rainy February, we visited Los Cedros Biological Reserve in Ecuador.

Roo Vandegrift, and crew, are filming Marrow of the Mountain; a documentary about the mega-mining now in Ecuador. “In 2017, the amount of land available for mining expanded by hundreds of percent, leaving huge swaths of Ecuador’s most sensitive and biodiverse habitats at the mercy of international mining interests. These concessions appeared suddenly and were sold without public knowledge or consent, especially affecting the mineral-rich and endangered Choco Rainforest.” Roo invited MTBC to conduct a bat survey, which could support litigation to stop the illegal gold mining and help protect the reserve’s unique flora and fauna. The data is to track diversity and endemism at Los Cedros, and analyses are submitted to conservation groups and government agencies, like Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund and the Ecuadorian state Institute for Biodiversity (part of the Ministry of Environment).

Los Cedros Biological Reserve consists of 17,000 acres of premontane wet tropical forest and cloud forest. Of this, 2,650 acres is formerly colonized land, while the remainder is primary forest. The reserve is a southern buffer zone for the 450,000-acre Cotocachi-Cayapas Ecological Reserve, and both are part of the Choco Phytogeographical Zone. The Choco region is one of the most biologically diverse and endemic habitats on Earth.

Part of its charm is the journey to get there. Monica and I left our Quito AirBnB at 5 am to board a 3-hour long bus ride to Chontal, where we met Marc Dragiewicz of Eyes of the World Films. It was then just a short 30-minute truck ride to the trailhead. 

The view from the pickup location in Chontal
Friend along the way
Monica and a bromeliad

Atop Marta the mule, Fausto Lomas guided us up the mountain with Sarito and Manaba (also mules!) carrying all the luggage. Without the mules, this trip would have been nearly impossible. Despite it being the rainy season, we were lucky to have clear blue skies for the two-hour hike.

Muddy trail made the hike slow!

Mules making the trek possible! Photo by Carlos Avila
Marta the mule
Teresa and Marta the mule
On the way up!

We were warmly greeted by Jose De Coux, Founder and Administrator of the Los Cedros Scientific Station, Elisa Levy, Research Coordinator of Los Cedros Scientific Station and some delicious food thanks to Jose and resident sisters Sulma and Maria Sanchez. 

Los Cedros sign

The view from base camp at Los Cedros Scientific Station on a sunny and a cloudy day

After months of uncertainty, the timing worked out perfectly. A group of nearly 15 other scientists and friends were visiting the reserve for Carnival weekend. Roo, Dylan Stirewalt, Solange Yepez, and Antonella Carrasco, all part of the Marrow of the Mountain crew, were also there to greet us.

Marrow of the Mountain crew at work. Follow and support their progress here: https://marrowofthemountain.com/.
Some visitors making compost. The reserve runs on solar power, a generator and has compost toilets.
Some visitors making compost.  The reserve has compost toilets, a micro-hydroelectric plant installed on a nearby river, and a solar panel generator that provide limited power. We drank fresh spring water from the same river.

Howler monkeys serenaded us in the evenings!

We spent the next two days exploring the beautiful reserve, hiking the trails in search of bat habitat with guide, Martin Obando. We found many leaf tents, unfurled leaves, hollow logs, and trees in both secondary and primary forests.

Leaf tents!

Monica in the primary forest
Hollow log roost

Bat Portraits by Daniel Whitby

Fruit bats roosted under the roof and some Carollia bats under an overturned barrel. A whole colony of bats was found in the shed next to the generator but we couldn’t see them clearly enough to identify. However, they may have been Myotis riparius or oxyotus, possibly even another species but we couldn’t confirm.

Monica and Martin
Mark and Roo examining the topographic trail map
Bats in a barrel!

Carnival wasn’t the only thing being celebrated this weekend: Jose was presented with an award recognizing his incredible contributions to the conservation of Ecuador – it is because of him that Los Cedros exists and has been protected.

Elisa presenting Jose with the much-deserved award
Award ceremony celebration
Teresa and Jose

On our third day, we were joined by United Kingdom colleague, Daniel Whitby, and local bat biologist, Carlos Avila, student of conservation biology and tropical ecology from Universidad Técnica Particular de Loja (UTPL).. This being such a short, exploratory trip, we were eager to finally begin netting! 

Fausto cutting bamboo poles for our mist nets
Daniel checking out a hollow log
Unfurling leaf roost!

We set three mist nets on our first night. We were lucky again with no rain, and there were bats! Even without the rain, the trails were increasingly muddy as the four of us walked back and forth every ten or so minutes to check for bats. We caught 30 bats of 12 species and finally got to bed by 3 am. Then the rains came.

Monica and Carlos getting bats out of the mist nets
Monica, Daniel, and Carlos and the processing table
Checking our sources to identify a cute bat

Hairy big-eared bat (Micronycteris hirsuta)

Bat photography by Daniel Whitby

We were not so lucky the second night. During the day, we hiked down the mountain to the river to check it out and decided to set nets there later. 

 

Fresh cold springs, clean enough to drink from! Photo by Carlos Avila
Daniel crossing the creek
Monica on the Old Bridge
Carlos and a walking palm (Socratea exorrhiza).

Of course, we knew there was a good chance of rain but we had to try our best with so little time. We set one mist net over the creek and Daniel unfolded the tripods for photography, but during set-up, it started to pour!

Monica and Carlos in the rain by the creek

We closed the net and took shelter under the Old Bridge. Being a determined group, we decided to wait it out. Three hours later, the rain showed no signs of stopping so we packed up and headed back to camp. There was a spread of delicious food and even a birthday cake to celebrate Daniel, Teresa and Roo’s birthdays.

Food after midnight, birthday cake and all!

Monica and I left the following day. Carlos and Daniel stayed to complete two more days of surveying. On the way out, I found three Spix’s disk winged bats (Thyroptera tricolor) in an unfurling leaf! 

On the third and fourth nights, Daniel and Carlos caught an additional 6-8 species, an estimate because a few were hard to identify.

Upon return, we had a video meeting with Juan Pablo Carerra, Manager of the Quito Natural History Museum/Guatavo Orcés V of the Escuela Politecnica Nacional (EPN), and Pamela, a local biologist and colleague of EPN working with bat acoustics, to discuss future possibilities for collaboration. 

It was a brief visit but sufficient to document extraordinary bat diversity! 

If you’re interested in visiting or supporting Los Cedros Biological Reserve, feel free to reach out. 

 

Reserva Los Cedros species list, total minimum 22 species:

Anoura aequatoris/caudifer – Equatorial tailless bat

Anoura peruana- Peruvian tailless bat

Anoura cultrate – Black tailless bat

Carollia brevicauda- Silky short-tailed bat

Carollia castanea- Chestnut short-tailed bat

Carollia perspicillata- Seba’s short-tailed fruit bat

Chiroderma salvini- Salvin’s big-eyed bat

Dermanura (Artibeus) toltecus- Toltec fruit-eating bat

Desmodus rotundus- Common vampire bat

Mesophylla macconnellii- MacConnell’s bat

Micronycteris hirsuta- Hairy big-eared bat

Micronycteris megalotis- Little big-eared bat

Myotis oxyotus- Montane myotis

Platyrrhinus umbratus – Shadowy broad-nosed bat

Platyrrhinus vittatus- Greater broad-nosed bat

Rhinophylla alethina- Hairy little fruit bat

Sturnira bakeri/luisi- Baker’s yellow-shouldered bat/ Luis’ yellow-shouldered bat

Sturnira ludovici- Highland yellow-shouldered bat

Sturnira erythromos – Hairy yellow-shouldered bat

Sturnira koopmanhilli – Chocoan yellow-shouldered bat

Sturnira bidens – Bidetate yellow-shouldered bat

Thyroptera tricolor- Spix’s disk-winged bat

 

 

Some extra rain forest photos for your enjoyment….

Moth covered in the fungi that killed it.