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October 3, 2018 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">8</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Surrounded by towering waterfalls, soaring exotic trees, and seemingly unending, countless tones of green, Mashpi Lodge is located in the very heart of Ecuador´s Choco cloud forest, one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. While watching breathtaking videos and looking at beautiful pictures of Mashpi, it quickly becomes evident that it is sometimes sunny, often cloudy, and occasionally raining. So what is the weather really like at Mashpi? Seemingly a simple question, it´s not quite as straightforward as you might think.



September 17, 2018 2

Reading Time: 8 minutes

A Place Apart: The Mashpi Reserve in Ecuador

 The Mashpi Reserve, located in the Ecuadorian Choco (which itself is part of a broader biogeographical region that runs from Panama to the north of Peru), is found along the western slope of the Andes. Located in the northwest corner of Quito’s Metropolitan District, the Mashpi Reserve is a hotspot for biodiversity and offers visitors access to some of the most remarkable, pristine rainforest and cloud forest in Ecuador.

While the Mashpi Reserve easily contends with the Amazon as a top Ecuador destination, most tourists that travel to Ecuador have never heard about this spectacular cloud forest. In the following article, we’ll lay out the characteristics that set the Mashpi Reserve apart and compare it to the more commonly-known Ecuadorian Amazon.

 

The Mashpi Reserve Complete Package: A Rainforest and Cloud Forest in One

Did you know that the Amazon isn’t the only rainforest in Ecuador?

The Andes mountain range divides Ecuador into three general regions: Pacific Coast, Andes and Amazon. If you were to track how the landscape changes as you travel from East to West (from the Pacific Coast to the Amazon), you’d be surprised to find that there are actually two types of rainforest and cloud forest in Ecuador: Coastal and Amazonian.

In Ecuador, the Mashpi Reserve is one of the few regions that encompasses both rainforest and cloud forest (as well as many other ecosystems). As you descend from the Andes traveling west, the montane forests give way to the cloud forest between 2,200 meters (7,218 feet) and at 900 meters (2,953 feet) above sea level. This cloud forest gradually transforms into a tropical, coastal rainforest that runs nearly all the way to Ecuador’s Pacific Coast. The total area of the Choco region (a major region in which the Mashpi Reserve is located) in Ecuador is approximately 47,000 km2 (18,146 mi2).

Conversely, a visit to the Amazon exposes you to only one type of forest: tropical rainforest. Beginning at the foothills of the Andes’ eastern slope, the Amazon rainforest covers an area almost as large as the continental United States and extends across nine South American countries. It offers an incredible wealth of flora and fauna as well as opportunities to discover indigenous cultures, but reaching it is slightly complex and certainly time-consuming. How much you manage to see during your fleeting vacation is clearly an important factor when choosing a destination. This leads many visitors to decide to focus their journey on the Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve, which is located in the Ecuadorian Amazon along the Colombian border.

Part of the Amazon Basin, Cuyabeno harbors a large diversity of wildlife within a concentrated area that’s characterized by floodplains at the foothill of the Andes. In a four-day trip, you might see a large part of the animal species on your Amazon bucket list. The downside to visiting this area (beyond time issues), however, is that it isn’t a very exclusive experience, and for every outing you’ll likely have to squeeze onto a small motor-powered canoe with 20+ other tourists.

In comparison, the Mashpi Reserve offers visitors an exclusive experience with access to both the rainforest and cloud forest in Ecuador, guaranteeing numerous wildlife sightings within a short amount of time.

Amazonía-1

The Great Divide: The Andes Mountain Range

To get a clearer picture of why the Amazon and the Mashpi Reserve in Ecuador are so different, it’s necessary to travel back in time by a few million years. Around 60 million years, to be more precise. At that time, the Andes mountain range began to rise from the continent, reaching its full height around 10 million years ago.

As the Earth’s longest continental mountain range, the Andes functioned as a physical barrier between East and West. This natural “great wall” created geographic isolation between species on either side of the range, preventing their interaction, and leading to speciation (the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution). You can check out a cool video about this process below:

This continental barrier is also responsible for the change in climate between the two regions: the Andes blocked the flow of humid air from the Atlantic coast and kept water from draining into the Pacific. The massive amount of humidity and water that accumulated west of the Andes is responsible for the modern-day Amazon Basin and the namesake river that drains into the Atlantic Ocean.

On the western side of the Andes, new high-elevation habitats and environmental conditions were formed. Among these is the Mashpi Reserve’s rainforest and cloud forest.

The rise of the Andes is a fascinating (and controversial) topic that goes beyond the scope of this article. If you’re interested in learning more, then be sure to read this ScienceMag post.

 

Speciation between Amazon species and the Mashpi Reserve’s cloud forest animals

The process that led to the formation of the Andes mountain range resulted in impressive levels of speciation, with significant differences found when comparing the animals of the Ecuadorian Amazon and Mashpi Reserve cloud forest. However, since many of them share a common ancestor, striking similarities are also apparent. The following three examples provide a small glimpse into some of the evolutionary changes that took place between similar species across both regions:

Choco cloud forest star: the Cock of the Rock

Cock of the Rock

An intriguing example of speciation between the Amazon and the Mashpi Reserve is the Cock of the Rock (Rupicola peruvianus). Known best for its vibrant coloration and fan-shaped crests (in male birds only), the Cock of the Rock is found on both sides of the Andes, with only a subtle variation to its plumage color. In the Amazon, the Cock of the Rock displays a fiery red-orange coloration, while in the Mashpi Reserve it is a solid, and brilliant, red.

In this case, both the Mashpi Reserve and Amazon’s birds are the same species, though they are classified as separate subspecies. As a result of their separation over time, they have evolved only slightly differently.

Long-wattled Umbrella bird

 Another bird with a similar story is the magnificent, and rare, long-wattled umbrellabird (Cephalopterus penduliger).

To attract its mate, the male long-wattled umbrella bird is adorned with a crest and a large throat wattle. If you’ve never seen a throat wattle, it’s time you did. By drawing so much attention to itself, the male umbrella bird makes itself more vulnerable to predators. Fortunately, the length of its wattle can be controlled, and is always retracted in flight.

Between the Mashpi Reserve and the Amazon, the differences between umbrella wattle-bird species were significant enough to classify them as separate species. In appearance, they strongly resemble one another, but the Amazonian species (Cephalopterus ornatus) is noticeably larger.

 You can see the bird yourself at Mashpi Lodge!

3 species you’ll see only in the Mashpi Reserve’s cloud forest

The Amazon’s sheer magnitude manifests in numerous ways.

In breadth, the Amazon rainforest extends over thousands of kilometers, crossing over eight political borders. In depth, the Amazon River can be up to 100 meters (328 feet) deep and, in certain parts, can even be navigated by large steamboats. In height, the Amazon canopy is nearly as high as a 14-story building, averaging a whopping 30-45 meters (100-150 feet)!

Everything in the Amazon is just… bigger, including the animals that dwell there. Among the more popular Amazonian inhabitants are the jaguar, the pink dolphin, the tapir, bird-eating tarantulas, and man-eating piranhas (which, by the way, are generally harmless in spite of their aggressive name).

The Mashpi Reserve’s cloud forest, in contrast, harbors much smaller animal species. Many of these species are endemic to the Choco bioregion (the bioregion that the Mashpi Reserve sits in); that is, they can only be found in the Choco cloud forest region and nowhere else in the world. In fact, among the reptiles and amphibians found in the Choco, nearly 40% are endemic.

The Mashpi Reserve within the Ecuadorian Choco is a pristine, unspoilt tract of the Choco where, if you’re lucky, you might have the opportunity to see a few of the following endemic creatures:

Beautiful tree frog. Photo: Augusto Rodriguez Flores

 

“Cutin Adornado” (Pristimantis ornatissimus)

Pristimantis ornatissimus is a small tree frog endemic to the north-western flank of the Andes (between 400-1,800 meters [1,312 – 5,905 feet] above sea level).

 Due to its bright yellow coloration, the frog is thought of as a jewel in the forest. This also helps to explain its name: in Latin, ornatus means decorated or ornate. In fact, even the local nickname used to describe the frog, cutin adornado (adorned “cutin”), refers to its decorative colors.

 A nocturnal and arboreal species, Pristimantis ornatissimus lives in large leaves and bromeliads. Unfortunately, as is too often the case these days, it is now on the world’s vulnerable species list due to habitat loss and deforestation and, as an amphibian, it is especially vulnerable to agricultural pollution.

Choco Toucan: a favorite bird to spot at Mashpi Lodge

 

Choco Toucan (Ramphastos brevis)

 This bright toucan is endemic to the Choco forests, as its name implies. Unlike Pristimantis ornatissimus (described above) frequent sightings of the Choco Toucan attest to the population’s overall health. That being said, according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, this toucan’s population appears to be decreasing. The good news, however, is that its species is spread out over a wide region and is therefore exposed to less immediate risk.

The Choco toucan is a large, striking bird. Its yellow and black beak is conspicuous, as well as its call, which sounds more like a croak than an actual call. In the forest, these birds are known to cause quite a racket, especially when flocking together. There’s something about a toucan’s colors, beak and character that delight birders and non-birders alike.

In the Mashpi Reserve, one of the best places to spot the toucan is from the Dragonfly, a cloud forest cable car at Mashpi Lodge that inserts you right into the forest canopy.

 

The cloud forest in Ecuador is home to beautiful hummingbirds, like this Violet-tailed sylph

Violet-tailed sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis)

Along the Mashpi Reserves upper cloud forest, at around 900 meters (3,000 feet), birdwatchers may have the distinct privilege of spotting yet another endemic bird species: the violet-tailed sylph. Named after the male’s stunning, long, and resplendent tail, this little bird species maintains a stable population and is not at risk.

Like the other animals on this short list of endemic Choco species, the violet-tailed sylph can only be sighted in the Choco, thriving in its mossy forest. It lives here year-round and can be spotted frequenting the sweet water feeders around Mashpi Lodge.

Wrapping up…

If you hadn’t considered visiting Mashpi Reserve’s rainforest and cloud forest before, it’s time you did.

Only a fraction of the size of the Amazon, the Mashpi Reserve is an important piece of one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world! In Ecuador, the Mashpi Reserve’s natural wealth is concentrated in an accessible and exclusive reserve, just a three-hour drive from the country’s capital.

Are you ready to experience the Mashpi Reserve?

Make your reservation at Mashpi Lodge today.


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April 24, 2018 0

Reading Time: 5 minutesBy: Augusto Rodríguez Flores.

Let’s start by saying that all biological organisms are grouped into natural units of reproduction, which we know as species. On one hand, species that live on the planet today came from other different species that existed in the past, through a process known as descent with modification.

When we hear the word ‘evolution’, the first things that usually come to mind are monkeys, fossil remains, and the scientist Charles Darwin.

But what is evolution, really? Evolution is perhaps the most important universal process, consisting of the combination of transformations or changes that all living beings have had handed down to them from a common ancestor or predecessor. This, in turn, has paved the way for all the forms of life on Earth. Not only for life forms, but also for rocks, stars, planets and everything that exists and is related to the natural world; that means that evolution can be biological, geographical, and also astronomical. All these processes take a lot of time: thousands or even millions of years to manifest themselves.

The “Theory of Evolution,” as it is known today, was developed by British naturalist Charles Darwin in 1859. At that time, some scientists were already in agreement over the idea that living beings change or evolve with time and where grades of relations exist. However, what wasn’t known was why this happened. In 1859, Charles Darwin created his seminal work “On the Origin of Species,” through which his theory became famous. Darwin compiled a great deal of information over many years, with examples and other statistics that helped establish the foundation of the proposed theory.

history of darwin’s theory

The main evidence he provided dealt mostly with natural selection, or species changing with time because only the most suitable individuals were able to leave descendants. The characteristics that make individuals more suitable than others are different depending on the environment in which they develop. Consequently, from generation after generation, species evolve to adapt themselves to their environment (The Origin of Man, s.f.).

 THE HISTORY OF DARWIN’S THEORY

Charles Darwin set out on a five-year journey around the world on December 27, 1831, aboard the HMS Beagle. He aimed to study and get to know the natural history of the different countries he visited.

On that journey, Darwin was able to compile information from the observation of animal behavior and the characteristics of plants, where favorable variations were retained and the unfavorable ones were disposed of. The result of this pattern would lead to the formation of new species. This connection of observations allowed him to come up with his theory of natural selection in 1838.

Another important occurrence was when, in July 1, 1858, Darwin and Wallace simultaneously presented articles about their theory to the Linnean Society of London. Afterwards, in 1859, Darwin published his seminal work which contained all the studies, hypotheses, and other facts that he had compiled and studied. “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life” would end up being one of his most monumental pieces of work.

The following are some examples proving the theory of evolution (Barbadilla, 1999,2010):

Biogeographic proof:

Distributed around the planet are groups of more-or-less similar species, which are related. This type of proof is interesting, as these groups inhabit places that are similar to one another other due to their proximity.

A classic example is the distribution of flightless birds of the Struthioniformes order to which the tinamou bird belongs – a bird that lives in the forests of Mashpi.

tinamú Mashpi

Paleontological proof:

The discovery of countless fossils of plants and animals has allowed us to see how they were adapted to the changing conditions of the environment.

A reflection of this is seen in the formation of the Andes Mountains and the changes it brought to the flora and fauna, all of which resulted in the incredible diversity of the forests of the Tropical Andes.

Paleontological proof:

The discovery of countless fossils of plants and animals has allowed us to see how they were adapted to the changing conditions of the environment.

A reflection of this is seen in the formation of the Andes Mountains and the changes it brought to the flora and fauna, all of which resulted in the incredible diversity of the forests of the Tropical Andes.

Anatomical proof:

butterfly camouflage mashpi
Photo credit: Augusto Rodríguez Flores

This is regarded as the strongest supporting evidence for evolution, as anatomy can help show us how organisms have adapted to their environment. On one hand, studying anatomy allows one to realize that some parts of different animals resemble each other, indicating that they are a species that is closely related and merely separated by a distinct adaptation to different environments.

A clear example of this is the different species of butterfly that inhabit the Mashpi reserve. It is very interesting and surprising to be able to appreciate how these animals have developed different forms of imitation to avoid their predators in the forest; such as the owl-eye butterfly, whose wings open up to present the unmistakable design of owl eyes, with each corner revealing the additional shape of a snake. Another species, whose transparency combined with points that look like eyes, mimics the shape of a glass frog.

All of this happens in butterflies due to the fact that they close their wings when they are perched in the forest and, in this way, other animal species see the ventral part where these imitations are found.

 

Biochemical proof:

 Finally, the most recent proof that presents the most possibilities consists of comparing certain molecules that appear in all living beings in such a way that these molecules are similar when there are less evolutionary differences between the owners, and vice versa. This has been done mainly with proteins (like blood proteins) and DNA.

frogs of mashpi lodge

Venomous frogs from the Dendrobatidae family are an amazing species, incredibly eye-catching for neo-tropical frogs. They measure up to 15mm and have a secret weapon: chemicals on their skin. They are only found in Central and South America, many have bright, flashy colors that help warn predators of their toxicity. They are able to produce strong toxins in their skin thanks to the insects they eat.

An abundant species in Mashpi, and a relatively easy one to find for those who have patient eyes and well-trained ears is the Nodriza de Boulenger’s frog. This is the only member of this family that inhabits the lower forests of the reserve.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES

  • Barbadilla, A. (1999,2010). La Evolución Biológica. Obtenido de Bioinformatica UAB: http://bioinformatica.uab.es/divulgacio/evol.html
  • El origen del hombre. (s.f). Resumen de la teoría de Darwin, el Origen de las especies. Obtenido de http://www.elorigendelhombre.com/teoria%20de%20darwin.html
  • Luarna ediciones. (s.f). La evolución de las especies, Charles Darwin. Obtenido de http://www.ataun.net/bibliotecagratuita/Cl%C3%A1sicos%20en%20Espa%C3%B1ol/Charles%20Darwin/La%20evoluci%C3%B3n%20de%20las%20especies.pdf

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November 27, 2017 4

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">14</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> “The life of plants and animals is, in a way, the sum of their interactions with other plants and animals and the environment that they live in.”


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November 17, 2017 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">3</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> The story of Mashpi Lodge begins in 2001, when businessman and former mayor of Quito Roque Sevilla decided to purchase a section of the Ecuadorian Chocó forest


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November 16, 2017 1

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">6</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> The forests have spies; guardians that try to detangle the mysteries guarded by the woods, to understand their dynamics and through knowledge and science protect the most sacred and mystic places on the planet.


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November 14, 2017 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">5</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> Fernando Timpe knows Mashpi Reserve, where Mashpi Lodge is located, like the back of his hand. He was part of its history long before its promoter, Roque Sevilla, had even contemplated building a hotel on the land. At the time, the very idea seemed to be lunacy.



July 1, 2017 0

<span class="rt-reading-time" style="display: block;"><span class="rt-label">Reading Time: </span> <span class="rt-time">5</span> <span class="rt-label rt-postfix">minutes</span></span> A bio-region and important hotbed of diversity for the planet, is a game between mountains and the sea.


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