The find of a lifetime

Bromeliads

By: Anderson Orosco

Bromeliads belong to the Bromeliaceae family and are vascular plants that live, for the most part, in the American tropics, with only one species in existence in Africa, the pitcairnia. The bromeliad family is made up of around 3,140 species grouped into 58 kinds.

In Ecuador there are around 440 species, of which 151 are endemic. A significant number of these are epiphytes, meaning that they grow on other trees, with 357 species that represent 81% of the biodiversity of the family. Bromeliads are particularly diverse in cloud forests between 1,000 and 2,500 metres above sea level.

They make their homes among the treetops, where environmental conditions are ever-changing, exposed to long periods of sunshine, high temperatures and strong winds. Because of this, epiphyte bromeliads have different types of adaptions that allow them to live in this way.

The tank-style bromeliads (one of the classic forms) has rosette-shaped leaves that help them to collect water and fallen leaves from which they gain their nutrients. Other species of bromeliads, like Tillandsia, have little hairs called ‘tricomas’ in their leaves, that also help them to capture water and nutrients, allowing them to live literally off air. Other species of bromeliads have succulent stems, which help them to accumulate water and use it in moments of scarcity.

It has been calculated that, in a hectare of cloud forest, the bromeliads that live in the canopy, especially the tank-type ones, can contain within them more than 10,000 litres of rain water. To fix hundreds of kilos of humus, they also take part in the decomposition of the dead leaves trapped between their leaves. It is in this way that bromeliads play a fundamental role in tropical forests because they provide refuge to a great quantity of organisms that live between their leaves, including microorganisms, insects, arachnids, reptiles, amphibians and birds.

Furthermore, their flowers are pollinated by many species of hummingbirds, bees and other insects, and their fruits feed many species of birds and other mammals. In one single tank-type bromeliad we can find an eco-system, seeing as within its leaves rain water accumulates which serves as the habitat for mosquito larvae, and these in turn can feed the frogspawn of tree frogs that lay their eggs there.

On the other hand, the decomposed remains of the dead larvae, added to the excrement of the frogspawn, feed the bromeliad.

Banded ground Cuckoo

By: Andrea Tapia

A few days ago we saw a few driver ants foraging near the hotel. This caught our attention because they attract lots of birds to the zone, who feed on the insects that the ants chase away. Although this is quite a common sight in Mashpi, this time the ants brought us the welcome visit of a bird that is normally very difficult to see.

Very early in the morning we received word from our guide Juan Carlos that he had just seen a banded ground cuckoo (Neomorphus radiolosus) in the same place where we had seen driver ants over the last few days. The news sent us running to try to see this incredible bird – once at the very least.

The species of banded ground cuckoo that we have in the forests of Mashpi is endemic to the Chocó region, and like many other species in this ecosystem, is threatened due to the destruction of its habitat. For us, it’s great news to know that there are Ecuadorian Chocó banded ground cuckoos on the reserve!

This photo was taken from the Lodge’s lookout point and although the bird is quite timid, we were able to take this picture to share it with you all.

Lichen

By: Anderson Orosco

Lichen are organisms born from the mutual symbiosis between an alga and a fungus. The alga helps the fungus to synthesise glucosides (sugars) through photosynthesis, while the fungus provides an increase in the capacity of absorption of nutrients for the alga.

Furthermore, the alga also gains all the protection it needs for draining, allowing it to live in environments that would otherwise be impossible. Due to the fact that it lives off the connection between two radically opposed organisms, lichen is exceptionally resistant to adverse environmental conditions, and therefore has been able to colonise diverse ecosystems.

In Mashpi, the lichen plays an important role in the recuperation of the forest after a disturbance, especially after a landslide. This is because it can help to fix nutrients into the naked soil, preparing it for the arrival of the first pioneer plants.

Glass frog tadpoles

While we were walking on the Magnolia trail with a group of university students, we took a detour toward the river that runs close to the path to look for macroinvertebrates between the rocks or the fallen leaves in the river.

While we were walking along the banks of the river, together with Professor Blanca Ríos, we discovered a geletanous substance that seemed to have trapped some tiny tadpoles on a fern leaf. When we got closer to be able to get a good look at this curious find, we were able to see a group of eggs of the famous glass frog!

Although glass frogs are found from Mexico to Argentina, the greatest concentration of species is in the Andes of Ecuador and Colombia. These little frogs are known for the peculiar transparency of their skin, and also for the meticulous care of their offspring. The parents guard the laid eggs to prevent them from being attacked by predators, like certain species of wasps.

It has been seen that the eggs that lack the incubation of the mother tend to be more exposed to fungi or predators as the gelatinous layer is not thick enough. So, we know how important it is that these little tadpole are cared for by their parents. We hope to see the new little glass frogs on our next visit to the Magnolia trail!

A peep through the telescope

By: Juan Carlos Narváez

Figure1: Andean Pygmy-Owl, (Glaucidium jardinii)

One of the basic tools that each and every Mashpi guide would never be parted from is the humble telescope. With this we can find birds from a great distance and can show them in minute detail. This great pal always comes accompanied by the book of birds of Ecuador, and together they allow us to show this marvellous world of birds and nature to our guests.

We can also use telescopes to take photos with any kind of digital camera, from the most basic up to the most sophisticated smartphone, transforming the simplest camera phone into a lens to rival the most professional camera.

For example, one of our guides, Wilfrido Basantes, was walking from the Laguna River towards Tower Four of the Dragonfly when he was able to take a photo of an Andean Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium jardini), through a telescope. This bird that lives in cloud forests of the north of South America is an excellent hunter and Wilfrido found it in its favourite pose: lying in wait to creep up on, and devour, a sparrow or tanager.

Another example occurred while we were observing birds from the Life Centre: to our surprise, a squirrel cuckoo in a nearby tree was sitting, giving us the opportunity to appreciate its beauty while it was stretching out and preening its feathers and long tail. Shortly afterwards, a wily tayra came to steal a juicy banana from our feeder.

Figure 2: Left: a squirrel cuckoo (Piaya cayana). Right: A tayra (Eira barbara), enjoying a tasty banana.

Mashpi is a paradise for the senses and with our eyes and the help of a strong telescope we can continue to discover nature at every turn.

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