Discovering species new to science

New species are waiting to be discovered in these islands in the sky

The beautiful forested valley of the Rio Pastaza, in the Andes of central Ecuador, is home to the popular tourist town of Baños – a town with a secret…

These are all new species of Teagueia orchids discovered in the last twelve years in and around the EcoMinga reserves. Only one Teagueia species was known previously from the area © Lou Jost /EcoMinga.

Little known to many of the people that flock here, this small specific region supports greater plant endemism – species that are found nowhere else on Earth – than the Galapagos Islands.

Countless species new to science – such as one of the world’s smallest orchids and a tree named after David Attenborough – have been discovered here by conservationists from Fundación EcoMinga.

The team have spent almost a decade exploring and protecting these mountainous forests, with the aim of creating a network of reserves that will eventually connect two existing National Parks – the Sangay National Park and the Los Llanganates National Park.

This will preserve a vast tract of virgin forest, home to roaming pumas, mountain tapirs and spectacled bears. Hidden in its higher elevations, it also harbours a unique diversity of endemic orchids (pictured) that were only discovered a few years ago by botany expert Lou Jost, co-founder of EcoMinga, with his students and co-workers. Lou said:

“Our orchids of the Teagueia genus constitute one of the earth’s most remarkable local plant evolutionary radiations; there are more species in a much smaller area than better-known recently-evolved plant radiations, such as Darwin’s Scalesia Arn. (Asteraceae) on the Galapagos Islands. The extraordinary scientific importance of this unique evolutionary radiation makes these mountains a global conservation priority.”

There are without doubt many more species waiting to be discovered in these mountains, but EcoMinga’s work does not stop at discovery and protection.

The team also work with surrounding communities to raise awareness and provide environmental education, as well as helping local people with environmental campaigns and setting-up sustainable livelihoods. In recognition of this, Lou and  Juan Pablo Reyes (EcoMinga’s reserve manager) have been awarded medals by the people of Baños, as their local conservation heroes.

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