Bats are on the Radar for Amazon Conservation Association’s Bolivia Office

BatBats are among the least understood and most loathed mammals on the planet.  Myth and legend paint them as cruel vampires that would not hesitate to drink all the blood from their innocent victims.  While it is true that three blood-sucking species exist in the world, they are not as cruel as myths make them seem, and there are many other species that have important roles in their ecosystems. In rainforests in particular, bats control insect populations, serve as pollinators and seed dispersers for numerous plant species, and in some cases regulate populations of small vertebrates, providing balance to the intricate web of life in the forest.

Bolivia is one of the countries with the highest levels of biodiversity in the world, a fact which is evident in the number of mammal species that exist. This charismatic group of fauna includes 125 species of bat, which is close to half of the total mammal species in the country. Madidi National Park, a protected area of international importance and a jewel of biodiversity, spans numerous ecological zones, from permafrost to Amazonian forest, and is home to more than 90 bat species.

Bats are crucial for all the ecosystems they inhabit, yet we still know far too little about the species found in this region. We continue to identify new species in the Park, but information about their natural history and ecology is still very limited. Most of the species of bats in Madidi were recorded through a combination of sampling methods, including the use of mist nets at ground and canopy level complemented by acoustic monitoring. This mix of sampling methods provides a more complete view of the species present in a particular ecosystem. Even though ACA-Bolivia has made great progress in recording this region’s bat species, there are still many ecosystems and forest types to be sampled. Further study will certainly increase the known diversity of bats in this protected area and will make evident the great intrinsic and ecological value of these species while adding to our ability to conserve this magnificent landscape. (Photo above by Graham Anderson and illustration by Adrian Tejedor.)

The Norwegian Government Funds REDD and Poverty Alleviation Project in Peru

REDD Project Burning REDD—Reducing Emissions from Deforestation & Forest Degradation—is a powerful new mechanism for mitigating climate change by compensating tropical countries for their reductions of greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation. ACA has designed a REDD project that will alleviate poverty through the creation of training and employment opportunities for local and indigenous communities in Cusco’s highlands and cloud forest zones. In June 2009, ACA received a nearly $500,000 grant from Norway’s international development agency (Norad) to fund the first year of the project.

Deforestation and forest fires are a major concern for the department of Cusco, where world-renowned Manu National Park has already lost over 44,000 acres to fires caused by humans. This enormous loss is in part due to about 4,000 head of cattle in the highland areas of the park, where cattle owners burn grasslands to provide young grasses for the cattle. Additionally, in the buffer zone around the park, many communities lack access to cooking fuel and electricity, and instead cut down their forests for firewood.

The heart of the project lies in helping these buffer communities to minimize the use of fire to clear pasture for their cattle and firewood and to create financial and market incentives for them to conserve native forests. A central initiative is to reforest REDD Projectdegraded lands with green firebreaks that are enriched with profitable Andean plant species. Already, ACA has developed fire prevention workshops in partnership with Manu National Park and begun hosting them in local communities.

As part of this grant project, ACA will hold a REDD conference in Cusco on December 3 and 4, 2009. The conference will introduce the concept of REDD to regional government officials, indigenous representatives from the Queros Wachiperi community, and district leaders from the buffer zone of Manu National Park.

Other project activities include firefighting training with Manu National Park guards, construction of plant nurseries, design of pilot REDD projects with communities, and technical support for designing REDD policies in Peru. ACA is also conducting outreach in the United States to policymakers and development funders about the REDD approach in high-forest, low-deforestation countries, such as Peru and Bolivia.

Over the course of the next five years, ACA intends to demonstrate that helping communities build a portfolio of conservation-based industries and connecting them with international and local markets will reduce deforestation pressure on the Andean cloud forest. The project also includes a strong scientific component, extending research already underway on fire frequency, REDD Projectforest degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions in the Andes. These studies will provide communities with information they need to make good decisions about resource management.

The project is designed as a scalable REDD mechanism that is replicable in other tropical mountain regions and that incorporates strategies to strengthen REDD programs worldwide. Human-caused fire in the tropical Andes is emitting large amounts of CO2, degrading ecosystems, destroying biodiversity, and threatening human livelihoods. Our project can reduce the frequency of fires at the same time it alleviates poverty and conserves healthy watersheds. If you’re interested in learning more, please see our fact sheet (PDF). ACA is currently seeking interested partners and donors for this project. (Photos above by Megan MacDowell and Carmen Giusti.)

Los Amigos Serves as a Natural Photography Studio

ACA’s research station functioned as a world-class photo studio for Graham D. Anderson, a leading wildlife photographer, who served as resident artist at the Los Amigos Biological Station during August and September 2009. Graham’s work in Los Amigos has been focused on taking pictures of birds and bats in flight. Through the use of infrared lights as sensors and other electronic elements that he developed, he has been able to capture stunning motion shots.

“I never expected it to be so easy to take nature photos the way I have been able to in Los Amigos,” Graham said. “Not just because of the facilities, but because there are animals everywhere, not to mention you are constantly in contact with researchers who provide you with a wealth of information.

“My experience at Los Amigos was fabulous. I am looking forward to my travels to Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Center near Cusco, where ACA has another station that is dedicated to their vision of preserving the Amazon in a way that evokes a sense of social responsibility. I want to experience it and take pictures of flying hummingbirds—I know there are plenty there.”

ACA takes great pride in the fact that photographers of Graham’s caliber consider the concession to be a natural studio for photography and filming. ACA works hard to make this “studio” accessible to professional and amateur photographers and filmmakers around the world, who work alongside the biologists and other researchers at the station.

“We don’t want to just show the scientific side of the picture. This of course helps researchers answer many questions in terms of biodiversity, but what we really want to highlight are the immense opportunities for outreach available in the ACA’s biological facilities and conservation concessions,” said ACCA science manager Adrian Tejedor. (Photos by Graham Anderson.)

Peru’s Minister of Environment Antonio Brack Cites ACA’s Work  

The Peruvian Minister of Environment, Dr. Antonio Brack EggThe Peruvian Minister of Environment, Dr. Antonio Brack Egg, attended the 8th annual MAP Forum, a tri-national civil society conference on sustainable development named for the areas it includes: Madre de Dios, Peru; Acre, Brazil; and Pando, Bolivia.

Minister Brack’s presence at the conference in Puerto Maldonado, Peru demonstrated the interest that the new Environment Ministry has in conservation in the Amazon’s headwaters. It also raised the profile of the forum, which began as a small volunteer-run meeting eight years ago; ACA has participated in the forum for a number of years.

In his speech, Minister Brack lauded MAP participants for their efforts and pointed to other opportunities for sustainable development in the southwestern Amazon such as ecotourism, fish farming, reforestation, and carbon markets. He also made special mention of the potential for tropical research, and identified ACA’s Los Amigos Biological Station as a role model for the region and a first-class research facility where many plants and animal species have been discovered. (Photo by Miguel Moran.)

Found Another One! New Frog Species Discovered at Los Amigos

New Frog Species Discovered at Los AmigosScientists have described a new species of frog from ACA’s Los Amigos Biological Station (known locally as CICRA). This species, Pristimantis divnae, belongs to the family Strabomantidae and lives in the leaf-litter and understory in terra firme forest at the base of Peru’s southern Andes. The species is characterized by a contrasting pattern of yellow and black with brown patches. The discovery of this new species of Pristimantis is significant because over the last 10 years only eight species from the genus have been found in the Amazon.

New Frog Species Discovered at Los AmigosEdgar Lehr from the Senckenberg Natural History Collection in Dresden, Germany and ACA scholarship recipient Rudolf von May from Florida International University’s Department of Biological Sciences describe this new species in the latest issue of the Journal of Herpetology (Vol. 43, No. 3).

This discovery comes on the heels of finding the Noble’s pygmy frog (Noblella pygmaea), which was recently described at ACA’s Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Center. We are all excited to see what other new species will be discovered next! (Photos by Rudolf von May.)

ACA’s Executive Director Cesar Moran Speaks Before the Peruvian Congress

Peruvian Congress and Cesar MoranOn September 7, 2009, ACA/ACCA’s executive director Cesar Moran along with Augusto Mulanovich, ACCA’s environmental services specialist, gave a presentation on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) and payment for environmental services to members of Peru’s Congress in Lima, Peru. Cesar and Augusto were the only representatives of a Peruvian NGO invited to speak at the event, which was intended to show what Peru can learn from early experiments in payments for environmental services such as carbon markets and conservation banking. Their speech focused on the opportunities for REDD in Peru and described ACA’s experience developing a REDD project at our Los Amigos Conservation Concession.

Later in the forum, Peruvian congressman Franklin Sanchez introduced draft legislation for national policy on environmental services, and a representative of Costa Rica’s National Forest Financing Fund (FONAFIFO) gave a presentation on the success of similar measures in that country. At a technical meeting the next day, Cesar and Augusto had the opportunity to discuss the potential benefits and limitations of the draft legislation with members of the Peruvian Congress, representatives of the Ministries of Agriculture and Environment, and conservation think tanks. It is expected that Peru will pass an environmental services law sometime during 2010, setting the groundwork for opening the country to REDD projects and markets.