20 for 20: Celebrating Wayqecha, the Only Cloud Forest Research Station in Peru

Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Station part of 20 for 20 Years of Conservation Wins by Amazon ConservationAmazon Conservation’s Wayqecha Research Station and Conservation Hub, the only cloud forest research station in Peru, officially opened its doors in 2006. Located at 2,900 m of elevation in the cloud forest region of Cusco and just 175 km from our Los Amigos Conservation Hub in the Amazonian lowlands, these research sites together provide a full panorama of the biodiversity and climate changes in the Andes-Amazon region.

Wayqecha Research Station protects the cloud forest’s biodiversity and facilitates research that leads to a better understanding of this ecosystem. Cloud forests receive hundreds of inches of rain every year and their trees, mosses and soil work as giant sponges capturing the abundant rainfall and then releasing it slowly into a network of small streams and creeks that represent the smallest tributaries of the vast Amazon drainage.

Cloud forests are of critical conservation value for many reasons, including containing a vast storehouse of species, many of them narrowly endemic, and also serve as natural corridors for plant and animal species pushed uphill by global warming.

Canopy Walkway at Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Station and Conservation HubAdditionally, three years after opening, we added the first-ever canopy walkway in an Amazonian highland cloud forest. The canopy walkway provides access to the upper parts of the forest, which is where a lot of natural activity is, including an amazing diversity of bromeliad, orchids, birds and butterflies. It consists of four aluminum towers connected by a 146-meter-long network of suspension bridges that pass under, through, and above the forest canopy. Another important feature of the canopy walkway is a rigid truss bridge through a small rock canyon that leads to the base of a waterfall passing through an area with a completely distinct climate and Cloud Forest Canopy. Other bridges lead visitors across forested slopes that cover eight distinct eco-zones, providing a view from more than 10,000 feet in elevation down to the Amazon basin.

This is part of a series commemorating our 20th anniversary protecting the Amazon. We’re celebrating this milestone with a look back at our 20 biggest conservation wins over the past 20 years. Click here to support protected areas and research stations around the Amazon.

ACA’s Third Birdathon Prepares to Take Flight

Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis ctanea) perched on a branch, ready for the Birdathon. (Credit: Glenn Bartley)

Birds at both Wayqecha and Villa Carmen are getting ready for their closeup. From October 1 to 11, 2014, a group of Wisconsin birders will have their binoculars at the ready to spot species like the giant hummingbird (“the Schwarzenegger of hummingbirds”), the cock-of-the-rock, the gray-breasted mountain toucan, or even the undulated tinamoubut how many will they see in total? That’s the question we all want to know! [Left: Masked Flowerpiercer (Diglossopis ctanea) perched on a branch, ready for the Birdathon. Credit: Glenn Bartley]

The group will journey all the way from Wisconsin to southeastern Peru, along a high- to low-elevation route that includes multiple days at ACA’s Wayqecha and Villa Carmen Biological Stations. This area, located where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands, is one of the world’s most incredible biodiversity hotspots and hosts an exceptional array of unique and endangered bird species. Group leader and lifelong conservationist Craig Thompson has been leading Birdathons here since 2011.

Through this event, Craig and his group are also raising money for the conservation work at the core of ACA’s mission. Want to join in? You can make a per-species pledge, with a correct guess qualifying to win a copy of the Birds of Peru field guide. You can also make a fixed donation to ACA online or via check (make sure to note your donation as “Birdathon”). Thank you for your support and stay tuned for this year’s species total!

What Kinds of Habitat Will the Group See?

Gray Breasted Mountain ToucanThe landscape shifts dramatically between Wayqecha and Villa Carmen, which means the birds who live in each habitat zone will change, too. Driving between the stations, the elevation drops from 9,875 to 1,700 feet. The birders will pass through puna, cloud/elfin forest, cloud forest, lower montane forest and premontane rainforest in the span of a day.

These videos from Wayqecha show a taste of the bird diversity found at the station, which lies in the buffer zone of Manu National Park. Manu is a colossal protected area twice the size of Yellowstone and world-renowned for its off-the-charts biodiversity (it’s home to ten percent of the planet’s bird species!). As the birders make their descent toward Villa Carmen, they will travel along the Manu Road. 

Hoatzin Bird

According to Craig, the gray-breasted mountain toucan (Left: Andigena hypoglauca) is one of the birding stars at Wayqecha. Other favorites to spot at the station include the golden-headed quetzel, and more than 25 species of tanagers. (Photo credit: Rick Stanley)

Did you know that that biological station is one of the most concentrated sites for viewing or studying bird diversity in the world? There are over 500 species known in its immediate area; all of North America has just north of 700 known bird species. The hoatzin (right) (Opisthocomus hoazin) is one of Craig’s star birds to see at Villa Carmen. (Photo credit: Daniel Huaman)

Lighting Up Wayqecha 

Lighting Up Wayqecha
Photo credit: Robinson Paz

Since Wayqecha runs primarily on generator power, light is a precious commodity, particularly after the sun goes down.

This year, a light donated by YetiSolar was installed to illuminate the cabin of Wayqecha’s administrator, Robinson Paz. Thanks to this solar-powered light he is able to work after-hours without needing to tap into extra generator power, “which is more contaminating [to the environment].” Robinson (wearing the red cap in the photo above) gives his thumbs up: “the power of the light is strong and lasts well.”

Trees race upslope in response to climate change

Around ACA’s Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station, it was noticed that the cloud forest’s tree species were slowly creeping up the Andean mountainside, moving at an average rate of 8 to 12 vertical feet per year. Why were the trees heading uphill? As the weather heats up due to gl obal climate change, trees must migrate upslope toward cooler, more hospitable temperatures.

But while individual trees can move up, they face a barrier when they come to the tree line. In a paper published in September, authors including Dr. Dave Lutz, one of the first researchers to set foot in Wayqecha after its creation, and Dr. Miles Silman, an ACA board member, found that forests above 6,500 feet are hardly moving—barely half a foot upslope each year, nearly 100 times slower than needed to keep pace with climate change.  

Additionally, intentional grassland fires (set by local communities to create more farmland or grazing pasture for cattle) often blaze out of control and spread into the cloud forests, lowering the treeline and preventing trees at the top from further movement upslope. Unmanaged cattle, left to wander in grasslands, also eat young tree seedlings trying to establish themselves along the forest edges. 

According to a study by evolutionary ecologist Dr. Ken Feeley, we could be looking at massive tree and plant extinctions over the next 50 to 75 years. 

That’s why ACA has been focusing its efforts on helping the trees have room to move. By working with local communities, ACA aims to improve cattle management and agricultural practices while training the communities to prevent and fight forest fires, like in the photo below. 

Silman, Lutz, and Feeley are all members of a consortium called the Andes Biodiversity and Ecosystems Research Group (ABERG for short). ACA has been closely collaborating with these scientists and using their research findings to improve the impact of our conservation projects in Peru. 

ABERG’s work was recently profiled in a series of articles and radio interviews entitled “Peru: Race in the Rain Forest,” written by Pulitzer Prize nominee Justin Catanoso. Check them out for more information! 

Glass frog discovered in Peru at Wayqecha is the world’s 7,000th amphibian species!

 The Amazon Conservation Association (ACA) is pleased to announce that an ACA-funded research team discovered the 7,000th amphibian species in the world (according to AmphibiaWeb at UC-Berkeley).  There are currently 8,680 existing species of amphibians, and 0ver one-third are listed as globally threatened or extinct, making this find especially significant. Frogs are dying out worldwide due to habitat destruction, climate change, and – increasingly – the spread of chytrid, a parasitic fungus.

The team found the previously undescribed frog in Peru’s tropical Andes at ACA’s Wayqecha Cloud Forest Biological Station, located in the buffer zone of Manu National Park, a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve. This unique region, where the eastern slopes of the tropical Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands, fosters an incredible variety of species, and is a center of global amphibian diversity.

Glass Frog

The new glass frog, described as Centrolene sabini, is particularly intriguing for researchers due to its high sensitivity to the chytrid fungus; at least two species in the area have already been lost and are considered extinct. Ongoing research on Centrolene sabini will focus on bacteria found on the frog’s skin, which seems to provide protection from the deadly chytrid fungus and could eventually offer a preventive treatment for free-ranging frogs – a goal elusive to scientists thus far. 

The team was led by Wayqecha’s research coordinator Alessandro Catenazzi (pictured here) of San Francisco State University. Catenazzi has studied frog populations in and around the Wayqecha Biological Station for over a decade, documenting the decline in frog diversity and populations. A 40 percent loss of frog diversity over the last decade has been documented in the cloud forests around Wayqecha, with aquatic-breeding frogs experiencing the greatest decline. While following patterns of biodiversity loss worldwide, in this instance the decline of glass frogs is likely caused by the recent expansion of the chytrid fungus into the area.

The new frog is named after Andrew Sabin, president of the Andrew Sabin Family Foundation, and lifelong conservationist, philanthropist, and amphibian enthusiast and advocate. (Photos by Alessandro Catenazzi)

Wayqecha Comes Alive During the Rainy Season

   During the low tourist season of Wayqecha flowerNovember–January, Wayqecha is a magnificent wonder of flowering plants, curious animals, and diverse birds seldom seen at other times of year. Story by Wayqecha intern Laura Morales.

When I first arrived to work at Wayqecha in July 2009, I was struck by how relatively dry this cloud forest was. The forest itself was green, but the transition between the upper cloud forest and the puna grassland was dry as a bone. In September I kept hearing from my co-workers the promise of rain. Well, we waited … September and October passed and we worried that the rains wouldn’t come. Finally, in November we had abundant rain, and the change in the cloud forest and puna was amazing. Many plants produce their fruit at this time of year in greater abundance than during the austral winter, attracting many animals.Wayqecha rainbow

On my rounds of the trails, forest, and puna, and through the reports of researchers working at the station, I noticed an increase in the presence of animals, sighting them and finding their tracks more often. We sighted a resident fox several times and even saw a long-tailed weasel right at the door of the station. Birds, the most visible of animals at the station and always relatively abundant, seemed to explode with new varieties during this period. There was a noticeable change in the demographic of the hummingbird population.

Aside from the boreal migrants that come at this time of year, many more local birds come to feed on the newly abundant fruits, shoots, and insects. Of insects, butterflies in particular appear in new shapes and colors – for example, the spectacular Morpho sulkowskyi makes its first appearance. Of course the butterflies are preceded by an abundance of caterpillars, some so large and Wayqecha shrubfull of bristles as to strike fear into the heart of the most experienced biologist lest he put his hand on one accidentally. And of course the myriad orchids in Wayqecha begin to bloom more abundantly at this time of year.

Everything seems to take on new life with the change in seasons and coming of the rains. Unfortunately this change and contrast is something that few visitors and researchers at the station get to experience. In contrast to the animals, most people flock here during the dry season of May through August. However, the few researchers who do brave the constant drizzle, cloudy weather, risk of landslides and falls along slippery trails, are rewarded by witnessing this greening of Wayqecha.

(Photos by Trond Larsen)

Keeping Students’ Heads in the Clouds

Students at WayqechaACA has been working hard to ensure that students living near Manu National Park learn how to protect the majestic cloud forest in their back yard. The cloud forests where the eastern slopes of the Andes meet the Amazonian lowlands constitute one of the world’s greatest conservation priorities, and with the support of the Sea World & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, we’re doing our best to protect this area.

Through this project, we have created an interpretive trail at our Wayqecha Cloud Forest Research Center and have already organized 6 school field trips for 124 students to the Research Center. Since demand is so high for these field trips, ACA organized a drawing competition on the theme of “Protecting and valuing our natural and cultural environment.”

Student Art at WayqechaOver 300 students submitted drawings and the winning classrooms from each school will be participating in the first field trips to Wayqecha in 2009.

In addition, ACA has led two workshops about how to include environmental themes in the school curriculumfor 97 teachers from Paucartambo and Kcosñipata. Many of these teachers have now committed to lead an environmental service project with their students. We are seeking support to expand this program in 2009, so please consider us in your end-of-year giving!

Drawing: One of the winning submissions by student Max Raúl Cuentas Apaza of Challabamba. Visit our photo gallery to see more submissions.

Wayqechas Research Station Begins Construction!

Wayqechas Research Station Begins ConstructionAs ACA’s premier Amazonian biodiversity research station, CICRA, continues to grow, ACA’s new Wayqechas (why-key-chas) Cloud Forest Research Station is under construction at full speed. Jorge Herrera, who successfully administered CICRA in previous years, is now taking the reins as the new administrator at Wayqechas. He plans to have the first three cabins available this April 2006. Three teams are working busily on the cabins, competing among themselves to deliver the best product. The station will receive its first visitors in April.

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