Biodiversity evaluations

Scientific research in northern La Paz over the last fifteen years has revealed an exceptional biological richness. Recent studies estimate the presence of 12,000 species of vascular plants, 1050 species of birds, 278 mammals, 352 reptiles and amphibians and at least 296 fish. Although this region is now one of the best known of Bolivia, there are significant gaps in scientific information, especially for some taxonomic groups, such as non vascular plants, small mammals and invertebrates, as well as montane and Amazon ecosystems, and the distribution of species, their relative abundance and habitat use.

One of the priorities of the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape Program is to gather data on the diversity, distribution and abundance of different elements of biodiversity. This work focuses on biodiversity campaign surveys in different parts of the landscape, systematizing existing information, using questionnaires with local communities and partners of the program, interpreting satellite images with field data verification, and in some cases documenting new species records for the region.

In total, WCS has systematized 59,554 records of vertebrates for the Greater Madidi-Tambopata Landscape, increasing scientific knowledge at more than 35 sites, including the registration of three new species for Bolivia (Cuniculus taczanowskii, Lagothrix cf. cana tschudii and Saccopteryx canescens) and a new species for science (Callicebus aureipalatii). This information has allowed the creation of a geographic database (GIS) and the elaboration of distribution maps of medium and large mammals of the landscape and some bird species.

Fish

Icthyological studies conducted in 2009 along the lower and middle Madidi river, in coordination with the Bolivian Fauna Collection, resulted in the identification of 8 orders, 28 families and 121 species. The most represented families were Characidae (37 species) and Loricariidae (15 species), followed by Cichlidae (10 species), Pimelodidae (9 species), Anostomidae (5 species) and Callichtyidae (5 species).

Twelve of the identified species are new records for the Madidi region: Chilodus punctatus, Crenicara latruncularium, Henonemus punctatus, Leporelus vittatus, Megalechis personata, Platyurosternarchus macrostomus, Rivulus beniensis, Triportheus rotundatus, Imparfinis sp., Apareiodon sp., and Aphyolebias sp..

Birds

Madidi is the most biologically diverse protected area on the planet. This claim stems from data on its rich avifauna: with only 0.037% of the planet's surface, Madidi contains more than 11% of existing bird species. This is due to its altitudinal span (150m to 6000m), that has resulted in a diversity of habitats that are distributed down the eastern flank of the Andes.

Bird studies started in Madidi in the early 90’s following initial surveys by the late Ted Parker III. Since 2000 WCS has worked in partnership with ARMONIA, a Bolivian bird conservation organization, carrying out several surveys on the diversity, distribution and abundance of birds in different habitats of Madidi, that have been almost solely responsible for increasing the number of formally registered species in the park from 590 in 1998 to 917 in early 2008. In all, we are confident that eventually 1050 species will be registered in Madidi, based on the existing knowledge on the distribution of birds and anticipated further studies in the landscape.

In addition, our research efforts with ARMONIA have rediscovered two amazing bird species in the region: the palkachupa (Phibalura boliviana) and the wattled curassow (Crax globulosa). In 2000, 98 years after its initial collection, we rediscovered the Bolivian swallow-tailed cotinga, or ‘palkachupa’ as it is locally named, in the savanna-montane forest landscape of the Apolo region of Madidi. Subsequent WCS funded studies have established that this formally considered subspecies should be recognized as a full endemic species that is exclusive to the Apolo region.

Similarly, in 2001 WCS assisted ARMONIA in the rediscovery of the wattled curassow or mamaco, a large turkey-like bird around an isolated lake just off the Beni River. This represents Bolivia’s only known population for this bird that was once believed to be super-abundant across the seasonally inundated forests of the Amazon. Unfortunately its response to danger is to sit tight in a tree which means it has been vulnerable to hunting across the Amazon and only survives in a few isolated patches. ARMONIA are now continuing with specific research projects on the ecology of both the palkachupa and the mamaco.

Mammals

One of the research objectives of WCS is the study of threatened medium and large mammals. The Greater Madidi-Tambopata Conservation Program systematized published and unpublished scientific information and created a data base for mammal records of the landscape, which later was extended nationally and used as the basis for the elaboration and publication in 2010 of the book "Distribution, Ecology and Conservation of Medium and Large Mammals of Bolivia".

Between 2000 and 2009 several evaluations of mammals were conducted in the Madidi protected area and its area of influence: Asariamas and Tuichi, Hondo, Quendeque, Madidi and Heath rivers, using line transects for direct observation and camera traps in forest and savanna areas. Also in 2006, an evaluation was conducted on the presence of mammals around the Tequeje and Undumo streams in the Tacana Indigenous Territory, and in 2007 a survey was conducted on the Peruvian side of the landscape along the Tambopata river and its tributaries.

These studies allowed the detection of several species previously unrecorded or not confirmed for Bolivia, such as the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus peruvianus), sighted in the area of Pusupunku of the Apolobamba range. This is the second record for Bolivia after 25 years. Another species recorded for the first time was the mountain paca (Cuniculus taczanowskii) that inhabits the Apolobamba montane forests, it can also be found in Peru.

In the montane forests of the higher part of the Tuichi river, around Asariamas and Pata in the Madidi park, groups of woolly monkeys (Lagothrix cf. cana tschudii) were observed, becoming the first record of this genus for Bolivia. Studies have also registered several mammalian species that are difficult to observe, like the greater grison (Galictis vittata), the short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis), the maned wolf (Chrysocyon brachyurus), the margay (Leopardus wiedii), the marsh deer (Blastocerus dichotomus), the bush dog (Speothos venaticus) and the pacarana (Dinomys branickii).

A total of 3,241.25 kilometers of line transects were conducted, identifying the presence of 25 medium and large mammals species. Information was obtained on the relative abundance and population density of several species, including 7 monkey species, white-lipped peccaries, collared peccaries, agoutis and squirrels. Likewise, standard camera trap studies generated information on the relative abundance of more nocturnal species like tapirs, deer and spotted pacas.

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