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New species of orchids found on high plateaus

Recent discoveries made in Las Orquídeas National Park are a step forward in documenting the country’s biodiversity in hard-to-access areas. UN researchers gathering new plant samples on the high plateaus of Colombia’s western mountain chain have found some new orchid species.

Bogotá D. C., 25 de abril de 2012Agencia de Noticias UN-

Las Orquideas National Park, still very much unexplored, is located in the western mountain range of Colombia and is a region of high biodiversity.

The collection process ended when plant samples were placed inside big burlap sacks.

The Las Orquídeas National Park’s landscape is very attractive to photographers due to its great fauna, flora and scenery.

Some species brought back to Bogotá are still in the process of identification.

The area is located in the foothills of the western mountain chain in the Province of Antioquia, more exactly near the towns of Urrao, Frontino and Abriaquí. The goal of the research expeditions in this 29,107 hectare region is to demonstrate that the park is not only a safe haven for the spectacled bear, but also a place that hosts a woodland biodiversity which is very characteristic of the Andean Region and Chocó Province. 

This vascular plant study, including ferns, its related species and all flowered plants, has been financed by the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The objective is to gather information about the regional flora which currently resides in many institutions scattered around the world. Various plant collectors have been to the region, and have deposited records of their findings in several herbariums, especially those of Antioquia, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the UN-Colombian National Herbarium in Bogotá, and the New York Botanical Garden.

Biologist and UN professor Julio Betancur, and New York Botanical Garden biologist, Paola Pedraza led the expedition. They have tried to reach places which currently are still relatively unexplored by scientists. “Previous park collections have been performed in two locations known as Calles and Venados. There are currently no records or samples of upper plateau ecosystems from these highest areas of the park. Therefore we have just found a location which has important biogeographical implications for this part of the continent. However, access to the area is very difficult”, says Betancur.

A hard place to get to  

To date  records don’t exist of samples from the highest part of the park, located on the top of Morro Pelao.

The climatic, logistical and geographical conditions make each expedition a unique recording experience. “Access to this high plateau is achieved by traveling through the region of Urabá, through the towns of Santafé de Antioquia, Giraldo, Cañas Gordas, Frontino and Abriaquí. When we reached the point known as Casa Verde we then walked several hours to the rural settlements of La Linda and La Mina. A few days before ascending to Morro Pelao, we hired some peasants to clear a path through the dense vegetation. Additionally we also hired some other local men to carry camping equipment, supplies and other necessary articles for this kind of expedition” says Betancur. 

“The group had to climb a steep, almost ninety degree slope, hanging on to roots, branches and tree trunks in order to not lose their foothold. The climb alone took about nine hours. The forest is dense, very humid and full of roots.  The wind really gusts hard and it’s one of the most incredible places in the world, says Betancur.

Researchers hope to distribute all the gathered information to the general public through the very complete photo gallery and databases at the Colombian National Herbarium of UN-Bogotá. The information will also be made available via the Virtual Herbarium of the New York Botanical Garden, available on the internet. Similarly, they hope to create field guides to aid forest rangers and local inhabitants alike in environmental interpretation. This is a contribution to environmental education, and to the conservation of the natural resources of the park.

Biological interaction

On the high plateaus of Morro Pelao, the researchers have found a series of unique plants for this kind of ecosystem, which had never before been recorded in this part of Colombia. This is evidence of the continuity between these moorlands of the western mountain ridge, despite its isolation. “In our expeditions we have found many new species, from many different groups. These are new family records not only for Colombia but also for South America”, says Betancur.

Besides the information and exploration potential of the region, the importance of these expeditions is not only to identify new endemic species for Colombia, but also to create important interaction networks. The expedition also located several spectacled bear feeding grounds, and this particular bear is registered as an endangered species.

(Por: Fin/CJCO/sup/fgd
)
N.° 710

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