Rapid Biological Inventories: Results from the Field: Perú 25

PDFs of the Peru, Ere–Campuya–Algodón Inventory:
-Report in English
-Report in Spanish


Report at a glance

Dates of field work
15—31 October 2012

The watersheds of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón rivers, south-bank tributaries of the Putumayo River that drain the northern limits of Peru's Loreto department, harbor a vast extension of lowland forest on nutrient-poor soils. The Ere-Campuya-Algodón region (900,172 ha) has been recognized by Peru and Colombia as a binational conservation priority since 1993 (PEDICP 1993). The three watersheds provide a resource base for Kichwa and Murui1 indigenous peoples and mestizos living along the Putumayo River in 17 settlements (13 officially recognized communities and 4 satellite settlements known as anexos). If protected, the 0.95 million-ha Ere-Campuya-Algodón area would complete a more than 21 million-ha complex of conservation areas and indigenous reserves in the Peru-Colombia-Ecuador border region (Fig.13C).

Sites Surveyed
Biological team: Ere and Algodón watersheds - Cabeceras Ere-Algodón - 15—21 October 2012
Ere and Algodón watersheds - Bajo Ere - 21—26 October 2012
Campuya watershed - Medio Campuya - 26—31 October 2012

Social team: Putumayo watershed - Flor de Agosto - 15—19 October 2012
Putumayo watershed - Ere - 19—23 October 2012
Putumayo watershed - Atalaya - 23—27 October 2012
Putumayo watershed - Santa Mercedes - 27—31 October 2012

While in Atalaya, our social team also interviewed representatives from the anexos of Cedrito and Las Colinas.

On 31 October 2012, both inventory teams offered a public presentation of their preliminary results in Santa Mercedes to residents and leaders of several communities in the region.
Biological and geological inventory focus
Geomorphology, stratigraphy, hydrology, and soils; vegetation and flora; fishes; amphibians and reptiles; birds; medium-sized and large mammals

Social inventory focus
Social and cultural assets; historical and present-day ties among communities on both sides of the border; demography, economics, and natural resource management of the communities; ethnobotany

Principal biological results
The soils of this region are exceedingly poor in nutrients and salts. Chemically, the waters are among the purest sampled in any locality within the Amazon and Orinoco basins to date. Low upland terraces ~132—237 m above sea level (masl) dominate the landscape.

During the inventory we found at least 15 species that appear to be new to science (4 fishes and 11 plants), as well as dozens of new records for Peru or the Putumayo River basin. We registered approximately 1,700 species of vascular plants and vertebrates in three weeks, and estimate that 3,100—3,600 species occur in the region. Many of these species are specially adapted to poor-soil conditions. One of our most important finds was a new vegetation type: a stunted forest (known locally as a varillal) that grows on white-clay soils and is the first varillal to be reported north of the Napo River.

  Species recorded during the inventory Species estimated for the region
Plants 1,009 2,000-2,500
Fishes 210 300
Amphibians 68 156
Reptiles 60 163
Birds 319 450
Mammals 43 71

The Ere-Campuya-Algodón landscape is dominated by low terraces primarily composed of sedimentary rocks that are strikingly poor in salts and nutrients. These terraces are drained by the Campuya River to the north, the Ere to the south, the headwaters of the Algodón to the west, and the broad floodplain of the Putumayo to the east. The highest points on the landscape reach little more than 200 m above sea level and are just 50—60 m higher than the water level of the Putumayo River (Fig.2B).

We encountered six formations and their sedimentary deposits exposed in the Ere- Campuya-Algodón landscape: 1) the salt- and nutrient-rich Pebas Formation, deposited in western Amazonia through much of the Miocene (5–12 mya), 2) the lower Nauta Formation (Nauta 1), deposited in the Plio-Pleistocene (5–~2 mya) and less fertile than the Pebas, 3) the upper Nauta Formation (Nauta 2, ~2 mya), much less fertile than Nauta 1, 4) the White Sands Formation, the most nutrient-poor unit, probably contemporaneous with Nauta 1, 5) Pleistocene (~2–0.1 mya) fluvial deposits, nutrient-rich along rivers with Andean headwaters and nutrient-poor elsewhere, and 6) contemporary fluvial sediments settling in modern floodplains (0–12 kya). The bulk of the landscape appears to be very poor in nutrients and corresponds to the upper or lower Nauta Formations.

Water in the streams and rivers that drain the terraces and floodplains of this region have concentrations of dissolved solids that are among the lowest of any watershed sampled to date in the Amazon and Orinoco River basins. On the eastern bank of the Campuya River, we found outcroppings of the Pebas Formation parallel to an ancient fault line. Locally known as collpas, these outcroppings are a critical source of salts for the animals that consume the bedrock directly or drink water that drains out of it.

We sampled the water in a large collpa known as the Salado del Guacamayo (Macaw Saltlick) and found its salt content to be 200 times higher than that of nearby upland streams (Fig.4).

The lack of bedrock and soil consolidation means that the landscape depends on forest cover to limit erosion. If forest cover were eliminated in this area, vegetation recovery would be slow due to the naturally low levels of soil nutrients, and eroded sediments would rush into streams, alter water quality, and fill floodplains. The entire landscape is susceptible to this kind of destruction.

Vegetation and flora
We found heterogeneous forests harboring a diverse community of poor-soil specialists, with floristic affinities to Colombian forests in the Putumayo and Caquetá watersheds, the Guiana Shield, and other poor-soil forests of Loreto. During 15 days in the field we recorded ~1,000 of the 2,000—2,500 species of vascular plants believed to occur in the region. We collected ~700 specimens, including 11 species potentially new to science (in the genera Compsoneura, Cyclanthus, Dilkea, Piper, Platycarpum, Qualea, Tetrameranthus, Vochysia, and Xylopia) and several new records for the flora of Loreto (Figs. 5 — 6).

We identified three broad vegetation types: 1) upland terraces, 2) floodplain forests (old levees, riparian forests, and oxbow-lake forests), and 3) wetlands. We discovered a previously unknown vegetation type that we are calling a white-clay varillal—a stunted forest similar in structure and floristic composition to varillales in other parts of Loreto but different in that all other varillales in Loreto grow on white sand. This represents the first record of a varillal north of the Napo River in Peru.

Field work revealed a landscape of frequent disturbances, possibly a result of strong winds acting on unstable soils. On the high terraces, we found patches of poorly drained clay soils that support clumps of ungurahui palm (Oenocarpus bataua). We did not find high-value timber species such as big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) or red cedar (Cedrela odorata), but found substantial populations of less-valuable timber species such as Cedrelinga cateniformis, Hymenaea courbaril, Platymiscium sp., Simarouba amara, Lauraceae spp., Iryanthera spp., Osteophloeum platyspermum, and Virola spp. The area is also rich in non-timber species, including numerous palms and tree ferns (Cyathea spp.) used for medicinal purposes by local people. We found some evidence of small-scale illegal logging, mostly in the lower stretches of streams and rivers.

The ichthyofauna is dominated by species typical of nutrient-poor habitats. We recorded 210 fish species in 26 sampling sites in the watersheds of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón rivers. The fish community here includes 20 species not previously known from the Peruvian-Colombian section of the Putumayo River. We estimate 300 species for the Ere-Campuya-Algodón region. Field work revealed four species possibly new to science (in the genera Charax, Corydoras, Synbranchus, and Bujurquina), all associated with tierra firme streams, as well as one species never before recorded in Peru (Satanoperca daemon). We found 36 fish species known to be migratory (Fig.7).

Several of the fish species are economically important, either as food or in the ornamental pet trade, including giant arapaima (Arapaima gigas), Brycon spp., Salminus iquitensis, Leporinus spp., Laemolyta taeniata, Anodus elongatus, and Potamorhina spp. Although we did not see evidence of commercial extraction of ornamental fishes in the middle and upper reaches of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón watersheds, our social team documented extraction of silver arawana (Osteoglossum bicirrhosum) in the oxbow lakes of the lower Ere and near the community of Flor de Agosto. During the inventory we found healthy populations of several species of cichlids and other fishes that are commercially exploited elsewhere in the Putumayo and other Amazonian rivers.

Amphibians and reptiles
Amphibian and reptile communities in the Ere-Campuya-Algodón region are in excellent condition. We recorded 128 species, of which 68 were amphibians and 60 reptiles, and estimate that the region supports a herpetofauna of 319 species (156 amphibians and 163 reptiles). This regional amphibian and reptile diversity spans most of the recorded herpetofauna of Loreto (Fig.8).

Amphibians are represented primarily by species restricted to northwestern Amazonia (Ecuador, southern Colombia, northeastern Peru, and the northwestern portion of Brazil). These include the first Peruvian record of the Ecuador poison frog Ameerega bilinguis, previously known only from Ecuador. We documented considerable range extensions for three other frogs: Allobates insperatus, Chiasmocleis magnova, and Osteocephalus mutabor.

We found a rich reptile community with 22 lizards, 31 snakes, 3 turtles, 2 caimans, and 1 Amphisbaenia, or worm lizard. We found healthy populations of some species hunted for food, such as the yellow-footed tortoise (Chelonoidis denticulata), considered globally Vulnerable by the IUCN, and of some species considered critically endangered within Peru, such as the Schneider smooth-fronted caiman (Paleosuchus trigonatus) and the giant South American turtle (Podocnemis expansa).

We found an avifauna typical of northwestern Amazonia, with poor-soil forest specialists and healthy populations of game species. We recorded 319 species of birds in the Ere-Campuya-Algodón region, as well as 42 additional species in the community of Santa Mercedes along the Putumayo River. We estimate that the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón watersheds are host to 450 species, roughly half of the recorded avifauna of Loreto (Fig.9).

The composition of the avifauna reflects the poor soils characteristic of the region’s tierra firme forests. The most important records are poor-soil forest specialists: Helmeted Pygmy-Tyrant (Lophotriccus galeatus), Black-headed Antbird (Percnostola rufifrons), and an undescribed antwren (Herpsilochmus sp. nov.). This Herpsilochmus is in the process of being described as a new species from the Apayacu basin, and we have recorded it in past inventories in the Putumayo drainage. Here it was found only in the white-clay varillal of Middle Campuya, although it may be present in the entire region. The Herpsilochmus sp. nov. is endemic to the region bounded by the Napo and Amazon rivers on the south and the Putumayo River on the north. Percnostola rufifrons jensoni, which may be a distinct species (Stotz and Díaz 2011), is also restricted to this interfluvium. Other poor-soil specialists that we found include Orange-crowned Manakin (Heterocercus aurantiivertex), Black-throated Trogon (Trogon rufus), Paradise Jacamar (Galbula dea), Pearly Antshrike (Megastictus margaritatus), Citron-bellied Attila (Attila citriniventris), and Yellow-throated Flycatcher (Conopias parvus).

Most game species are well represented, including Salvin’s Curassow (Mitu salvini), Spix’s Guan (Penelope jacquacu), and Gray-winged Trumpeter (Psophia crepitans). The collpas or salt licks play a critical role in this region, as they provide salts and mineral nutrients in the diet of a variety of species, including macaws, parrots, parakeets, doves, and other large and medium-sized birds.

Medium-sized and large mammals
The mammal community is in excellent condition. Via direct and indirect observations, as well as interviews with local people, we recorded 43 species of medium-sized and large mammals. We estimate that 71 species occur in the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón watersheds. We found abundant populations of primates such as monk saki (Pithecia monachus), black-mantled tamarin (Saguinus nigricollis), and white-fronted capuchin (Cebus albifrons), as well as some mammals that are threatened by overhunting elsewhere in Loreto, including Humboldt’s woolly monkey (Lagothrix lagotricha), Brazilian tapir (Tapirus terrestris), collared peccary (Pecari tajacu), and white-lipped peccary (Tayassu pecari). One of the highlights was the sighting of a bush dog (Speothos venaticus), a species very rarely recorded in Loreto, at the Medio Campuya campsite. Two hours from the native community of Santa Mercedes our social scientists observed a short-eared dog (Atelocynus microtis), making this the only one of our 11 inventories in Loreto that yielded sightings of both canids.

These watersheds harbor 34 species considered to be global or national conservation priorities, including woolly monkey, tapir, collared peccary, and jaguar (Panthera onca). Giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis) and Neotropical otter (Lontra longicaudis) are seen by local residents as competitors for fish; the frequent sightings of these species indicate that aquatic habitats in the region are in good condition. Standing forests and critical habitats such as collpas are essential elements for sustaining mammal populations in this region (Fig.10).

Human communities
The human settlements in the Ere-Campuya-Algodón region are mainly located along the Putumayo River, with the exception of one satellite settlement (anexo) on the Campuya River. There are currently 1,144 inhabitants living in 17 settlements (13 communities and 4 anexos) including members of the Kichwa and Murui indigenous groups, as well as mestizos. Household economies are primarily subsistence in nature, supplemented with a local market of forest products, garden produce, and fish. Communities have a small-scale, rotating, and diversified agricultural system based on family gardens. These ancestral practices of using and managing natural resources have helped protect forests, lakes, and rivers, as well as maintaining a healthy source of food for residents (Fig.11).

Communities in the region have maintained strong links to the environment, as reflected in their traditional use and management of resources, and despite a long history of forced displacements and exploitation of people and natural resources (e.g., the rubber boom in the early 20th century). However, local residents continue to face challenges to their natural and cultural heritage. Colombian merchants subsidize timber extraction via a debt peonage system known as habilito (advance loans for a later payment with products or labor). This practice generates conflicts among communities for access to timber, and creates vicious and long-lasting cycles of loans and debt. There are also regional initiatives to open two roads between the Napo and Putumayo drainages, which would put pressure on forests (land colonization and speculation, large-scale resource extraction, erosion and sedimentation of rivers) and the lives of local people who depend on these forests.

Several social and cultural assets stand out within this complex economic and social context. We found that communities maintain 1) their traditional communal organization, 2) intercultural connections among the Murui, Kichwa, and mestizo populations living along the Putumayo River in Peru and Colombia, 3) strong kinship networks and a culture of reciprocity that support household economies and the distribution of resources, and 4) a profound knowledge of the surrounding forests, rivers, and wetlands, and the biodiversity they contain. These assets offer a solid foundation for long-term management and conservation of natural resources within the sizable conservation complex of indigenous lands and protected areas along either side of the Putumayo River.

Current status
The Ere, Campuya, and Algodón watersheds comprise one of three areas along the Peru-Colombia border designated since 1993 as conservation priorities (PEDICP 1993). In 2009, the Loreto regional government signed a law to protect the headwaters of river basins (Ordenanza Regional 020-2009-GRL-CR). Two years later, the government refined that law and identified priority headwaters including the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón rivers (OR 005-2013-GRL-CR). While the Ere-Campuya-Algodón region contains no oil or gas concessions, the majority (>80%) is designated as Permanent Production Forest (Bosque de Producción Permanente or BPPs, Law 27308, published in 2000) and thus slated for future commercial logging. The limits of the BPPs will have to be redrawn (redimensionado) for the Ere-Campuya-Algodón region to be set aside for conservation.

Principal assets for conservation
  1. Priority area since 1993 for binational (Peru-Colombia) conservation and for watershed conservation
  2. Vast, intact forests with specialized biological and geological features: poor soils, waters of exceptional purity, and organisms adapted to these conditions
  3. A critical part of a Peruvian corridor of indigenous lands and conservation areas of more than 3.2 million hectares, from the border with Brazil to the border with Ecuador (Fig.13C)
  4. A critical part of a trinational (Peru-Colombia-Ecuador) corridor of indigenous reserves and conservation areas with more than 21 million hectares of protected landscapes, capable of sustaining the continuity of ecological and evolutionary processes in northern Amazonia (Fig.13C)
  5. Interest and support from local residents for the creation of a legal designation that allows them to care for and manage this area over the long term
  6. Native communities with extensive traditional knowledge on using and managing natural resources

Conservation targets
  1. The high-priority headwaters of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón rivers
  2. Exceedingly pure waters almost entirely devoid of salts
  3. Forests growing on soils that are extremely poor in nutrients, and host to:
    • A previously unknown habitat type in the Peruvian Amazon: a stunted forest growing on white-clay soils, floristically similar to but geographically distant from the famous white-sand forests near Iquitos
    • A diverse flora and fauna adapted to nutrient-poor soils, including most of the amphibian and reptile species known to Loreto, at least 20 fish species never before documented for the Peru-Colombia border area, and poor-soil bird communities different from those of southern Amazonia
    • Extensive peat swamps along the ancient floodplain of the Putumayo River, containing important stores of carbon
    • Impressive collpas interspersed throughout the landscape, serving as critical sources of salts and other vital nutrients for mammals and birds
  4. Healthy populations of economically important species (arapaima, silver arawana, white-lipped peccary, collared peccary, and Salvin’s Curassow, among others) that provide an excellent source of protein for local peoples
  5. Diversified gardens, traditional fishing techniques, and rotation systems for the management of oxbow lakes, collpas, and abandoned/second-growth fields that guarantee the integrity of these forests, lakes, and rivers
  6. Dynamic connections between communities on the Peruvian and Colombian sides of the border, their strong links to forest resources, and communal initiatives to patrol and monitor natural resources

Main threats
  1. The proposal to build two roads to the southeast of the area—Flor de Agosto-Puerto Arica and Buena Vista-Mazán-Salvador-San Antonio del Estrecho—that threaten to deliver a broad range of negative environmental and social impacts, as documented in other parts of the Amazon (Fig.12A–B)
  2. Large-scale dredging and small-scale artisanal gold-mining that introduces toxic mercury into waterways, the aquatic fauna, and local human residents, as well as creating social inequality and conflicts within communities
  3. The erroneous designation of the region's soils as suitable for agriculture and forestry, according to government soil maps; our rapid inventory revealed a region with extremely poor soils that are highly vulnerable to erosion and have no capacity to support large-scale agriculture or forestry
  4. Discrimination against indigenous people, and disrespect for indigenous culture
  5. Illegal activities along the Peru-Colombia border, such as drug trafficking and guerrilla activity, and a limited government presence in the region

Principal recommendations
  1. Establish a conservation and sustainable use area that benefits local communities and includes the watersheds of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón rivers. The area would protect 900,172 hectares of diverse forests growing on nutrient-poor soils, and expands the original PEDICP proposal to include the high-priority headwaters of the Campuya (Fig.2A)
  2. Establish a system for the management and protection of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón watersheds, in close collaboration with local communities, their institutions, and relevant government entities
  3. Maintain forest cover in these watersheds. This is critical given the nutrient-poor soils, their high susceptibility to erosion, and their incompatibility with large-scale agriculture and forestry
  4. Coordinate and integrate management of the Ere, Campuya, and Algodón watersheds with adjacent areas in Peru and Colombia
  5. Plan and execute joint actions between government agencies and local communities on both sides of the border to reduce—and eventually eliminate—the illegal extraction of timber and gold from the three watersheds and the Putumayo River

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