Ecuadorian Andes: north-south

The Andes are one of the longest continental mountain range in the world with nearly 8000 km of longitude. This mountain belt extends along the western edge of South America through seven countries, and is divided into three regions: Southern, Central, and Northern Andes. The Northern Andes encompasses the Ecuadorean, Colombian, and Venezuelan cordilleras. We chose the Ecuadorean Andes as our study site for the Cold lizard project as they are home of the six lizard species of Stenocercus genus that exhibit an intriguing thermal ecology.

On November, we organized a road trip to establish our study sites. From Quito we head up north to reach El Angel Ecological Reserve at Carchi Province, near the border with Colombia. To get to this reserve we pass through Ibarra, a city historically known as “The White City” for the facades of colonial buildings. This city lies at the foot of the Imbabura Volcano and on its surroundings you can visit sights as the Yahuarcocha Lake.

After a 5-hour ride, we arrived to Mira and stayed for the night. Early in the morning we drove to El Voladero Lake, part of El Angel Ecological Reserve, where we knew we could find S. angel . Unluckily, the day wasn’t sunny enough to see them basking; but anyway we enjoyed the beautiful landscape made up with Espeletia plants.

The next day we doubted where to find the endemic species S. chota. Fortunately, this species is really common, and indeed we found a large population near the place we stayed in the valleys around Mira at Imbabura province.

Our next stop was Jerusalem Recreational Park and Protected Forest at Pichincha Province, where the largest remnants of the inter-Andean dry forest relies. In this location inhabits one of S. guentheri population that is of our interest and is frequently found at this site.

The second S. guentheri population included in our study occurs at Cotopaxi National Park, Cotopaxi Province. This National Park protects the second-highest summit as well as one of the most iconic natural attractions of Ecuador. This active volcano is sacred to local people and in Quichua its name means ‘neck to the moon’.

A ride of about 4 hours to the south from Cotopaxi National Park took us to Chimborazo Wildlife Production Reserve. This reserve harbors two populations of S. cadlei, the endemic whorl-tail iguana that is found in the slopes of the highest mountain in Ecuador, Chimborazo. This monumental volcano has attracted the attention of renowned personalities as Edward Whymper and Alexander von Humboldt and of course ours as well.

Another endemic species of this research project, S. festae, inhabits 5 hours to the south of Chimborazo Wildlife Reserve at El Gullan Scientific Station, Azuay Province. This Scientific Station is close to Cuenca, the third-largest city of Ecuador that due to its history and state of preservation is one of the three UNESCO World Heritage Trusts sites in this country.

To close with a flourish, we arrived to our southernmost study site, Madrigal of Podocarpus Reserve at Loja Province. This is a private reserve that over the last 19 years has hardly worked to protect and conserve the cloudy forest of the area, which has certainly been rewarded by visits of families of spectacled bears.