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Rapid Inventory of the Yaguas and Cotuhé watersheds reveals astonishing diversity

Our scientists hailed from Peru, Colombia, Brazil, and the U.S. Credit: A. del Campo.

For our 23rd Rapid Inventory we explored the little known, sparsely populated watersheds of the Yaguas and Cotuhe rivers in northeastern Peru, near the border with Colombia. This is our third inventory in this corner of the extraordinarily diverse department of Loreto. The geology here is widely varied, and we continue to find new or barely known biological communities. A big discovery was peat swamps in the Putumayo drainage, the first record of such swamps outside the Amazon River’s floodplain in Peru. 

All groups we surveyed reflected the striking habitat diversity. One of the most extraordinary results came from the fish team: aquatic communities in the region may encompass 60% of the fish species known for the entire country. Some 30 species we registered—among plants, fishes, and frogs—are likely new to science. The social team visited villages along the Putumayo River and one on the mouth of the Yaguas. The region has had a long history of heavy migrations and boom economies (rubber, animal pelts, now timber and fish). But with exception of the relatively large village of Huapapa (250 people), communities bordering the area support a subsistence economy with healthy forests.

Yaguas offers the rare opportunity to preserve a vast Amazon watershed in its entirety. To complement a strictly protected area in the upper and middle Yaguas and upper Cotuhé (2.8 million acres), local communities are proposing an adjacent buffer area with managed use in Yagua’s lower stretches (0.9 million acres). We will present our results in Iquitos and Lima, and will continue to work with our government and non-government collaborators to provide information that supports protected status and to help guide management plans for this biological gem and for the quality of life of local people.

A large public was able to track this inventory inreal-time through the New York Times blog that Nigel Pitman and ECCo’s Doug Stotz were writing from the field. 

This Ancistrus is one of at least seven fish species new to science discovered during the inventory. Credit: M. Hidalgo.

Our ichthyologists, Max Hidalgo and Armando Ortega, documented 337 fish species, the highest richness of any of our 23 rapid inventories.  Credit: Álvaro del Campo