In Defense of Nature

December, 2007

Why is supporting science research in Nicaragua important? -Saving species and their habitat!

Did you know? During the past fifteen years in Nicaragua:
-at least eighteen bird species have been reported for the first time;
-three fish species were discovered;
-one salamander species was discovered.

And, there are more species waiting to be discovered on the soils and in the waters of Nicaragua. Its Nature is abundant, but our knowledge of it is inadequate to guide policy-makers in their decisions on how development of Nicaragua's natural resources should be performed. We expect many species of fishes new to science to be discovered in Nicaraguan freshwaters during the coming years. Likewise, dozens of species of birds and other species of flora and fauna are waiting for be registered for the first time. Nicaragua is a particularly under-reported and under-studied country with respect to its wild natural resource base. FUNDECI/GAIA is dedicated to supporting scientific research which provides useful information for use by conservation authorities, the government, and public opinion, in addition to the scientific community. Our work, some of which is described below, is focused on discovering new species, determining native ranges and habitats of species, and evaluating the threats and needs for native species posed by human activity.

FUNDECI/GAIA monitors endangered bird species

The Golden-cheeked Warbler (Dendroica chrysoparia) nests in Central Texas, and winters in highlands from Chiapas to northern Nicaragua. Little is known of the wintering habitat of this endangered species. FUNDECI/GAIA is monitoring populations of this species in Nicaragua in the five-country wintering region for the species for the second season, with a team following flocks of birds in pine and oak habitats throughout northern Nicaragua. This monitoring project is coordinated by SalvaNatura in El Salvador, and is financed by Texas Parks and Wildlife. During the previous monitoring season, the FUNDECI/GAIA staff was aided by a biology student from Canada, Pier-Olivier Boudreault. His experience as a park ranger in Canada was invaluable, allowing him to develop identification skills of the birds rapidly. The team surveyed forests in Estelí, Jinotega, Nueva Segovia and Madriz departments. We hope to make this effort continue yearly. Our team is once again in northern Nicaragua in December, this time joined by the biologist Don Mackler, from Virginia Tech. The objectives of this study include a baseline of information on the population density and habitat preferences of this species.

Nicaraguan students receive support for thesis research from FUNDECI/GAIA

Seven students from UNAN-Managua are currently working with FUNDECI/GAIA on the final step in the process of becoming biologists, their graduation theses. Two of them, Martha Pastrano and Reyna Membreño, are studying the relationship between the shape and size of the pharyngeal jaw and diet among Midas cichlid species in Lake Apoyo. Martha and Reyna are charged with developing a procedure to remove the pharyngeal jaws intact from the fishes and preserve them for use as voucher specimens in museums so that lasting records of the fish diversity can be made. There are several fish species endemic to Lake Apoyo, most of them have not yet been discovered. The techniques developed by them will be useful in helping to determine the differences between several very closely related species there and in other locations in Nicaragua. Reforestation in Lake Apoyo Nature Reserve Lake Apoyo is part of the Lake Apoyo Nature Reserve, one of 77 protected areas in the nationally administered system. Although more than half of the reserve area is water, the terrestrial habitats are very important as wildlife habitat, scenic forest, and protection from landslides and erosion. In 2007, FUNDECI/GAIA developed agreements with two local landowners and the municipality of Catarina, to reforest lands that have been damaged by deforestation, burning and erosion. To facilitate the recuperation of these lands, we are planting native species, using local seed stocks of trees that fit the ecology best for each type of terrain. Because many of the trees are being planted on steep slopes and rocky, denuded ground, and because we are using native seed stocks harvested from inside the forest, there is a relatively large effort for each tree planted, compared to large-scale reforestation projects. Nonetheless, during 2007, we planted 1200 trees! This was thanks to the hard work of our staff and a number of important volunteers: Sierra Smith from the US, and Lars Enggaard and Trine Rhodes from Denmark. Thank you for your help this year!

In Defense of Nature officially launched

During the past year, one hundred thirteen individuals have signed petitions for the support of wild nature in Nicaragua with the initiative In Defense of Nature. This initiative, supported by the US Embassy, is designed to inform and involve the civil society in decision-making processes regarding the environment in Nicaragua. Through this initiative, we have supported a variety of conservation and research projects, some of which are mentioned in this bulletin. This initiative is designed to provide information to the interested public about the most important issues of wild natural resources in Nicaragua and their protection. If you wish to join forces with us, please write us for more information.

Midas cichlid is focus of international attention

The Midas cichlid, known locally as the mojarra común (Amphilophus spp.), has attracted the attention of the international scientific community. Whether the Midas cichlid is one, a few or many species has been in question since the 19th century. Today, most scientists agree that sympatric speciation, or the development of new species without dividing geographic barriers among populations, may be occurring among the Midas cichlid, although there are differences of opinion regarding some details of the speciation processes. FUNDECI/GAIA is continuing with an aggressive research program on the studies of this group of species, in collaboration with scientists from Germany, Mexico, and USA, to describe as-yet undiscovered species, learn about the evolutionary processes affecting this group, and assure the continued protection of all the species possible in this group. Almost all of the Midas cichlid native range lies in the San Juan River drainage and associated volcanic crater lakes, inside Nicaraguan territory. Together with our international collaborators, we are hoping to discover at least a dozen species of fishes in the next few years.

FUNDECI/GAIA supports publication of research article in Environmental Biology of Fishes

Tilapia continues to be a leading environmental concern for Nicaraguan aquatic wildlife. FUNDECI/GAIA supported studies on this subject recently, resulting in the recent publication, "Tilapia (Teleostei: Cichlidae) status in Nicaraguan natural waters",by JK McCrary, BR Murphy, JR Stauffer, Jr., and SS Hendrix, in Environmental Biology of Fishes (78:107-114, 2007). This publication was the result of a collaboration which involved numerous institutions: Virginia Tech, The Pennsylvania State University, Gettysburg University in the US, and FUNDECI/GAIA in Nicaragua. Please ask us for a copy. How can you help? There are different ways that each of us can be involved in protecting wild nature in Nicaragua. One way is by making a small donation to FUNDECI/GAIA (a registered not-for-profit organization in Nicaragua) to support training, research and conservation activities. For instance, as little as US$500.00 can support the field work for a Nicaraguan science student thesis. Another way to be involved is by becoming informed and making your opinions known. Our policy makers need to know that wild nature is important to Nicaraguans and to those who care about Nicaragua. For more information about how you can help, please contact us via email or telephone.

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Laguna de Apoyo Research Station

The arrow cichlid, Amphilophus zaliosus, discovered in 1976. This species is one of possibly as many as six found only in Lake Apoyo.


Aura Cruz, Jaime Obando and Pablo Somarriba cross a stream during study of the Golden-cheeked Warbler.


The environment of Laguna de Apoyo is natural and nearly unspoiled


The natural beauty of Laguna de Apoyo is unsurpassed in Central