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viernes, 1 de diciembre 2023
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A booklet about bird conservation in the Hidroituango area

By Natalia Piedrahita Tamayo, Journalist

Universidad de Antioquia's Vertebrate Ecology and Evolution Group, in collaboration with Empresas Publicas de Medellín, describes the habits and ecology of 18 endemic bird species that fly around the Ituango Hydroelectric Project in a full-color publication, the second installment of the study.

Infografía sobre el Loro Chocolatero

The Hidroituango hydroelectric dam project is situated between 400 and 800 meters above sea level, in a place where the diverse wildlife that lives in the mountains, forests, meadows, and wetlands creates a symphony that can be heard across the Cauca River valley. The dam’s range includes Briceño, Santa Fe de Antioquia, Ituango, Sabanalarga, Buriticá, Toledo, Liborina, Peque, and Valdivia where many birds move through dry, transitional, and humid forests, its range includes.

A recent publication, Aves de interés para la conservación en el proyecto Hidroeléctrico Ituango, 2023 (see featured area), gathers the tours and findings by Universidad de Antioquia professors and students who have been monitoring and describing the wild birds of these areas for the past eight years.

The team behind the publication

Researchers Juliana Tamayo Quintero, Salomé López Serna, Catalina González Quevedo, Juan Luis Parra, and Héctor Fabio Rivera Gutiérrez collaborated on the 52-page booklet Aves de interés para la conservación en el proyecto Hidroeléctrico Ituango (Birds of interest for conservation in the Ituango Hydroelectric Project), which was released in June 2023. Editing and layout were handled by Punto Aparte Editores, and Francy Elena Tamayo Quintero provided the drawings.

"This booklet compiles and illustrates 18 species of interest, including natural history, characteristics, and location. We aimed to produce a comprehensible product with iconography that captures the relevant features in their habitats—whether that's the forest, the water, or more controlled environments. We meant to create the booklet as a resource for the communities that live in those areas, not for bird experts," explained Héctor Fabio Rivera Gutiérrez, researcher and coordinator of the Vertebrate Ecology and Evolution Group, attached to UdeA's Institute of Biology.

About the illustrations

Francy Elena Tamayo Quintero, a wildlife artist, illustrated the booklet. She did not only sketch the morphological characteristics of each species but also their offspring, habitat, and nests.

Data collection

"Our group has recorded 337 species in this area. We chose to highlight 18 endemic species, which are also under high conservation priority. The field days were exhausting and difficult because the birds began their activity early, and we had to have the nets ready to catch the birds," explained Catalina González Quevedo, researcher and professor at the Faculty of Exact and Natural Sciences.

Data collection included geolocation of transects -samples in a given territory- description of areas, photographic record of the birds, metrics and blood samples to confirm the species based on molecular techniques and to determine whether they had avian malaria, a disease caused by blood parasites transmitted by mosquitoes.

"Previously, we would examine the external characteristics to confirm whether it was the same species. We currently have tools that allow us to conduct more detailed assessments, especially from a genetic standpoint, using the blood samples to make comparisons between species. Our curiosity about diverse characteristics leads us to compare and measure individuals, and we are frequently surprised," said Rivera Gutiérrez.

The data were collected primarily in dry forests, which are highly seasonal formations with distinct periods of rainfall and drought, since the animals that live there have evolved and adapted to such conditions, which enbales them to preserve water and energy. However, due to the conversion of these lands into pastures, agricultural land, and, in the case of this intervention, floodplains, Colombia's total dry forest area only makes up 4% of the country's land area at present.

A long-haul job

"The intention behind this project and its derivatives is to warn about the reservoir problems and assess what might happen if the species lose their habitat. Empresas Públicas de Medellín, EPM, adopted initiatives such as forest compensation by planting the fallen trees in an area of land that was two to three times larger than the fragmented area, although it is well-established that some birds adapt while others do not, such as the Antioquia wren, which makes it a priority species in the study," said Rivera Gutiérrez.

In collaboration with EPM, the entity that funded the publication, this group has been evaluating the impact of the infrastructure of the hydroelectric project that the company installed in the area since 2014 in order to establish actions for the preservation of natural heritage in the company of the territory’s communities, particularly for endangered species.

Such large-scale initiatives promote collaboration between local institutions and the university in order to encourage endangered species conservation. Graduate and postgraduate students also make contributions to society through their research, which focuses on the environmental issues that the identification of species may bring about.

Royal flycatcher (Onychorhynchus coronatus)

Infografía sobre el ave Atrapamoscas Real

The royal flycatcher resides on the fringes of humid forests such as those around the as the Burundá stream in Ituango. It has been seen in Sabanalarga and Toledo. Females assemble hanging nests from moss and fallen leaves. Both males and females can lift and move their dazzling, colorful crowns because of the flexibility of their necks.

Antioquia wren (Thyophilus sernai)

Infografía sobre el ave Cucarachero Paisa

It inhabits the dry forest of the Cauca River canyon and is a species of territorial behavior. Its songs have been evaluated, as it uses vocalizations as calls to communicate. It is an endemic species described in 2012, now declared endangered.

Military macaw (Ara militaris)

It resides in the Cauca River canyon and the deep valleys flanking it. This species enjoys streams and rivers. Although it is frequently spotted in large flocks, the dam's construction has decreased its presence. It nests on the walls next to the canyon, which contain some clay, and eats fleshy fruits. The blue, yellow, red, and green hues of its wings and body make it colorful. It is also noisy.

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