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Bromeliads in the trees of Sierra Gorda

Remote in the mountains of Sierra Gorda new species are being discovered thanks to careful recording by Roberto Pedraza of Grupo Ecológico de Sierra Gorda (GESG), World Land Trust‘s (WLT) project partner in Mexico. On a recent trip to Queretaro Christina Ballinger, WLT’s Writer / Editor, watched Roberto at work.

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There are reserves in Sierra Gorda that are simply too important in terms of biodiversity for general public access. Owned and managed by GESG, these reserves are home to rare flora and fauna. And it is in these reserves that new species are being discovered.

In part thanks to Roberto, the discovery of a new family of slug endemic to Mexico has recently been confirmed, and at the end of August, Roberto reported that he had found another slug, which may also be new to science. As Roberto puts it: the mountains and forests of Sierra Gorda are full of surprises.

Roberto robustly defends his role of guardian and protector, citing examples of reserves that have been spoiled by human pressure: “If you let people into reserves indiscriminately, there is a strong likelihood that much of the wildlife will leave. It’s as simple as that.”

“These are private reserves,” he explains, “private for the wildlife, that is. There are plenty of places for hiking in the Sierra Gorda and our intention is to create safe havens for wildlife so that we can ensure there is no threat to them.”

Off the beaten track

Indeed, even if you did know that these reserves existed, you’d be hard pushed to find them. The one we visited in late July is some distance off the main road, at the end of a boulder strewn track that required all the Landrover’s many gears, and a certain amount of reversing, to navigate.

“If you let people into reserves indiscriminately, there is a strong likelihood that much of the wildlife will leave. It’s as simple as that.”
(Roberto Pedraza, GESG Technical Officer)

The path through the reserve leads up a steep slope. Above us in the trees were bright red bromeliads, and at ground level were mushrooms of every colour: yellow, orange, pink, purple, red, white. Covering the fallen dead wood were other fungi. It has been particularly wet in 2013 in Sierra Gorda, and plants and fungus have lapped up the moisture.

As we climbed higher, we started to see vines and snakelike cactus hanging from trees thick with moss and ferns. Along the way Roberto pointed out rare magnolias and orchids and a large slug in the leaf litter, breakfasting on a mushroom.

Despite its unappealing appearance, Roberto took a particular delight in the slug, which was one of three species recently described as belonging to a new mollusc family (Echinichidae). It was not the only slug of its type that we saw along the way, we spotted several more during the hike.

Custodian of the reserve

For Roberto, finding and photographing the mollusc was a job well done. GESG is the custodian of the reserve, and Roberto plays a key role in recording the reserve’s species and in making his findings known to the wider scientific community. In fact, it was thanks to Roberto arranging for a mollusc expert to see the slug in situ during Sierra Gorda’s rainy season, that the new mollusc family has been described.

As Roberto noted, the slug was following every move he made with his camera. “I used to think slugs were permanently semi-sleeping/crawling creatures, but in fact they seem to be quite aware of their environment and intruders,” he told us, adding wryly, “perhaps I also have slug DNA as a fellow inhabitant of these mountains!”

For more than 25 years, Roberto and his colleagues at GESG have been working to conserve the rare wildlife habitat of Sierra Gorda from those who would log it, graze it, or use it as adventure play space or hunting ground. On the return journey to GESG’s headquarters in Jalpan, the road passes prosperous looking timber yards with conspicuously large log stacks and piles of sawdust out front. A reminder of just one of the constant threats faced by the forests of the Sierra Gorda.

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Christina’s visit to Queretaro in July 2013 was funded by SHM Productions Ltd.

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