2012 Survey of Piedmont Rivers of the Ecuadorian Andes

Overview

After a highly productive 2006 expedition to the Marañon River in northern Peru, I became intrigued by the loricariid catfish genus Chaetostoma.

This genus is abundant and diverse in Andean streams and we had difficulty identifying many of its species. No one at that time was conducting a large-scale, systematic revision of this species-rich and widespread genus, but such a project was needed to better understand Andean river ecology, which I was also interested in. In 2011, I received a National Science Foundation grant to generate a molecular phylogeny and taxonomic revision of Chaetostoma. This grant, plus a supplemental grant from the Coypu Foundation, provided funds to survey Andean piedmont habitats in Ecuador. Six species of Chaetostoma had been described from Ecuador in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but since many of the original type specimens from this period were in poor condition, I would need to revisit their type localities to clearly understand what they were, how they differed from other species, and how to highlight these differences for a broad audience.

        In 2012, I led an expedition to inventory Andean piedmont habitats of Ecuador both for my systematic work on Chaetostoma and for a number of other ongoing collaborations. Joining me on this expedition were fellow ichthyologists Ramiro Barriga (Curator of Fishes at the Museum of the Escuela Politecnica Nacional in Quito; MEPN), Nathan Lovejoy (electric fish biologist at the University of Toronto Scarborough; UTSC), Hernán López-Fernández (Curator of Fishes at the Royal Ontario Museum; ROM), Jessica Arbour and Frances Hauser (PhD students of Hernán's at the University of Toronto), Katie Roach and Andrew Jackson (ecologists from the University of Quebec Trois Riviere), Donald Taphorn (retired Curator of Fishes at MCNG), my friend the artist David Brooks, and Veronica (Vero) Román (a biology student in Quito).

        Together, we surveyed all but the northernmost rivers draining the Amazonian and Pacific slopes of the Andes Mountains in Ecuador. We collected fresh specimens from the type localities of all Chaetostoma species that had been described from Ecuador, and discovered a couple new species in the process. We also collected thousands of tissues, many of which were quickly sequenced by me for an ongoing molecular phylogenetic study of Chaetostoma and its relatives. Voucher specimens collected during this trip are now cataloged at the ROM and MEPN (field number prefix ECU12), where they will benefit ichthyological research for many years to come. Published papers that have already benefited from collections and observations made during this trip include the following:

Work

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1. Our arrival at the Museum of Natural History at the Escuela Politecnica Nacional in Quito. 2. David assembles our electrofisher under Frances' supervision. 3. With a couple large Ecuadorian wood-eating plecos (Loricariidae: Panaque schaeferi). 4. Our first collecting site, in the Esmeraldas River drainage. 5. Looking over the evenings collections. 6. Planning our route with Nate and Ramiro. 7. Photographing a pleco on the tailgate. 8. Tissuing supplies. 9. Nate ignites local curiosity with his electric fish finder. 10. Hernán and Ramiro review potential specimens at the fish market in Babahoyo. 11. An elementary school class who helped us collect a large type series of Ancistrus clementinae from its type locality. 12. The team just before departing the Pacific Coast. 13. A male Transancistrus santarosensis with the egg mass it was guarding. 14. Cuy (a.k.a., guinea pigs; Cavia porcellus) for sale on the streets of Cuenca. 15. A spectacular Andean cock-of-the-rock (Rupicola peruvianus) in Podocarpus National Park. 16. Hernán, Frances and Jessica tissue specimens while Don injects specimens with formalin. 17. Vanessa getting desperate for someone to remove the giant rhinocerus beetle (Dynastinae) from her shirt sleeve. 18. A beautiful rainbow boa (Epicrates cenchria) that had been killed by a car. 19. Driving into the piedmont. 20. A soup dinner after a day of collecting. 21. Celebrating Don's birthday after collecting a new species of Andeancistrus in the Pastaza River drainage. I recently described the species collected on this day as Andeancistrus eschwartzae22. One of many suspension bridges along the Amazonian slopes of the Ecuadorian Andes. 23. Lots of local interest in our photo tank. 24. Katie models the latest in loricariid accesories (Hypostomus niceforoi). 25. Andrew bellies up to a bowl full of pleco soup (Chaetostoma dermorhynchum). 26. The marmoset enjoys a taste of my tea. 27. Our muddied team after emerging from a cave near Archidona. 28. Toasting another successful expedition!

Fishes

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1. Astyanax sp. 2. Boehlkea cf. orcesi3. Boehlkea sp., 4. Brycon sp., 5. Ceratobranchia elatior, 6. Creagrutus sp.. 7. Moenkhausia naponis8. Rhoadsia minor9. Salminus hilarii. 10. Characidium cf. zebra, 11. Lebiasina bimaculata, 12. Saccodon wagneri, with ventral views of two different jaw and tooth morphologies present within a single population, 13. Ancistrus clementinae, 14. Chaetostoma n.sp., a new species soon to be described based on specimens collected on this trip, 15. Chaetostoma n.sp., a second new species soon to be described based on specimens collected on this trip, 16. Chaetostoma breve, a species originally described in 1904 that was redescribed based largely on specimens collected on this trip, 17. Chaetostoma microps, originally described in 1864 and also redescribed based largely on specimens collected on this trip, 18. Chaetostoma dermorhynchum, originally described in 1887 and redescribed based entirely on specimens collected on this trip, 19. Chaetostoma carrioni, originally described in 1935 and redescribed based entirely on specimens collected on this trip, 20. Andeancistrus eschwartzae, a new species described based entirely on specimens collected on this trip, 21. Hypostomus niceforoi, 22. Andeancistrus platycephalus, a species originally described in 1898 and redescribed based entirely on specimens collected on this trip, 23. Sicydium hildebrandi, 24. Andinoacara sp. Scale bar for all photos = 1 cm.

This fieldwork was sponsored by National Science Foundation grant OISE-1064578 and the Coypu Foundation.

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