The Las Cruces – Guaymí Biological Corridor in Southern Costa Rica

 

The Las Cruces – Guaymí Biological Corridor
in Southern Costa Rica

 

 

Description of Project

Coto Brus is one of the most deforested counties in Costa Rica; it is also one of the most recently deforested.  The area is highly fragmented and the regional landscape is made up of a mosaic of mixed-use agricultural fields.  Originally a principal coffee growing region, most agricultural land has been converted to pasture in the last decade due to the global drop in coffee prices.  Given the steepness of land and high annual rainfall, conversion to pasture has resulted in severe environmental problems including soil erosion, water contamination, and flooding.  

 

Las Cruces owns one of the largest remaining forest fragments in the region.  With roughly 200 hectares (ha) of primary and ~50 ha of secondary forest, the fragment is incredibly diverse and home to over 2,000 plant species and 115 mammal species including three on the World Conservation Union’s threatened and endangered list.  However, at a little more than 365 ha, LCBS is effectively a forest island embedded in a pastoral landscape, and most fauna (and even flora) are either restricted within its boundaries or do not make use of it due to the fragment’s isolation.  Aside from continued environmental problems, this excessive fragmentation had led to a steady loss of biodiversity in Coto Brus, where at least 7 mammal species have gone locally extinct (Pacheco et al. 2006).  Accordingly, it is increasingly urgent to address the critical state of habitat protection in the region and pursue a more proactive conservation agenda.

 

 Figure 1. Composite image from the Hymap sensor flown by NASA in 2005.  Outlined in white are the Las Cruces and Guaymí protected areas, that are ~7 km apart.  Dark areas are forest, lighter areas have been cleared, and white patches are clouds.

 

Although a number of smaller fragments still persist, most of the land adjacent to LCBS is under pasture cultivation, and it is simply not an option to acquire forested land to augment protected areas.  Instead a restoration-oriented approach is required and the pastures that surround the station need to be purchased and reverted to forest.  Such an effort was undertaken previously when the 30 ha ‘Rojas’ property was added to Las Cruces in 1999, and the pasture quickly developed into a young secondary forest through natural seed dispersal, the planting of seedlings, and the active suppression of pasture grasses.  The purchase of additional properties, which will be similarly restored, will create a biological corridor that links the larger fragments adjacent to Las Cruces with the much larger Guaymí indigenous reserve (7,500 ha), due west of the station (Figure 1).  Ultimately, this corridor will provide access to additional habitat (both by creating ‘new’ habitat and by reconnecting forest fragments) and help stabilize isolated populations in the Las Cruces fragment as well as in the smaller proposed acquisitions.  

 

  

Figure 2. Aerial image of LCBS (blue) showing details of corridor properties of interest to the west of the station that would represent Phase 1 of the project.  Areas in dark green are forested; lighter areas have been cleared. 

 

The Las Cruces – Guaymí corridor spans 7 km and would ideally be at least 1 km wide.  Using these rough outlines, the corridor would incorporate roughly 1,200 ha once completed.  However, a majority of these lands are forested and are sufficiently remote to not be under immediate threat.  These areas (which encompass some ~700-800 ha and are closest to the Guaymí reserve) would be evaluated in a second corridor expansion phase to be examined after the completion of the critical first phase.  For the latter, we are focused on several properties directly west of the LCBS reserve that total ~300 ha (Figure 2).  Key properties of interest are the larger properties (#12; #16) – which together total ~250 ha – as well as several smaller adjacent sections (#15, #21).  These properties will consolidate a number of forest fragments in the immediate vicinity of Las Cruces, protecting over 150 ha of additional forested land while adding ~150-200 ha of land in need of restoration.  A ~1.5 ha natural lagoon also falls within the proposed acquisition.  A number of lagoons are found in the region and they are of historical importance with one lagoon in particular harboring the oldest known maize pollen record for southern Costa Rica (Clement and Horn 2001).  The incorporation of a lagoon within LCBS will further increase both the research and ecotourism potential of the station. 

 

 

Figure 3. Focus on Las Cruces protected area showing the different acquisitions over time.

 

Purchasing land in need of restoration is key to the overall strategic plan envisioned for Las Cruces.  Few tropical biological stations are located in such a human-altered landscape, and it is this setting that makes Las Cruces an ideal and almost unique location to examine the effects of fragmentation and isolation on plant and animal communities, in addition to research on biological corridors and restoration ecology.  

 

With a long history of habitat protection in Coto Brus, LCBS has developed a strong reputation for its conservation achievements, both at the regional level and at the national and international stage.  Accordingly, by embarking on an active land conservation and restoration campaign, the field station can further position itself as a leader in a research field of increasing global importance while simultaneously protecting threatened habitat.  The timing is also critical - not only due to habitat loss, that is placing additional strain on the remaining fragments around Las Cruces, but also the recent dramatic rise in land values prompted by foreign retirees moving to the area.  The good news is that we have grown over the years!  The original property acquired from the Wilson’s (the original owners) measured 144 hectares.  Since then we have purchased the Gamboa primary forest [91 ha; 1993]; the Melissa pasture [31 ha; 1998]; and with the initiation of this campaign the Gamboa Annex pasture [25 ha; 2008]; the Heye pasture [30 ha; 2009]; and most recently the J.A. Rojas pasture [30 ha; 2015] (Figure 3). The latter three represent an increase of more than 35% in the area protected by Las Cruces and are key steps towards achievement of this ambitious project.  But we still have a long way to go so we hope that you will join us in making a donation! 

 

To make a donation, please fill out and send in a donation card ( 1.28 Mb )  along with your check or credit card information. On the donation form, make sure you mark the land campaign box.

Literature Cited:

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  • Clement, R. M. and S. P. Horn. 2001. Pre-Columbian land-use history in Costa tRica: a 3000-year record of forest clearance, agriculture and fires from Laguna tZoncho. The Holocene 11:419-426.
    t
  • Pacheco, J., G. Ceballos, G. C. Daily, P. R. Ehrlich, G. Suzán, B. tRodríguez-Herrera, and E. Marcé. 2006. Diversidad, historia natural ty conservación de los mamíferos de San Vito de Coto Brus, Costa tRica. Revista de Biología Tropical 54:219-240.

 

For more information please contact

 

tDr. Zak Zahawi, Director
tLas Cruces Biological Station & Wilson Botanical Garden
tOrganization for Tropical Studies
tApdo 73-8257
tSan Vito de Coto Brus, Costa Rica

 

tTel: (+506) 2773-4004 ext. 3100 / Fax: (+506) 2773-4109
thttp://www.ots.ac.cr/lascruces
t This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

 

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Last Updated ( 04/15/15 )