Findings were published in the journal ZooKeys of 3 new species of lizards that have been discovered in the Andean cloud forest of Peru and Ecuador. The discovery is impressive because at around 5 inches long (not including the tail) they are some of the largest and most colorful in the South American forests. They were found in a section of the, 1,542,644 square kilometer, Tropical Andes hotspot, in western South America. That these species are still being discovered is testament to the huge diversity in the area.
The Tropical Andes hotspot is one of the richest and most diverse areas on earth and present in seven South American countries. Thanks to the ever changing landscape of high peaks, deep canyons and isolated valleys a huge variety of microhabitats exist in turn allowing for the evolution of an incredible number of different species. The deepest canyon in the world at 3,223 meters in the Colca Canon in southern Peru and Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world at 3,810 meter to name just two features of the region. Different altitudes correspond to different types of vegetation and animal life. Tropical forests can be found between 500 and 1,500 meters and different kinds of cloud forest from 800 to 3,500 meters.
The human impact in areas as impressive as this can be devastating. Human communities including those of the Inca Empire have lived in the tropical Andes for thousands of years. Those areas which are the most hospitable are under more and more pressure and in some areas as less as 10percent of the original habitat remain, and with a growing population the threat is increasing. In areas of higher altitude deforestation, dams and road building are the biggest threats. At lower altitudes oil and gas discoveries can create a lot of development. Also introduction of foreign species for farming can be invasive and overpower native species.
Only about 16% of the hotspot is protected and even in these areas without proper enforcement there can still be a lot of damage done by settlement, poaching and illegal logging. Key biodiversity areas can be identified by the number of important or at risk species which inhabit them. A lot of research has gone in to identifying how best to protect such areas which has suggested that small protected areas may just not offer sufficient protection. Conservationists have been focused on connecting existing parks through corridors of protected areas and sustainable development initiatives.