Cochabamba ’95

Thor Hjarsen

The area surrounding Cochabamba, Northern Bolivia has a unique and threatened woodland type with many endangered or vulnerable species of birds, including several endemics. The team surveyed bird fauna and vegetation in natural forests (dominated by Polyepis sp.) and plantations (dominated by Pinus sp. and Ecualyptus sp.). Team investigated the effects of agricultural activities on the bird fauna. Results were predictable: natural forest holds a higher avian diversity than plantations. The globally threatened Saltator rufiventris was found to be common and widespread even in plantations. Findings were used to promote nature conservation and sustainable forestry in the Cochabamba region. The Swiss Government's Development Assistance was found to be financing several environmentally-destructive plantation projects inside tracts of natural forest. TH has met with Swiss officials, and publicised the situation both in Bolivia and Switzerland. Made contact with SVS, BirdLife Partner in Switzerland in Nov 96, to this end. TH returned to Bolivia in Oct-Nov 96 to promote results and lead a field course.

Project update: 19/2/98. Focussing on the endangered Andean Polylepis forest ecosystem and the ecological threat presented to this native forest type and its associated avifauna by the introduction of exotic tree species for reforestation purposes, the project was spearheaded by Thor Hjarsen of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark with the participation of 2 biology students at the University of San Simón in Cochabamba, Bolivia. The study highlighted that the loss of native vegetation as a result of Andean farming practices and the introduction of North American pine trees and Australian eucalyptus species is producing a long term effect on the ecological balance of the region. Native vegetation is important not only for its non-timber resources relied upon by generations of indigenous communities, but also because the native tress are suited to the interception of precipitation and thus act as important water-catchment agents in an area suffering from water scarcity. The afforestation with competing alien species is reducing these native forest ecosystems and thus limiting water resources and agricultural activity. In addition the high market price for plantation timber encourages local people to ironically protect exotic tree species against early logging and instead turn to the natural forests for domestic purposes, thus pre-empting the widely advertised benefit of exotic plantations in removing logging pressure on native trees. The study carried out bird surveys in areas representing four main habitat types divided between native and introduced vegetation groups. The results showed that plantation habitats did not contain any of the endangered or endemic bird species which were present in the natural forest habitats. Whereas in plantations only common and wide ranging seed-eating species were recorded, in the native habitats all bird groups were represented. This study produced clear results and pressing recommendations urging the protection and regeneration of the endangered Polylepis forests, judged as fundamental for the region’s ecological balance and biodiversity. The project has generated numerous outputs in the form of Bolivian and international articles, and Thor Hjarsen continues to be active in the region on this issue.