Austral winter sampling in lakes of Ecuador

After a quite long period without new postings, I´m back with a synthesis of our recent fieldwork trip to Ecuador. Together with my lab colleague Melina, and Sara, we crossed most of the Andean country from north to south, and from high to low elevation lakes in 25 days full of water and mud! Along the trip, we have had the opportunity to join with amazing Ecuadorean collaborators, including researchers from University of Cuenca and ETAPA (Henni Hampel and Pablo Mosquera), IKIAM University (Jorge Celi) and ESPOCH (Luis Quevedo). As similar I did the last February, the objective of this trip was to sample modern diatoms and lake sediments for (paleo)limnological studies, funded by a National Geographic grant lead by Prof Sheri Fritz, who also did fieldwork the first week with us, together with our close collaborator Paul Baker. In addition, our Ecuadorean super active collaborator Miriam Steinitz-Kannan joined us for the stretch sampling in Cuenca.

We spent the first week (2-8 July) in Imbabura province sampling Yahuarcocha and Piñan lakes.

Yahuarcocha lake (coring crew: Paul A Baker, Sheri Fritz, Melina Feitl and Xavier Benito)

Yahuarcocha is a well-known lake, located at the Internandean valley. Local people commonly named ‘laguna de sangre’ because its waters became red in historical times. Euglena sanguinea, caused this shift in the lake waters, associated with a combination of limnological factors such as anoxia and low water levels that thrive blooms of this eukaryotic microorganism. The sediments we recovered (4m of mud) showed reddish bands that might indicate episodes in which such limnological conditions occurred as result of climatic variability.

Piñan community, 3400 meters


Piñan lake

We dedicated the last days in Imbabura province to travel until Piñan community (4-hours drive), where we sampled a glacial lake located at 3400 meters above sea level surrounded by Páramo vegetation. There, we recovered a very nice 70-cm core that will be used as analogue for the Paramo lakes situated further south in Ecuador, at the Cajas National Park, Cuenca.

The sampling in Cajas (9-15 July) was really amazing, cold and exhausting though. We would like to thank specially the help received by Pablo Mosquera, a technician biologist from ETAPA, the public water company of Cuenca, who not only arranged all the logistics for the trip there (permits, car, accommodation), but also guided us throughout the National Park to reach the most wonderful selection of its lakes, and he taught the landscape history of the park that is not as pristine as thought: damming, trout farms, eutrophication, land uses changes (fires), etc. A total of 9 lakes were sampled (in chronological order): Estrellascocha, Jigeno, Torreadora, Marmolcocha, Patoquinoas, Piñancocha, Riñoncocha (kidney shaped lake), Fondococha and Dos Chorreras. Also, it is must to mention the special help received by Don Simon and his two friendly horses for carrying the scientific gear.

Don Simon and the horses, in Jigeno lake

Piñancocha lake, the highest elevation lake of Cajas NP

Fondococha lake

After the highlands, we headed up to the lowlands, in the Napo province of Ecuador (15-19 July). The objective were to sample 4 lakes floodplain lakes: Gardazacocha, Mandicocha, Añangucocha and Limoncocha. We had the unmeasurable help of local people to reach the lakes with canoes. All of the lakes suffered human impacts since the 80’s with the construction of touristic lodges surrounding them. Nowadays, touristic cabins with all of kind of activities and accommodations are the most typical picture of the Napo lakes. We intend to reconstruct these impacts by analyzing the sediments and compare pre-human impact with modern data (we have some evidences already that blue-green algae have developed in Limoncocha, and they were not present in the past!).

Napo river

Garzacocha, view from the cabin

Coring run in Mandicocha

Melina and I trying to decipher how Añangococha sediment looks like

Our last stop was in Riobamba (19-24 July), in Chimborazo province, at the center of country. Riobamba was the region where Ecuador was built as a country, having its first parliament. With 14 lakes sampled in our backs, here we wanted to core Laguna Colta, a shallow lake with two very different basins in terms of human activities; we sampled the two of them after being told that one is dredged periodically, and the other is apparently less impacted – so good basis for comparison. The second day we headed up to the Sangay NP to sample and core Atillo lakes. We wanted to do a couple of them, including Laguna Negra. After seeing its rocky steep slopes, this lake promised good adventures! We found a very deep lake (more than 40m of water column throughout), which unfortunately we couldn’t took a sediment core rather than good modern samples (there were no previous diatoms studies in Atillo lakes). Instead, we recovered a very nice core from Kuyuk lake, a nearby lake that forms an interesting lacustrine complex of several lakes connected among them: Laguna Magdalena and Laguna Atillo.


Laguna Negra (and Lory, our field assistant pet)

Laguna Kuyuk (and yes, Lory again taking care of us from the shore)

Overall, 16 lakes, more than 1,000 1-cm mud slices, 32 modern diatom samples (periphyton and phytoplankton), and associated water physicochemistry data that cover most of the Ecuador ecosystems: Andes, Interandean valley and Amazonia. Lot of hours are waiting us into the lab and microscope! After that, the real fun starts!




Cubilche: a beatiful Páramo lake

Hello all,

Located in the cerro of Cubilche, a volcano at 2600 meters of elevation, there is the most beautiful and pristine lake we sampled so far in Ecuador during the three-week fieldwork campaign. Cubilche is an Andean Páramo lake, volcanic in origin, and is covered by semi-permanent clouds that confers a characteristic limnology: cold and relatively acidic waters and very transparent. The lake is circular in shape, having a maximum depth of 2.5 m. Apparently there are two smaller temporary lakes which were dry during our visit. With the unforgettable help of Javier and Jose Mariano, we reached the top of the mountain by hiking more than 2 hours. Most of the pictures we had avoid getting a nice view of the lakes due to the dense fog. This has been the norm during the last sampling days: sunny and warm at the valley, and cloudy-rainy and cold at the top of the mountains! Anyway, I would never change the experience!

Hiking to Cubilche along the Páramo vegetation

Ready to enter into the lake!

According to our knowledge, there are no previous works on the diatom flora of this lake, either modern or fossil assemblages. It is therefore promising to analyze the species composition of the samples we took: sediment core for paleoclimatic reconstructions, and periphyton for diversity and biogeography. I´m really looking forward to prepare diatom slides (and count them).

More updates on Ecuadorian´s lakes fieldwork very soon!



Yahuarcocha and Cunrro lakes

Hi again,

Our fieldwork in the Andean lakes of Ecuador is ongoing!  The second and third visited (and well sampled) lakes have been Yahuarcocha and Cunrro, respectively. These two lakes are located at the Interandean plateau, basically consisting in meso-eutrophic and shallow lacustrine conditions. Both have a relatively wide litoral zone covered by Juncus type vegetation (Scirpus totora), an ideal habitat for periphyton! Yahuarcocha means “Lake of blood” in local language because based upon local believing, the lake turned red with the blood of over 30.000 killed incas after a battle for the conquest of the “Reino de Quito”.

The coring has been relatively easy due to the shallow waters (7m depth for Yahaurcocha, and 4.5, depth for Cunrro); to arrive at the lakes sites has not been very complicated either, except for the case of Cunrro that is within a private Hacienda. Fortunately, local people is always happy to help, even more when they know that we want to investigate waters and muds of the lakes! They love to see how we prepare all the equipment before get into the lakes. Our experienced team assembled a small platform between the two boats, which helps a lot the operation. Every time we get more and more expertise in assembling and disassembling the equipment! As always, some photos below to share with all of you.

Cunrro lake, Kewrin saving the waypoint

Cunrro volcano, which gives the name to the lake

Yahuarcocha lake


First sampling day in Ecuador: San Pablo lake


Today we have sampled San Pablo lake, located in the Inter-Andean Valley of Ecuador, at 2660 m of altitude, and near Otavalo. Together with Kewrin and Emilia, two super motivated Ecuadorean undergrads of Yachay Yech University, we recovered a 40-cm sediment core of the lake, with associated physicochemical data and water samples for further analysis. Ah! We had a big help of a motor-operated boat (not driven by us, of course ;)), which made the sampling easier for us definitely! Not surprisingly for me, I get burned by the sun, but it has been worth for starting this promising and inspiring fieldwork sampling campaign with a so nice sunny day!

We are staying at Casa Grande, an old reformatted Hacienda in Imbaya, from 10 minutes drive from Yachay. Simply, it is a lovely house! It is surrounded by grasses and fruit trees (even with a pool!), and having all the facilities one might desire! Some photos below:

San Pablo lake; behind, the Imbabura volcano.

San Pablo lake shore

Casa Grande (Imbaya)