Preserving A Forest Helps Protect A Colombian City’s Water Supply


Biologist Ruben Dario Palacio is helping to study and preserve the cloud forests which are key to the water supply of his hometown of Cali, Colombia.

Palacio , who is Scientific Director for Fundacion Ecotonos, and working to conserve the Key Biodiversity Area Cloud Forest of San Antonio, says montane cloud forests are essential for water supply and carbon sequestration.

Six of the seven rivers that run through Cali orignate in the nearby Andean cloud forests of the National Natural Park Farallones de Cali and in the Key Biodiversity Area San Antonio, explains Palacio, all of which are immersed in clouds.

“Unfortunately, cloud forests have been fragmented and deforested due to urbanization and unproductive cattle farming,” he says, “Climate change could negatively impact cloud coverage and cloud dynamics and this is a serious threat.”

In 2014, Palacio and other colleagues helped start the non-profit Fundacion Ecotonos and decided to devote their efforts to San Antonio, where there is now a 53 hectare (130 acre) cloud forest preserve, the largest in the region, thanks to a generous donation from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Netherlands. The preserve lies next to the Bitaco Regional Forest, and together both areas protect over 250 hectares of continuous forest, in a region where many forest fragments have an area less than 15 soccer fields-worth.

Palacio says cloud forests, due to their elevation and geographical isolation, host many endemic and threatened species; many Andean cloud forests are known for their unique composition of of plants, frogs, and birds, among other biological groups.

“In college I heard a recurring story of people who had spent years studying a species, just to find out the habitats where they did their studies where completely cleared,” he says, “That sparked my interest in conservation biology, although I was more interested in taxonomy and doing basic science, not anything applied, but in fact, conservation is a mission-driven discipline which aims to prevent the destruction and erosion of life on Earth.”

Palacio says the next step in the project is to start working with the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) to turn the preserve into a nationally and internationally recognized protected area.

“Our plan is also to start a biological station so that students and researchers can do regionally-relevant research and take field courses,” he says, “We also want to start climate change monitoring to inform environmental management.”

Growing Up Close to Nature

Palacio grew up in Cali, Colombia and when he was 9 years old, his mother signed him up for the boy scouts, where he developed a love for the outdoors and nature.

“When it was time to go to college, I decided I wanted to be a biologist, just because I didn’t want an office job, I liked animals and nature in general,” he says, adding that in his first year of undergraduate studies at the Universidad Icesi in Cali, he spent many hours browsing the biology section of the library.

“One day I stumbled upon ‘A Guide to the Birds of Colombia’ by Hilty and Brown,” he says, “I was stunned by the sheer amount of birds in my own country that I had no idea even existed, so I started participating in birdwatching opportunities offered by Calidris and Asociación Rio Cali and I taught myself ornithology because there was not a specific coursed offered at the time.”

Another researcher in the Global South working to study and preserve a precious forest enviroment is Nigerian forestry researcher Samuel Oluwanisola Adeyanju.

MORE FROM FORBESThis Nigerian Studies How To Save Sacred Forests And Their Monkeys

Adeyanju grew up a two hour drive from the Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove, a remnant of old-growth forest regarded as the home of a fertility goddess — now he is helping to preserve the precious biodiversity found there.



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