Sustainable landscapes for wildlife in Tolima, Colombia


The north of the department of Tolima is one of those territories that make Colombians proud. Particularly, the beauty of the municipality of El Líbano seduces with its mountains, its biodiversity, its history and its charming people, always willing to take a moment to chat over a cup of good coffee and garullas (a traditional local bread).

Over the last few centuries, the mountains of El Líbano – inhabited at first by the Indigenous Mineimas people – have undergone a major transformation. Today, even with patches of forests and bushes, these mountains are covered mainly with coffee plants and other crops, of which the number of hectares is rising (Figure 1). Though on a smaller scale, gold mining is also present in the territory.

At the end of the 1990s, one of the biggest transformations in the national coffee landscapes was the loss of tree shade. This occurred in El Líbano and in many other areas of the Colombian Andes.

To have fully exposed coffee plantations, trees that protected the soil, provided nutrients to crops and offered important ecosystem services were cleared. Nonetheless, there are no scientific studies available that reveal the number of trees such as guamo (Inga edulis), cámbulo (Erythrina poeppigiana), cedro (Cedrela sp.), chachafruto (Erythrina edulis), etc. cleared during this period, nor is there accurate knowledge on the impacts of such ecosystem changes.

Figure 1. Mountain in the municipality of El Líbano, deparment of Tolima, Colombia. Photo: Sergio Lozano-Baez

The expansion of the agricultural frontier and the shade loss in the coffee plantations have resulted in a decrease in trees and biodiversity. Such is the case of bird species, whose population has dramatically declined over the last decades. This is particularly the case for the Tolima dove (Leptotila conoveri) and the yellow-headed brushfinch (Atlapetes flaviceps), Colombia’s endemic bird endangered species (Figure 2).

The information available about these two species is very limited; studies about their population are scarce. These birds, difficult to spot, are present in very specific places in the Colombian Andes and can be seen at altitudes of 1,200 to 2,400 meters.

What can be done to recover populations of Tolima dove and yellow-headed brushfinch? What plant species do they feed on? Where can individuals from these species be frequently seen? What can be done at the coffee plantations to help these birds? At SELVA, we have been working since 2017 to answer these questions.

Figure 2. To the left, Tolima dove (Leptotila conoveri), and to the right, Yellow-headed brushfinch (Atlapetes flaviceps).

The Tolima dove and the yellow-headed brushfinch are at the heart of our project. By studying them, we have become closer to local communities and started to restore their ecosystems. Since January 2020, we have worked with 30 ranches from El Líbano, implemented initiatives for landscape management across 54 hectares, strengthened community plant nurseries, planted 15,000 native trees and helped protect and expand the existing forest patches in the area.

Through our activities, we want to contribute to generating a more sustainable landscape, in which more farms are again shaded coffee plantations, therefore bringing back the benefits of trees for crops, birds and biodiversity. The Restoration Stewards program provides an opportunity to grow and reinforce our project. Having been selected as the Restoration Steward for mountain ecosystems brings me immense joy, and I hope 2022 will be a year full of learning and lots of trees for the mountains in the north of Tolima, Colombia.

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Forest restorationGeneration restorationMountains

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