Palo Seco Protection Forest forms a buffer zone for La Amistad International Park. It extends on the Caribbean slope in Bocas del Toro from the headwaters of the Yorkin River east to the headwaters of the Guaviviara River, protecting the mid-courses of the Teribe and Changuinola Rivers and the headwaters of the Riaco, Uyama, Róbalo and Guarumo. Between the Riaco and Guaviviara Rivers, the boundary follows the 200 m contour. The reserve extends inland to the boundary with La Amistad and the continental divide, and at its eastern end is contiguous with the Fortuna Forest Reserve. The lowest point (40 m) is in the valley of the Changuinola River, while the high point is at Cerro Azul (2,300 m) at the junction with La Amistad on the continental divide. Most of Palo Seco lies below 800 m. There are only a few readily accessible areas: the Teribe and Changuinola valleys, the Valle de Risco (although this area is largely deforested), and along the Oleoducto (Pipeline) Road between Chiriquí province and the town of Chiriquí Grande in Bocas del Toro.
Palo Seco shares most of its avifauna with La Amistad International Park and the Fortuna Forest Reserve, but lacks a few species only known to occur at higher elevations or on the Pacific slope west of Volcán Barú. It is undoubtedly an important site for the globally threatened Bare-necked Umbrellabird and Three-wattled Bellbird, although virtually nothing is known about their ecology in the area. Other globally threatened and near-threatened species shared with La Amistad include Harpy and Crested Eagle, Black Guan, Great Curassow, Great Green Macaw, Red-fronted Parrotlet, Resplendent Quetzal and Blue-and-gold Tanager. Palo Seco includes at least 32 of 54 species (59%) of the Costa Rica and Panama Highlands EBA, as well as 9 of 11 species (83%) of the Central American Caribbean Slope EBA. It also contains 33 of 68 species (49%) of biome N06 and 19 of 42 species (45%) of biome N05. Except for the Oleoducto Road and near Wekso on the Changuinola River, the reserve is ornithologically very poorly known, and many additional restricted-range and biome species undoubtedly occur.
Non-bird biodiversity: The fauna of Palo Seco is not well known, especially higher elevations. Mammals expected in the area include many of those of La Amistad International Park or Fortuna Forest Reserve, in particular Water Opossum, Slaty Mouse Opossum, Central American Wooly Opossum, Silky Anteater, Blackish Small-eared Shrew, Talamancan Small-eared Shrew, Ender's Small-eared Shrew, Honduran White Bat, Talamancan Yellow-shouldered Bat, Hairy-legged Vampire Bat, Thumbless Bat, Brazilian Free-tailed Bat, Central American Spider Monkey, Montane Squirrel, Sprightly Pygmy Rice Rat, Naked-footed Deer Mouse, Mexican Porcupine, Olingo, Neotropical River Otter, Ocelot, Margay, Jaguarundi, Puma, Jaguar and Baird's Tapir. Reptiles and amphibians found or expected include the frogs and toads Atelopus chiriquiensis, A. varius, Bufo fastidiosus, B. peripatetes, Crepidophyrne epiotica, Dendrobates speciosus, Duellmanohyla lythrodes, Duellmanohyla uranochroa, Hyla debilis, H. graceae, H. lancasteri, H. rivularis, H. tica, H. zeteki, Phyllomedusa lemur, Eleutherodactylus emcelae, E. jota, E. noblei, E. pardalis* and Rana vibricaria, the salamanders Bolitoglossa compacta, B. marmorea, B. minutula, B. robusta, Oedipina alfaroi and O. grandis, the lizards Anolis aquaticus, A. casildae, A. exsul, A. fortunensis and Sphenomorphus rarus, and the snakes Hydromorphus dunni, Urotheca guentheri, and U. pachyura.
Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
Palo Seco has been extensively deforested (26,000 ha, or 15%) along its entire northern boundary (especially in the Valle de Risco and the Róbalo and Guaviviara Valleys) and in the Changuinola Valley, mostly for cattle and subsistence agriculture. In 2000 a paved road was completed between Chiriquí Grande and Almirante, paralleling most of the northeastern boundary of the reserve. The road is very likely to promote colonization, development and increased deforestation along this entire stretch of coast. This could cause serious loss of non-breeding habitat for species such as Three-wattled Bellbird and Bare-necked Umbrellabird which migrate seasonally from breeding areas in the highlands to the lowlands. Small cacao (cocoa) plantations, which require a shade tree overstorey, are widespread in the region and are far superior to cattle pasture in value for wildlife. However, instability of market prices and problems with disease make cacao less attractive as an economic alternative to cattle. The area has great hydroelectric potential and several projects are planned for the area ones on the Teribe and the lower Changuinola River.
Conservation responses/actions for key biodiversity
Palo Seco Protection Forest was established in 1983 primarily to protect the watershed of a hydroelectric project that was planned for the Changuinola River. There is only one park guard assigned to the area.
Habitat and land use
Palo Seco contains very wet lowland evergreen and submontane forest, with montane and a small amount of high montane forest along the continental divide in the east. Palo Seco is inhabited by the Ngöbe and Teribe indigenous groups, along with many mestizos in the Valle de Risco and other river valleys as well as along the Oleoducto Road. The eastern part of the area is within the Ngöbe-Buglé Comarca (indigenous reserve). Much of the area has been deforested for cattle and subsistence agriculture.
BirdLife International (2021) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Palo Seco Protection Forest. Downloaded from
http://www.birdlife.org on 26/01/2021.