The Sibinacocha Watershed Project

High in the Peruvian Andes lies the Cordillera Vilcanota, and at its heart is the Sibinacocha watershed. This fragile ecosystem, with its dramatic landscapes and incredible biodiversity, is at a crossroads. Rapid climate change, mining, and uncontrolled tourism threaten both its biological and cultural diversity. Our research, ranging from baseline biodiversity surveys to understanding how the ecosystem responds to a changing environment, is key to establishing critical conservation programs to protect this land and its people.

Our Work

Community Engagement

Successful conservation and research programs depend on the direct involvement and support of the local community, and the Sibinacocha Watershed is no exception. Members of the Salma community work as citizen scientists, collecting daily precipitation data critical to predicting the potential impacts of climate change on Andean weather patterns. We are also beginning efforts to involve community members in research and education initiatives that will help them better understand the ecosystem on which they depend. By partnering with the local community, we hope to increase community interest and investment in a long-term conservation strategy for the region.

Climate Change

Nowhere is the impact of climate change more apparent than the shrinking glaciers of tropical mountains, and the Cordillera Vilcanota is no exception. With heavily glacierized peaks and the largest high alpine lake in the Andes, Lake Sibinacocha, this region is an ideal laboratory for understanding the impacts of rapid climate change on fragile, high-elevation ecosystems. Our ongoing long-term research programs include decoding climate history by examining glacial ice cores, investigating changing land use patterns, and documenting changes in plant communities.

Ecological Succession

How do soils develop after a glacier recedes? Why are plants slower to colonize new soils in the Sibinacocha Watershed than they are in the Alps or Alaska? How do microbes survive extreme daily temperature cycles? These are just a few of the questions we are investigating in this region. By understanding how ecological succession happens in extreme ecosystems, we learn more about how ecosystems might recover from environmental disasters, and about the limits of where life can occur not only on Earth but on other planets as well.

Mammal Research

Extreme environments result in small, isolated populations that are vulnerable to changing conditions. Preliminary surveys have identified 14 mammal species, many of which are listed as endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened. In order to protect these species from immediate and long-term threats, we must gain a better understanding of their basic ecology and how they adapt to a changing ecosystem.

High Elevation Bird Sanctuary

The Sibinacocha watershed and surrounding mountains are an important habitat for many resident and migratory bird species. Preliminary surveys have documented 68 species, many of whom are found at their highest recorded elevation. These species include some that are high elevation and glacier specialists. More in depth studies are needed to determine the effect of a changing climate on their populations.

World’s Highest Frogs

As glaciers in the Sibinacocha Watershed melt away, new habitat is created, and frogs and lizards are among the organisms shifting their elevational ranges upward to the limits of the biosphere. Our research seeks to understand how frog species respond to the rapidly drying environment and the continued presence of a deadly fungal disease responsible for a global pandemic and local population crashes. Additionally, we are investigating how these cold-blooded organisms are adapted to the extreme environment present in the high tropical Andes, including daily freeze–thaw cycles.


The Sibinacocha Watershed Project was organized to support research, conservation, and exploration of this fascinating area high in the Cordillera Vilcanota of Peru. The Project is a federal 501(c)3 corporation and a Colorado Charitable Corporation that relies on donor generosity to continue our research and conservation work in this one-of-a-kind ecosystem.

Our Partners