A first-time survey, conducted in parts of the pristine mountain rainforest of southeastern Suriname, South America, has uncovered a rich biodiversity in flora and fauna, including 60 species that could be new to science and a few species that may exist nowhere else on Earth. A 16-member international team of field biologists published the results of their 2012 survey Results online in October 2013 at the Conservation International website. Their findings highlight the importance of largely untouched tracts of mountain rainforest in providing a good water supply for people living downstream in more populated areas, which is essential for maintaining a viable economy.
Scientists documented an impressively large number of species: 1,378 plants, ants, beetles, katydids grasshoppers, fish, amphibians, birds, and mammals. Look at the bottom of this post to view photos of just a few of these creatures.
About 60 of the documented species may be new to science. Among them is a very small red dung beetle with antler-like antennae enabling a sensitive sense of smell, an elegant chocolate-colored tree-dwelling frog, and a new fish species that closely resembles the head-and-tail-light tetra that’s familiar to most freshwater aquarium enthusiasts.
Expedition leader Dr. Leeanne Alonso commented in a press release:
I have conducted expeditions all over the world, but never have I seen such beautiful, pristine forests so untouched by humans. Southern Suriname is one of the last places on earth where there is a large expanse of pristine tropical forest. The high number of new species discovered is evidence of the amazing biodiversity of these forests that we have only just begun to uncover.
Canoeing through a flooded florest in southeastern Suriname.
The regions studied by the scientists are located in what’s known as the Guiana shield, an area overlapping five countries that contains over 25% of the world’s rainforest. It is one of the most biodiverse regions on Earth. In Suriname, where about 95% of the country is still covered in forest, there is increasing pressure to use these forests for mining, dam construction, and building roads. Conservation International has been helping the Suriname government scientifically evaluate its natural resources, enabling the government to make sustainable choices in future economic development.
Southeastern Suriname’s mountain forests have numerous streams that are headwaters for the largest rivers in the country. These rivers are essential to the needs of about 50,000 people living in surrounding areas, providing drinking water, food, sanitation, and transportation. Further downstream, the rivers are needed for energy production and agriculture. The researchers noted that while other segments of Suriname are likely to become drier due to climate change, the southeast mountain forests could be more resilient, becoming an important resource in the future.
John Goedschalk, Executive Director of Conservation International Suriname, said in the same press release:
Suriname’s dense forests, low deforestation and spectacular rivers place us in a truly unique position to become a global model of sustainable development. We can be water exporters in a world increasingly suffering from droughts and water scarcity, but if we deplete and pollute these biological treasures, our country and the rest of the world will have one less major water resource. In a planet on track to surpass nine billion people by mid-century, we are going to need every drop of fresh water we can get.
Bottom line: In a 2012 survey in parts of the southeastern Suriname rainforests, led by Conservation International, scientists have documented a very rich biodiversity of plants and animals. Among the 1,378 species cataloged, about 60 could be new to science. This largely untouched forest has streams that feed into major rivers in Suriname, making it a vital economic resource to the country. Conservation International released these results in October, 2013.
Shireen Gonzaga is a freelance writer who enjoys writing about natural history. She is also a technical editor at an astronomical observatory where she works on documentation for astronomers. Shireen has many interests and hobbies related to the natural world. She lives in Cockeysville, Maryland.