Suriname survey reveals 46 new species

Posted: 31 January 2012

A scientific expedition into one of the world’s last pristine tropical forests has revealed incredibly diverse species and extraordinary cultural heritage.

Conservation International (CI) has announced the results of a scientific survey in southwest Suriname that documented nearly 1,300 species, including 46 species which may be new to science. The announcement comes as the global organization marks 25 years of science-based conservation, this month.

Armored Catfish
“Armored Catfish” – Pseudacanthicus sp. is a catfish whose armor (external bony plates) is covered with spines to defend itself from giant piranhas which inhabit the same waters. Photo © Kenneth Wang Tong You/ Conservation International

The three-week survey, an initiative of CI’s long-standing Rapid Assessment Program (RAP), explored three remote sites along the Kutari and Sipaliwini Rivers near the village of Kwamalasumutu from August to September 2010, in an effort to document the region’s poorly known biodiversity and help develop sustainable ecotourism opportunities for the local indigenous people. The research was conducted by a collaborative team of 53 scientists, indigenous Trio people, and students, who documented the diversity and status of plants, fishes, reptiles and amphibians, birds, small mammals, large mammals, ants, katydids, dragonflies and damselflies, aquatic beetles, and dung beetles.

CI scientist and Rapid Assessment Program Director Dr. Trond Larsen said, “Our team was privileged to explore one of the last remaining areas of vast, unroaded wilderness in the world. As a scientist, it is thrilling to study these remote forests where countless new discoveries await, especially since we believe that protecting these landscapes while they remain pristine provides perhaps the greatest opportunity for maintaining globally important biodiversity and the ecosystems people depend upon for generations to come.”

The findings of the expedition were recently published in the RAP Bulletin of Biological Assessment series, titled “A Rapid Biological Assessment of the Kwamalasamatu region, Southwestern Suriname”. Among the many highlights, scientists report new species that include a large tree-frog, eight freshwater fish, and dozens of new insects such as aquatic beetles, dung beetles, damselflies, and katydids.

A flagship initiative of Conservation International since 1990, “RAP” surveys provide a quick assessment of the unique biodiversity of an area to inform conservation and sustainable development, often identifying species in remote underexplored regions.

While the discovery of new species is an exciting outcome of these surveys, the RAP scientists also observed a variety of other fascinating species, many of which are found only in Suriname or represent entirely new records for the region.

Cowboy Frog
“Cowboy Frog” - Hypsiboas sp. has white fringes along the legs, and a spur on the “heel.” It was discovered low on a small branch during a night survey in a swampy area of the Koetari River. It looks quite similar to “the Convict Treefrog” Hypsiboas calcaratus but lacks the black and white lateral stripes of H. calcaratus. Photo © Paul Ouboter/ Conservation International

“The area was paradise for the entomologists among us, with spectacular and unique insects everywhere. I didn’t even have to look for ants because they jumped out at me”, said Dr. Leeanne Alonso, a former CI RAP Director who is now with Global Wildlife Conservation. “Other scientists were equally impressed with the amazing diversity of birds and mammals of the region. You can really get up close to wildlife here - a camera trap recorded a jaguar about one hundred yards from our camp.”

During the survey, scientists also observed extensive cave petroglyphs near the village of Kwamalasamutu, in a site known as Werehpai, which CI-Suriname is working with local communities to preserve and promote for ecotourism. Discovered as recently as 2000, the Werehpai site is the oldest known human settlement located in southern Suriname. Recent investigations and radiocarbon dates at the site indicate that the first sign of inhabitation was five-thousand years ago; they offer the most concentrated set of petroglyphs ever recorded in the Amazonian basin.

CI-Suriname Executive Director Annette Tjon Sie Fat, whose team commissioned the survey and will incorporate the research into conservation planning said, “The Kwamalasamutu area’s pristine nature and cultural heritage make it a unique destination for more adventurous tourists, who enjoy trekking through the dense rainforest to discover flora and fauna. CI- Suriname and the Trio are hoping to further develop a niche market ecotourism site here, while the recommendations from the RAP will help the community to manage and maintain the 18,000 ha sanctuary they created around the region’s incredible Werehpai petroglyph caves.”

RAP team and CI President Russ Mittermeier will be heading back to Southern Suriname in March to continue the exploration of this pristine and globally important region. 

Photos of other remarkable species, and camera trap photos, can be seen here.