Reflections: November 25, 2014
By Leeanne Alonso
The forests of the Upper Berbice region of eastern Guyana are truly amazing. It was a privilege to be able to study these forests, the most pristine, undisturbed forests that most of the survey team have ever encountered in Guyana, or within the entire neotropics.
The forests at the two sites we surveyed were very different in vegetation structure and composition. The first site, the Berbice River camp, was within an area of undisturbed pristine forest with trees more than 30m tall. The dominant tree species, Mora excelsior and Asterocaryium sp., supported a high diversity of climbing plants such as orchids and bromeliads. The forest at the White Sands camp, in comparison, consisted of Wallaba or Dakama forest on white sand. The forest floor of the Wallaba forest is a thick mat of roots and leaves that is spongy to walk on and highly flammable.
The forests around the Berbice River camp harbor a high diversity and especially high abundance of wildlife. Signs of large mammals such as jaguar, puma, and brocket deer were common and we saw animals on several occasions. Birds and reptiles rarely seen in areas with hunting pressure were abundant. The team recorded a high diversity of all species despite the extremely dry conditions (no rain for the entire two-week period). Fish diversity was typically low for headwaters but contained large numbers of predatory fishes, indicating pristine and healthy river conditions.
In Guyana, wildlife has remained well protected mainly due to limited accessibility of the interior, where natural forests and savannahs still cover the majority of the area. The situation, however, is rapidly changing. Mining and logging activities are opening up new areas by buidling roads that give access not only to the miners and loggers but also to commercial and recreational hunters. For many of these areas, very little information exists on their biodiversity. We trust that the data collected during the Upper Berbice biodiversity survey will be used to guide development of sound conservation and management plans to help conserve Guyana’s incredible biodiversity and natural resources.