The forests of South-central Guyana east of Iwokrama are among the least-studied and most biologically diverse forest types in the Guianas. They are also among the most pristine forests in Guyana. Biologists have never studied the Upper Berbice River region, located between the upper reaches of the Berbice River and the Corentyne River along the border with Suriname. The Upper Berbice Biodiversity survey team, led by GWC’s Director of Global Biodiversity Exploration Leeanne Alonso in 2014 in collaboration with WWF-Guianas, revealed pristine lowland forests containing diverse and abundant wildlife at two sites.
The first site, the Upper Berbice River Camp, was within an area of undisturbed pristine forest with trees higher than 30 meters tall. The dominant tree species, Mora excelsior and Asterocaryium sp., supported a high diversity of woody climbing plants. The forest at the second site, the Upper Berbice White Sands Camp, consisted of Wallaba or Dakama forest on white sand with three strata: canopy dominated by Dakama (Dimorphandra conjugata), mid-level dominated by Soft Wallaba (Eperua falcata), and lower level with many Manoco (Oenocarpus bacaba).
The forests around the Upper 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. Birds and reptiles rarely seen in areas with hunting pressure were abundant. The researchers recorded a high diversity of all taxa despite the extremely dry conditions—there was no rain for the entire two-week survey period. Fish diversity was typically low for headwaters, but contained large numbers of predatory fishes, indicating pristine and healthy river conditions.
Both sites contained rare species of birds that are heard but seldom seen in lowland Guyana forests. Several species of Odonata and aquatic beetles are likely new to science. Since this region had never before been surveyed, all survey data constitute new range records and new information for Guyana.
These forests are among the most pristine forests the scientific team had ever encountered in Guyana, or in the Neotropics more generally. But with increasing interest in this area from the extractive industry especially for timber and mining, information on the vegetation types and biodiversity of the area is vital to inform conservation and development planning that can avoid or mitigate impacts.
Worldwide, one of the biggest threats to wildlife is habitat loss. However, the impacts of habitat loss cannot be separated from accessibility. Roads cause road kills and edge effects, which result in changes in temperature and humidity of the forest. Once an area is made accessible through a road, both development and hunting increase, especially hunting for species popular for wildlife trade or food.
The principal goal of the survey was to establish the full complement of biodiversity baseline data that can be used by all stakeholders, including the Government of Guyana, the University of Guyana, local communities, NGOs, and the private sector, to make informed decisions about sustainable management and land-use planning of this sub-region. The data will complement that of the South Rupununi expedition, the Potaro/Kaieteur Plateau expedition, and other research and monitoring conducted in this region. The data are intended to contribute generally to the knowledge base for the wider southern Guyana region.
The results of the research will also help to facilitate comparison of various taxa found within the Upper Berbice River region with the Rupununi and Upper Essequibo River drainages. The survey was designed to gather new biological data to help guide the relevant community resource use and management and the country’s land use planning, biodiversity conservation, and management priorities.
Upper Berbice River region, Guyana, South America
WWF-Guinas, Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity (CSBD), University of Guyana, Panthera