Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Expedition to Suriname Finds New Species

The crown jewels of earth, in the form of varied biological life, no matter how small or big, form a wealth that no one can recreate. Then, if a scientific expedition of three weeks duration to three remote sites along Kutari and Sipaliwini rivers near village Kwamalasumutu in southwest Suriname yield a documented list of nearly 1300 species, including 46 new species is an achievement that any biologist or a nature lover will appreciate.

Carried under the Rapid Assessment Program (RAP) of the Conservation International, the expedition comprised a collaborative team of 53 scientists, indigenous Trio people, students who documented status of species  which included plants, animals, fishes, reptiles, amphibians, birds, small and large mammals, katydids, dragonflies, damselflies, aquatic beetles and dung beetles. Suriname has the world's last pristine tropical forests. RAP surveys carried by CI provide a quick assessment of the unique biodiversity of an unexplored area.

CI scientist and RAP 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 released for press by CI; the release entitled, "An armoured catfish, a cowboy frog....in southwest Suriname" provides details of  expedition and some interesting species and their pictures which are reproduced below alongwith their links.    
Cowboy Frog (Hypsiboas sp.) was discovered low on a small branch during a night survey in a swampy area of the Koetari River. The main distinguishing characteristic of this frog is the lack of a certain characteristic. It looks quite similar to "the Convict Treefrog" Hypsiboas calcaratus but lacks the black and white lateral stripes of H. calcaratus.

Pac-Man Frog (Ceratophrys cornuta), a voracious sit-and-wait predator, with an exceptionally wide mouth, can swallow prey nearly as large as its own body, including birds, mice and other frogs. One researcher using a radio collar to track birds found her study animal (and collar) in the belly of this frog!

A new species, the Armored Catfish (Pseudacanthicus sp.) is a catfish whose armor of external bony plates is covered with spines to defend itself from giant piranhas which inhabit the same waters. Only a handful of Pseudacanthicus specimens are known from Suriname, and this is the first from the Sipaliwini
Crayola Katydid (Vestria sp.) known as Crayola katydids because of their striking coloration. They are the only katydids known to employ chemical defenses, which are effective at repelling bird and mammalian predators.
The Monkey Frog (Phyllomedusa tomoptema) is a species of tree frogs, these frogs are indicative of healthy pristine rain forest
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. 

Great Horned Beetle (Coprophanaeus lancifer) is a massive dung beetle the size of a tangerine, weighing over 6 grams. It is metallic blue and purple. This species is highly unusual in that both males and females possess long horns on the head, which are used as weapons against each other during battle.
Spectacular Conehead Katydid (Loboscelis bacatus) was previously only known from Amazonian Peru. The katydid has fluorescent green and pink coloring. The sighting in southern Suriname significantly extends its known range. It is predator of insects and snails, and feeds on seeds and fruits.

The expedition in particular proved to be a paradise for entomologists , 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. There was equally impressive and amazing diversity of birds and mammals in the region.
A leaf beetle (Stilodes sedecimmaculata) found only in Guyana shield. Its bright colour is a reflection of toxic materials stored from plants it consumes to warn off predators
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."

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

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