Six new frogs, a snake, 11 fish and dozens of insects are among 60 species “potentially new to science” that were discovered during a three-week expedition in Suriname conducted by an international team of scientists, including a Canadian.
The 16 scientists, including Burton Lim of the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, published a report this week on their “rapid biological assessment” of the Palumeu River watershed, said Conservation International, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit organization that led the expedition.
The group’s Rapid Assessment Program is designed to quickly assess the biodiversity of remote wilderness areas such as that watershed in a mountainous region of the South American country. The work aims to provide scientific data that countries can use to identify areas that need special protection.
Despite challenges such as a flash flood that forced team members to abandon their tents and retreat to hammocks and then evacuate their camp altogether, the team collected data that revealed pristine habitats with very high biodiversity.
The researchers logged 1,378 species of plants and animals, including dozens of species "potentially new to science" and many species not found anywhere else in the country, the report said.
They also tested the water quality of the watershed and found that although it was high overall, some samples contained mercury “above safe levels for human consumption” even though there was no mining upstream, Conservation International said in a news release.
Trond Larsen, director of Conservation International’s Rapid Assessment Program and the leader of the expedition, thinks the mercury is likely blowing in from neighbouring countries.
“This demonstrates that even the most isolated and pristine parts of the world are not entirely sheltered from human impacts,” he wrote on the Conservation International blog Humanature.
In their report, the researchers “strongly” recommend that southeastern Suriname be protected to “preserve its unique and diverse species” as well as its forest and freshwater resources.
Those resources make up the headwaters of one-third of the country’s rivers and supply much of the water used by 50,000 people downstream for drinking, sanitation, agriculture and industrial activities.
The survey was funded mainly by the Suriname Conservation Foundation.