Documenting Biodiversity in Suriname, One Stream at a Time

The sun rises over the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, as seen from the summit of Voltzberg
The sun rises over the Central Suriname Nature Reserve, as seen from the summit of Voltzberg. Photo by Andrew Short.

Andrew Short is a National Geographic Grantee and assistant professor of
 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training and at heart, Short is currently in Suriname, South America searching for aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity that will inform both science and conservation. 

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Having climbed up through a layer of misting clouds, we reached the summit of Voltzberg just in time to see the day break over the surrounding rainforest. Sitting at the northern edge of the Central Suriname Nature Reserve (CSNR), Voltzberg is one of many imposing granite domes that pepper this ancient South American landscape. A massive swath of tropical wilderness twice the size of my home state of Delaware, the CSNR is almost entirely unpopulated and only accessible by canoe and bushplane.

While taking in the vastness of the landscape was a welcome break from our fieldwork routine that morning last July, my students and I had work to do: documenting the aquatic insects that live in the streams, waterfalls, and forest pools that surrounded us. Our research here, done in collaboration with the National Zoological Collection of Suriname, has uncovered dozens of new species and we’re only just gotten started. These inventories help us approach a number of bigger questions: How similar is this patch of forest to one 50 miles away? What are the ecological limits of these species, and what would happen if the environment changed? Can these insects help us monitor water quality?

We’re making final preparations for our return to Suriname (and CSNR) next week. This time, our target is more ambitious: Tafelberg—an isolated table mountain in the center of the reserve. Stay tuned for updates as our expedition gets underway!

Read the entire blog series

Dr. Andrew Short is an assistant professor of
 Ecology & Evolutionary Biology at the University of Kansas. An entomologist by training, Short uses aquatic insects to study patterns of freshwater biodiversity in South America to inform both science and conservation. A veteran of more than two-dozen scientific expeditions, he has described more than 125 new species to science.

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