An Essay On The Natural History Of Guiana In South America

Abstract

Research on mammals in the Guianas of northern South America has had a checkered history. In this review, I summarize the notable contributions to mammalogical study in Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. These studies began in the mid-18th century with the binomial nomenclature system of scientific classification created by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus, who described 23 species new to science based on holotype specimens from the Guianas. Notwithstanding popular accounts by amateur naturalists visiting this region, over the next 7 decades there was only sporadic taxonomic work done on Guianan mammals primarily by researchers at European museums. The first comprehensive biological exploration took place in the 1840s during a geographic survey of the boundaries of British Guiana. However, it was not until almost half a century later that scientific publications began to regularly document the increasing species diversity in the region, including the prodigious work of Oldfield Thomas at the British Museum of Natural History in London. Another lull in the study of mammals occurred in the mid-1910s to the early 1960s after which foreign researchers began to rediscover the Guianas and their pristine habitats. This biological renaissance is still ongoing and I give a prospectus on the direction of future research in one of the last frontiers of tropical rainforest. An initiative that would be greatly beneficial is the establishment of a university network in the Guianas with graduate-based research to develop a cadre of professional experts on biodiversity and evolution as seen in other countries of South America.

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