The Biodiversity of Guyana: a Global Perspective for the Future
A Report on the Symposium
Dedicated to Dr. George L. Walcott (1928-2001)
Georgetown, Guyana, 7 - 10 October 2001
Report prepared by V. A. Funk, C. L. Kelloff, and Tom Hollowell,
Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program, NMNH, Smithsonian Institution.
Issued: 27 December 2001
The symposium "THE BIODIVERSITY OF GUYANA: A Global Perspective for the Future" was held in Georgetown, Guyana from 7 - 10 October 2001. It was co-hosted by the University of Guyana (UG) and the Smithsonian Institution's Biological Diversity of Guianas Program (BDG). For many years institutions and research organizations in Guyana and around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, have been working in Guyana collecting plant and animal data, discussing conservation strategies, and evaluating areas for preservation. Two years ago the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity (CSBD) at UG and its collaborators decided that the time had arrived to evaluate the level of our knowledge of the biodiversity of Guyana and to use those data to address question such as "What do we know about the diversity of various groups of organisms in Guyana?", How does the diversity compare regionally and globally?", "How can it be conserved?", and "How might conservation efforts affect the people of Guyana?".
Preparation for the Symposium
The symposium was originally scheduled for March of 2001 but was rescheduled for October because of a conflict with the Guyana national elections. Preparations for the meeting began well in advance. In early 2000 the Centre of the Study of Biological Diversity, UG, and the Smithsonian Institution's BDG program submitted a proposal to the Guyana EPA and permission was granted to have a symposium. A steering committee was set up that included the CSBD, UG, BDG, the Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development (Guyana), Conservation International-Guyana, the Tropenbos Programme, and the Guyana EPA. However, as time went by and other duties interfered, it fell to the CSBD (UG: Philip DaSilva and Dyantie Naraine) and the BDG program (Carol Kelloff) to do most of the work.
The goal of the symposium was to evaluate how much we knew about the biodiversity of Guyana and to encourage and facilitate the expression of opinions on various issues. The symposium was open to all interested parties, international as well as local. The committee decided to include plenary talks, invited talks, and posters and hoped that this design would encourage the participation of Guyanese from the academic and conservation communities as well as policy makers from the Government of Guyana, the international agencies, and representative of the Amerindian communities. There were five main themes or sessions that were to be developed: biodiversity of plants, biodiversity of animals, indigenous use and management of biodiversity, conservation and sustainable development, and ethnobotany. Over 400 letters and flyers were sent out to scientists, institutions, and organizations notifying them of the symposium and informing them of the website. This mailing had to be repeated again to notify potential participants and speakers of the postponement and new dates. In addition, we sent several emails to all individuals in our directory.
A Symposium website was developed to provide basic information on the symposium, including location, dates, schedule, contact information, housing and restaurants, and a local map of Georgetown (www.guyana2001.org). The website also allowed visitors to register and submit the abstract for their poster or talk on-line. Although AIBS was contracted to development and maintain the website it became necessary for the BDG Data Manager to make the changes to the html file and submit the changes to AIBS. This expedited the process and the website was updated as new information became available.
The committee invited plenary speakers to address specific topics and they were carefully selected to "launch" each session. Unfortunately, a few of the international participants who were planning to attend in March had to cancel when the meeting was delayed. Invited speakers were nominated by members of the scientific community and the poster session was available to all applicants. One reason for having a scientific meeting in Georgetown was to provide the opportunity for students and young developing scientists to attend and contribute their research to the meeting. The poster session gave them the venue to do this. The only difficulty was that although there are many computers in Guyana with the appropriate software to design posters, there was no large format printer available for use by the students. Tsitsi McPherson, a final year student at University of Guyana who had attended the RTP program at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, worked with the students in preparing their posters. Eventually the poster files were emailed to Tom Hollowell (BDG data manager) and he checked the format, corrected errors, and coordinated the printing. After printing, the posters were laminated to protect them from the moisture and salt spray present in Georgetown. We received a better than expected response for posters and the staff of the Office of Imaging, Printing & Photographic Services was most helpful in assuring that we made our plane flights with posters in hand. In exchange, BDG purchased paper and ink for the NMNH printer.
The committee decided to have a logo for the symposium and selected an illustration of a pair of birds perched on a savanna shrub which was based on collections from Guyana. Unfortunately, because the birds were not yet reported in the literature, we were unable to use them. Instead, we agreed upon an illustration of the flowering plant Clusia grandiflora Splitg. (Clusiaceae). The logo was printed on the folders, programs, post cards, and other material; all printing was done by the BDG program staff.
The BDG office prepared a draft of the program that was sent to all the speakers for review and comments. After adjustments were made to accommodate speakers' schedules, the final version was printed. A folder was prepared for each participant that included the program, postcards, pen and paper, information on the BDG program and on UG. In addition, we added flyers and other information provided by Iwokrama, the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, the NMNH Department of Botany, and the Association for Tropical Biology.
The Symposium opened with a Reception on Sunday night which Dr. James Rose, Vice Chancellor, University of Guyana, Mr. Ronald Godard, American Ambassador to Guyana, and Dr. V.A. Funk, Director, Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program welcomed over 200 guests. The meeting was dedicated to Dr. George Walcott (1928-2001), former Vice Chancellor of UG. Dr. Walcott was instrumental in helping the BDG program get started and was always dedicated to excellence. Dr. Rose provided a delightful account of Walcott's life and welcomed the participants. The Ambassador expressed greetings from the United States and spoke highly of the BDG program and UG. Dr. Funk thanked both UG and the US Embassy; stating that without these two institutions, the BDG would not be able to function in Guyana. Funk also announced the publication of the "Preliminary Checklist of the Plants of the Guiana Shield, Volume 1: Acanthaceae - Lythraceae." This collaborative publication expands the previous checklist (Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas) so that it now covers a natural area. Funk also pointed out the other publications that are now available both in hard copy and on the BDG website including a Checklist of the Birds of Guyana, a Checklist of the Mammals and one of the Herpetofauna. The program was filmed for local television.
Each day of the symposium was broken down into two sessions: morning and afternoon. Each session began with a plenary speaker followed by invited talks. Over the course of the meeting there were six plenary speakers: Major General (ret'd) Joseph Singh, Conservation International - Guyana; Dr. John Terborgh, Duke University; Dr. Godfrey Bourne, University of Missouri at St. Louis; Dr. Andre Chanderbali, University of Guyana; Dr. I. Ramdass, National Wildlife Survey, Guyana EPA; and Dr. Kathryn Monk, Executive Director, Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development (Guyana). Approximately 200 people registered for the symposium and approximately 100 attended each session. The participants included staff from Conservation International - Washington, DC and Guyana, Iwokrama International Centre for Rain Forest Conservation and Development, Guiana Shield Initiative - Surinam, students from the University of Guyana and Queen's College (high school), NGO's, Ambassadors and embassy staff, and individuals from various agencies of the Government of Guyana as well as a few of the general public.
All of the talks were informative and greatly appreciated, however, the biggest attraction at the meeting was the posters. There were over 30 displayed and they were put in place before the reception on Sunday evening. The guests spent a good deal of time examining them. The posters were submitted by scientists from the Smithsonian, the Royal Ontario Museum, the Guiana Shield Initiative, and students and recent graduates from the University of Guyana, Iwokrama, and conservation organizations. The posters were left in Guyana and are on display at the Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, University of Guyana. They will also be available as teaching aids to the University and surrounding schools. A publication is planned that will include all posters and talks presented at the symposium. This was the first scientific meeting held in Guyana in recent memory and although we encountered a significant number of obstacles we all agreed it was a wonderful opportunity for the scientists to present their data and discuss ideas for future work. In particular the young scientists in Guyana were excited about meeting and talking with scientists from around the world.
On Thursday following the close of the meeting a luncheon was hosted by Ambassador and Mrs. Godard at the Ambassador's residence. Representatives from the Government of Guyana, the conservation community, the academic community, and the Smithsonian attended and it was a fitting close to a hectic but invigorating few days.