Introduction

This unique Eco-Region covers 250 million hectares, and extends from Colombia in the west to the State of Amapá in Brazil in the east. It includes the Venezuelan states of Delta Amacuro, Amazonas and Bolívar, encompasses all of Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana and continues into the ecologically associated areas of the Brazilian states of Pará, Roraima and Amazonas. The region contains the largest complex of uninterrupted and intact primary tropical forest on earth and it is endowed with a unique biodiversity. It is not only a key watershed region for the Amazon and Orinoco basins, but, due to its huge biomass/storage of carbon, its capacity to absorb CO2, and its role in the hydrological cycle, the region also impacts regional and global climate stability.


Fauna diversity

The biodiversity of the Guiana Shield Region is particularly rich, with an estimated 20,000 vascular plant species, of which about 35% (7,000) are endemic, making it one of the three richest tropical wilderness areas on Earth. Bird richness is estimated at 975 species, with 150 endemics and 25 near-endemics; mammals at 282 species (27 endemics), reptiles at 280 species (76 end.), amphibians at 272 species (127 end.), and freshwater fish at 2200 species (700 endemics). As of yet, the diversity of invertebrates has not been studied extensively, but there are certainly hundreds of thousands of species, the vast majority of which are still unknown to science.

Various ecosystems

The Guianan Region also has a great variety of ecosystems, some of which are not found anywhere else on Earth. 
These include:
  • the sandstone Tepuis or Table Mountains of the Guayana Highlands, with their highly specialized endemic flora and fauna and their unusual non-gramineous meadows and shrubby and herbaceous communities;
  • the vast expanses of white sand vegetation, again with a flora highly adapted to low nutrient conditions;
  • large savannah areas;
  • extensive coastal swamp forests;
  • riparian flooded forests,
  • and, of course, a wide variety of tropical rain forest systems.

The above is paraphrased from the Technical Statement prepared for the Guayana Shield Priority Setting Workshop held in Paramaribo, Suriname, in April 2002. During this conservation priority setting workshop 120 experts met on 8 biological groups (floristics, plant ecology, mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, freshwater and invertebrates) to assess the state of knowledge for their taxa and to determine conservation priorities based on the knowledge currently available.

Threats

The Guiana Shield is an eco-region of global significance. Recently, its ecosystems are increasingly threatened by many problems that are common across the eco-region. Despite the wealth of natural resources in the region, the poverty level remains high. High levels of external debt and weak institutional capacity exert an increasing pressure on governments and local populations to choose economic activities which are beneficial on the short term, but that are often unsustainable. This has led to a lack of land use planning, as well as the production of illicit drugs, illegal mining and logging, ill-planned infrastructure projects, and expansion of the agricultural frontier. All of which are putting an increasing pressure on the ecosystems of this eco-region. In the 1990s, there was an influx of large international mining and logging companies into the region. Furthermore, there has been an ongoing migration of small-scale Brazilian miners (garimpeiros), who take advantage of the lack of coherence and enforcement of policy and legislation and the lack of an organized and harmonized approach to management of the region as a whole. In several countries, local and indigenous land rights are ill defined and there are no mechanisms for transboundary cooperation. There is no regional framework to exchange lessons learnt and to harmonize relevant legislation. 

More interesting documents (including maps and publications) and links to much more information about the region can be found in the section about the Priority Setting Workshop and the Documents section of this site.

You can also visit the website of Conservation International to learn more about this eco-region: http://web.conservation.org/xp/CIWEB/regions/neotropics/guianas.xml.