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The Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program

The "Biological Diversity of the Guianas" (BDG) is a field-oriented program of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. It has been operating since 1983 (Federally funded since 1987). The goal of the BDG is to study, document and preserve the biological diversity of the Guianas (Guyana, Surinam, French Guiana). Originally confined to botany within Guyana, it has since been expanded to include faunal studies, but field work in countries other than Guyana has been minimal to date. In Guyana the BDG operates under the auspices of the University of Guyana (UG) with whom an agreement has been adopted and signed.

The Guianas are little known and extremely rich biologically. Unlike many other areas of South America, approximately 80% of the natural habitat of the Guianas remains pristine. Guyana, in particular, was bypassed for many years by most collectors, and a restrictive government kept out development initiatives. These natural areas are now seriously threatened by notorious “developers” such as Asian logging companies and Brazilian gold miners. It is important that we gain an understanding of the flora and fauna so that decisions can be made concerning critical areas that have high priority for conservation and so data can be collected from areas that will ultimately be degraded. In addition, because this region has been long neglected by biologists, it is often an area of "insufficient information" for many biological studies. The program was designed to provide specimens and data to address biodiversity questions about many groups of organisms for research and conservation projects. This new information is now being used to produce checklists, vegetation maps, and floristic and faunistic studies. In addition, the BDG program is exploring uses of the data that has been collected that will lead to a synthesis of information addressing broader biodiversity issues and understanding.

The BDG program fulfills the goals of the Smithsonian Institution in that it gathers new information and distributes it to those who use it to produce floras and faunas of a relatively unknown area, participates in training of students and professionals from the host country, supplies data for the identification and preservation of biologically diverse areas, and provides specimens that are used in systematic studies both within the Institution and throughout the world. The data generated formerly was deficient in biodiversity studies of all types.

From 1986 until the present the BDG has maintained a resident plant collector in Guyana. The specimens collected have been sent to experts for identification and a set of specimens is deposited at UG, the US National Herbarium, and many other institutions. At the time of this publication, approximately 40,000 numbers have been collected, representing over 200,000 individual specimens. This is the first of a series of reports to be published documenting the work of the collectors from the BDG program.

John J. Pipoly III

John Pipoly was the first Resident Collector to participate in what ultimately became the Biological Diversity of the Guianas Program. When Pipoly was hired the program was a joint Smithsonian, New York Botanical Garden (NYBG), and University of Guyana project. The SI, NYBG and Pipoly had engaged in extensive correspondence with Dr. George Walcott, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Guyana, and had agreed on the basic framework of a joint collecting program. John and his wife Fabiola arrived in Georgetown, Guyana, on 2 April 1986 and departed in May 1987. The first thing Pipoly had to do was set up the infrastructure necessary for a successful plant collecting program. He immediately arranged to have supplies shipped down for the first project that he undertook, the construction of three plant dryers at UG. Once the plant dryers were working he was able to begin collecting plants.

Pipoly spent 12 months in Guyana and approximately 140 days in the field. He collected 4574 numbers, 1929 of which were processed by New York Botanical Garden and 2645 of which were processed by the U.S. National Herbarium at the Smithsonian Institution. This included distribution to specialists for determination and to other institutions as part of specimen exchange programs. Currently just over 80% of these plants have been identified to species, showing that Pipoly collected over 1600 taxa in 680 genera. One set of his collections and a photocopy of his field notebooks were left in Guyana at the Jenman Herbarium, University of Guyana. Some of the specimens left behind have since been destroyed by insects, however the majority of specimens are now mounted and in the herbarium housed at the “Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity” at the University of Guyana. After Pipoly left Guyana, the New York Botanical Garden decided to end its involvement and it became solely a SI/UG program.

Numerous Guyanese accompanied Pipoly on his collection trips. Those of whom we have record include the following: A. Lorrimer, H. Godfrey, A. Sivopala, J. Sivopala, G. Bacchus, M. Ameer, G. Gharbarran, J. Chin, R. Edwards, H. Lall, J. McIntyre, K. Alfred, L.P. Williams, R. Boyan, E. Cecil, S. George, and A. George, as well as F.M. Pipoly and G. Samuels.

The assistance of Dr. George Walcott and staff at the US Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana cannot be overstated. Dr. Walcott made the entire operation possible by proving to be the crucial person in developing the project, and the US Embassy helped with shipping and handling of all supplies and with logistical support for Pipoly. If either had not provided help, the program would have ended in failure. Dr. Pipoly is an expert in the Clusiaceae and Myrsinaceae, working as a research scientist at the Botanical Research Institute of Texas. He continues to collaborate closely with the BDG program by providing determinations of collections in these families.

Format of Collection Information

These data summarize identification of plants collected by John Pipoly and identified by hundreds of taxonomic specialists. One purpose of this publication is to make the results of this field work widely available to the botanical and conservation community now that over 80% of the collections have been identified and distributed. This publication will also serve as a resource for many herbaria who received sheets of these collections. As is always the case with such endeavors, specialists may revise their determinations of specimens, and data errors are corrected over time. In addition to this publication, the BDG website (see below) with these data will be periodically updated.

Part I is a detailed account of the localities in which John Pipoly made his collections for the BDG program, organized chronologically by trip. The range of numbers for each trip is indicated, as are the dates of the trip. Within each trip specific localities, as provided by the collector, are listed with their latitude and longitude coordinates, elevation range in meters, the collection number range, co-collectors, and date for those collections. The format for latitude is ddmmss and for longitude is dddmmss. For these collections made in the days before Global Positioning Systems (GPS), coordinates were recorded only to the nearest minute and accuracy varies as estimates were made in the field from maps of varying quality.

Part II is an account of the collections by number. Each number is followed by the determined plant family, plant name including infraspecific name when available, and authors of the name. The BDG collections database generally maintains plant names as submitted by specialists, and these may be checked against the synonomy provided in the Checklist of the Plants of the Guianas, 2nd Edition (Boggan et al., 1997), available in hard copy from BDG or online at As much as possible, authors of plant names have been updated to follow standardized abbreviations (Brummitt and Powell, 1992).

Part III is a listing of collections sorted by determined Family, Genus and Species, giving the collection numbers for each name. This is provided to facilitate the location of specimens by specialists.

Part IV is a set of maps showing the localities for each of Pipoly’s major collecting trips outside of Georgetown. Again, the accuracy of the positions recorded was subject to the tools available at the time.

Anyone requiring additional information about the distribution of sheets to other herbaria or the specialists who participated in the determination of specimens can contact the BDG Program at the Botany Department, Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC., 20560-0166. As identification of collections by other BDG field botanists becomes at least 80% complete, additional publications will be issued in this series

Pipoly Collections Index

To current Mapping Pipoly Expeditions site

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