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Northern South America: Northern Suriname, into eastern Guyana and French Guiana

These swamp forests are characterized by the fact that they grow on almost permanently inundated soils. In general, the resulting forests are shorter in stature, have many specialized species of flora and fauna, and a rather low floral diversity compared to the surrounding terra firma moist forests. Swamp forests are found in the young coastal plain of Suriname and cover about 8% percent of Surinam’s land area, with roughly 2% swamp forest, 4% swamp wood, 4% swamp scrub and 2% herbaceous swamp (IUCN 1996). Though species richness is low, beta diversity remains high and several endemic plant species occur.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    3,000 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
The Paramaribo Swamp forests ecoregion extends as a narrow, near-coastal strip across all of northern Suriname, from the Corantijn River along the Guyanan border to the Marowijne River along the French Guianan border. Elements of these forests types extend into the neighboringGuianas. These permanently inundated forests occur within a matrix of other forest types, converging with mangroves to the north along the coast, and terra firma moist forests on all other sides.

Climate in this ecoregion is hot and wet. According to Köppen's climate classification, the major part of this ecoregion has a tropical rainforest climate. Two rainy and two dry seasons can be distinguished: a short rainy season from early December to the end January, a short dry season from early February to the end April, a long rainy season early May to mid August, and finally a long dry season mid August to the end November (Teunissen et al. 2001). Soils are hygromorphic, as a rule covered with a peat layer and are almost permanentlyflooded. These forests sit on the Holocene marine sediments of the coastal plain of Suriname where little to no topographic relief occurs resulting in elevations between 4 m and 11 m, in this ecoregion.

Floristically, these tropical swamp forests are part of the Guyana lowland floristic province (Mori 1991), and support a diversity of vegetation types from freshwater swamp forests, swamp wood, swamp scrub to herbaceous swamps. Peat fires and water depth are often limiting factors to predominant vegetation cover. In the absence of peat fires, shallower swamps show the highest plant diversity (Teunissen 1993). In the shallower freshwater swamps in the northern portion the following tree species are characteristic for the final climax stage of swamp forest vegetation Virolia surinamensis, Symphonia globulifera and the palm Euterpe oleracea.

Further south, where during rainy seasons water depths may exceed 3.5 meters, the area becomes floristically poor in species. In this southern area the final climax stage of swamp forest vegetation is characterized bythe tree species:Crudia glaberrima andMacrolobium acaciifolium, and the palm Bactris maraja.

Swamp wood in shallower waters is often dominated by one or only a few species of trees and may include: Erythrina glauca, Pterocarpus officinalis in combination with Tabebuia insignis; Chrysobalanus icaco in combination withAnnona glabra, Mauritia flexuosa, or Triplaris surinamensis.

Herbaceous and scrub swamps are often dominated by one or only a few species of plants, and may include Typha dominguensis, Leersia hexandra and Cyperus giganteus for the northernswamps and Eleocharis interstincta, Lagenocarpus guianensis and Rhynchosphora corymbosa for the southern swamps.

Biodiversity Features
This ecoregion is a mosaic of freshwater swamp habitats. In Suriname, the freshwater swamp forest ecoregion is comprised of approximately 25% swamp forest, 50% swamp wood, and is interspersed with 25 % of swamp scrub and herbaceous swamps (Teunissen pers. comm.).

As discussed there are a great number of microhabitats and a variety of greater habitat types present – much of which are the result of the year-round water level and the frequency of grass and peat fires.

Mammals in this ecoregion are relatively diverse and with no known endemism. Notable are the diversity of primates, of which five are using these swamp forests annually or be permanent residents. These include: Saguinus midas, Saimiri sciureus, Pithecia pithecia, Cebus apella, and Alouatta seniculus (Mittermeier et al. 1990, Eisenberg 1989). Other notable mammals include the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus), giant river otter (Pteronura brasiliensis), and jaguar (Panthera onca).

Internationally, the coastal plain of Suriname is a very important for breeding, passage, and wintering waterfowl (de Jong et al 1984). Notable among these are scarlet ibis (Eudocimus ruber) and semi-palmated sandpiper (Calidris pusilla). Other important birds are lesser seed-finch (Oryzoborus angolensis), ruddy-breasted seedeater (Sporaphila minuta), slate-colored seedeater (Sporophila schistacea), Guianan piculet (Picumnus minutissimus), blood-coloured woodpecker (Veniliornis sanguineus), and the crimson-hooded manakin (Pipra aureola). No endemic birds are known from this ecoregion.

Current Status
Several protected areas are within or partially within the boundaries of this swamp forest ecoregion, which offer vary degree of protection and representation. Several nature reserves (IUCN category IV) occur within these swamp forest including Galibi, Wia Wia, Peruvia, Boven Coesewijne, Copi, and Wane kreek (UNEP/WCMC Protected Areas database).

Because of the inhospitable nature of these swamp forests, large tracts remain relatively undisturbed and inaccessible. The network of rivers and streams, canals, sand ridges (former sand beaches), roads and plantation dykes however does provide access to much of the ecoregion, and permits the extraction of timber and flora and fauna for the pet trade.

Types and Severity of Threats
Threats to this ecoregion are diverse. Teunissen 1993 (2001) describes the following human impacts as significant: grass and peat fires, impoldering (draining swamps for agriculture), dykes (damming for water storage and agriculture), discharge of agrochemicals, introduction of exotic plants, roads and transport canals, swamp forest exploitation (drainage and canalizing for logging), mining (bauxite), and industry.

The capitol city of Suriname lies within this ecoregion, and therefore the majority of the population of this country is concentrated in the vicinity of Paramaribo Swamp ecoregion. Other portions of the ecoregion, especially in the western reaches – remain undeveloped. Immediate threats result from urban sprawl resulting in subsistence hunting and wood collecting, collecting of species for the pet trade (especially primates, seed-finches and seedeaters, macaws and parrots).

Because of the strong riparian influences of this ecoregion, it is affected to some degree by almost all upstream pollution and runoff. Therefore siltation from upstream logging, contamination from upstream gold mining, and water fluctuation from upstream dams will certainly have some effect over time, however with proper management these can be minimized.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
These seasonally and permanently inundated swamps occur along the coastal planes of Suriname between the Courantyne River (which separated Suriname from Guyana) and the Maroni River (which separated Suriname from French Guiana). The northern delineation follows the mangrove-moist forests vegetative transition, and the southern delineation marks the transition from seasonal inundation to terra firma forest – also with marked vegetative differences. Linework was based on Huber et al. (1995), Granville (1979), and OAS (1988).

Eisenberg, J. 1989. Mammals of the Neotropics Volume 1: the northern Neotropics. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Granville, J. 1979. La Guayane - Planche 12 - Vegetation. Map 1:1,000,000. Atlas des Centre d'Etudes de Geographie Tropicale, Office de la Recherche Scientifique et Technique d'Outre-Mer, Cayenne, French Guiana.

Huber, O., G. Gharbarran, and V. Funk. 1995. Vegetation map of Guyana (preliminary version). 1:1,000,000. Centre for the Study of Biological Diversity, University of Guyana, Georgetown, Guyana.

Jong, B. de, A. Spaans, and M. Held. 1984. Waterfowl and the wetlands in Suriname. Contributions to the IWRB/ICBP Neotropical wetlands project. Research Institute for Nature Management, Arnhem, The Netherlands.

IUCN. 1996. The Conservation Atlas of Tropical Forests: the Americas. Harcourt, C.S. and J.A. Sayer, editors. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Mittermeier, R.A., S.A. Malone, M.J. Plotkin, F. Baal, K. Mohadin, J. MacKnight, M. Werkhoven, and T.B. Werner. 1990. Conservation Action Plan for Suriname. World Wildlife Fund –US. 45 pp.

OAS & National Planning Office of Suriname. 1988. Suriname Planatlas. Organization of American States, Executive Secretariat for Economic and Social Affairs Department of Regional Development. Washington, D.C., USA.

RAMSAR Database ( 9/2001.

Teunissen, P.A. Personal communications. Sept. 10, 2001. Email discussion of ecoregion characteristics.

Teunissen, P.A., D. Noordam, K. Boven, J. Nieuwendam & S. Janki 2001. Management Plan Boven Coesewijne Nature Reserve, Suriname. Report on behalf of the Nature Conservation Division of the Surinam Forest Service. WWF-GFECP-project FG-12, TA5. 125 pp + 30 Annexes (75 pp).

Teunissen, P.A. 1993. Vegetation types and vegetation succession of the freshwater wetlands. In P.E. Ouboter, editor, The freshwater ecosystems of Suriname. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht. 313 pp.

UNEP/WCMC Protected Areas database (

Prepared by: Jan Schipper and Pieter Teunissen
Reviewed by: In process


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