"The Planet Revisited": a revival of the great expeditions


After "Santo 2006" in Vanuatu, Mozambique and Madagascar (2009-2010), then Papua New Guinea (2012-2014), Guyana is the first overseas collectivity to host "La Planète Revisitée", a major programme for the discovery of new species conducted jointly by the National Museum of Natural History and Pro-Natura International. Since July 2014 and until March 2015, scientists will take turns in the field for three months of land and marine explorations involving numerous Guyanese, national and international partners in an attempt to answer the question "How many species are there on earth? »

Over the last twenty years, scientists have become aware of the immensity of biodiversity. Today, there are probably between five and ten million species still to be discovered, many of which are on the brink of extinction. A quarter or even half of the species could become extinct by the middle or end of the century.
On Wednesday 28th January, a first review of a mission started in early summer 2014 took place in Paris: in the presence of Gilles Boeuf, President of the National Museum of Natural History, Thomas Grenon, Director General of the National Museum of Natural History and Guy F. Reinaud, President of Pro-Natura International, the results of the marine mission were presented as well as the land part of the mission which will start at the end of February 2015.

Accelerating the exploration and description of species: "The Planet Revisited" is a major nature exploration programme conducted jointly by the National Museum of Natural History and Pro-Natura International, and whose objective is precisely to acquire new knowledge in the regions of the world richest in biodiversity but hitherto insufficiently inventoried. "The Planet Revisited" is a non-profit scientific project. Its main mission is the census of animal species to help research establish an exhaustive and relevant list of the planet's biodiversity.
"La Planète Revisitée" has chosen to devote its research to "neglected" biodiversity (marine and terrestrial invertebrates, plants, fungi), which represents 95 % of biodiversity and plays a fundamental role in the balance of ecosystems. The expeditions wish to restore these components of biodiversity, which are too often ignored, to their rightful place.

The study of biodiversity as a whole requires the collaboration of many specialists. The "expedition" approach by pooling major logistical and human resources in a short time allows many scientists to go to regions that are difficult to access.

French Guiana - Assessment of the marine component, launch of the land component

It is now estimated that the 70,458 species recorded in the French Overseas Territories (source: national repository on fauna and flora of metropolitan France and overseas territories TAXREF, produced by the Museum) represent only 10% of the species believed to be present. The greatest wealth of French biodiversity is located in these territories; it therefore requires a special effort of synthesis and inventory. After Vanuatu ("Santo 2006"), Mozambique and Madagascar (2009-2010) and Papua New Guinea (2012-2014), the scientists of "La Planète Revisitée" are going to French Guiana to carry out an inventory of its "neglected" biodiversity. The marine part, which took place between July and October 2014, is delivering its first results, while specialists in terrestrial fauna and flora are preparing to leave. With the same objective: to speed up the exploration and description of species?

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The Land Component - Launch February 23 / March 27, 2015 - Mitaraka Massif

The Tumuc-Humac Mountains, "mountains" fantasized by 19th century French geographers, have long fascinated explorers. For the teams of "La Planète Revisitée", these granite peaks emerging from the forest have a particular attraction: their potential for unknown species .
The land component of the expedition is aimed at southern Guyana, more specifically the Mitaraka massif in the Tumuc-Humac Mountains near the Brazilian border. The rare missions to have visited this area point to the presence of a rich flora, different from the rest of French Guiana by its Amazonian influence and still largely unknown. This region is also the least known of French Guiana from an entomological point of view. A recent synthesis shows that the rate of insect species to be discovered in French Guiana is 80 to 90 %, with approximately 18,000 species recorded against 100,000 expected. This expedition should lead to the discovery of many new species for French Guiana and for science.
The isolation of this region explains the lack of data. There are no navigable trails or rivers that allow one to penetrate this far south. The teams - 75 people, including 50 scientists, half of them based in French Guiana - and the five tons of equipment needed on the site, which was previously set up with the support of the Amazonian Park of French Guiana and the Armed Forces, will be transported by helicopter from Maripasoula.

In the field, "classic" trapping methods, such as interception traps (glass, Malaysian traps), attractive (light) traps, sight hunting, will be deployed. Other techniques will be used to harvest wildlife from the soil, subsoil and rivers. Every effort will be made to systematically and thoroughly inventory 10 km2 of forest.
In addition to this collection of all kinds of species, the implementation of the Diadema ecological study protocol of the Centre for the Study of Amazonian Biodiversity, which has already been applied in other areas of French Guiana, will make it possible to complete the study of the distribution of biodiversity on the territory of French Guiana.
Finally, the Société Entomologique Antilles-Guyane (SEAG) will make its network of 120 specialists available to the project for the determination of insect specimens after the operation, while the Guyadiv and ATDN (Amazon Tree Diversity Network) networks will relay the results at the regional and interregional levels.

The Marine Component - First Assessment / The Offshore and Salvation Islands

The marine component took place in two stages: an offshore campaign on board the Hermano Gines (July-August 2014) during which the continental shelf and its accores were sampled down to a depth of 650 m; a coastal component on the Salvation Islands archipelago (September-October 2014).

The deep-sea campaign:
The entire exclusive economic zone of French Guiana has been explored from the maritime border with Suriname to that with Brazil.
The seabed is covered with fine sediments, except for the shelf edge between 110 and 130 m deep, which has hard seabeds with localized coralline algae crusts. Beyond the observation of an apparent monotony behind the phenomenal abundance, scientists have noticed a relatively high diversity of rare or very rare species - which were only seen once during the expedition.
Some figures show unequivocally the leap forward that the expedition will have made possible: 57 species of decapod crustaceans were known from Guyana. (crabs, shrimp) and about 20 species of echinoderms (sea urchins, stars); the expedition sampled 180 and 115 species respectively! Among the better known molluscs, 100 to 200 species will be added to the 366 already counted...

The coastal section:
A base has been set up in the Salvation Islands because this small archipelago is, from an ecological point of view, the most diversified site in French Guiana and has infrastructures that allow for easy installation. Other sites have also been prospected such as the Grand Connétable Nature Reserve.
Despite the choice to operate during the peak of the dry season, the turbidity of the water and weather conditions made diving and boat operations difficult.
The low number of species observed was an expected characteristic: the coast of French Guiana is indeed in the plume of water, turbid and desalinated, discharged by the Amazon, which explains the low diversity of habitats and species in coastal ecosystems. However, divers have noted a relative abundance of sessile invertebrates (hydraires, ascidians, sponges). In total, the coastal inventory collected about 400 species of algae and invertebrates.

Marine component - Sorting, identification and initial conclusions

A workshop for sorting the collected marine specimens will take place in February 2015 in Besse in Auvergne and will then allow, thanks to the expertise of specialized systematicians, to acquire high-level identifications. The Museum and PNI have signed an Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing (ABS) agreement with the French Guiana region, resulting in the restitution of a representative collection of fauna and flora, as well as all the data (available on the website The same will be done for the terrestrial component.
This marine prospecting has therefore made it possible to double, triple or even tenfold the Guyanese inventories of certain groups, such as sponges, ascidians and hydrata. It is likely that several dozen new marine species were collected, but this is probably not the most important one. At the end of the expedition, the coast and continental shelf of French Guiana became the best sampled of the entire Guiana region - from the Amazon to the Orinoco - and will now serve as a regional reference.

The pedagogical component - When students and teachers join the adventure

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The educational accompaniment of the expedition took on particular importance here. As part of the Science Festival, students from Cayenne were able to visit the laboratory and meet the researchers in full activity. In addition, a Guyanese secondary school teacher took part in the expedition's offshore section.
This pedagogical accompaniment of the expedition also took the form of lectures and courses given by the researchers at the University of Guyana.

Find the name contest!
Among the new species, some will be presented to Guyanese classes who will be invited by competition to give them a scientific name. The choice of name is a prerogative of the systematician and sharing this pleasure will allow the young Guyanese to appropriate, through the results of the expedition, their natural heritage.
In addition, the expeditions of "The Planet Reviewed" serve as a support for the realization of many resources (logbook, multimedia documents) intended for use by teachers.
The French Guiana 2014-2015 project is co-organised by the National Museum of Natural History, Pro-Natura International, and financed by Europe via the European Economic and Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Shell Fund, the Regional Council of French Guiana, the French Guiana Department of the Environment, Development and Housing, the General Council of French Guiana, the Ministry of National Education, Higher Education and Research, with the support of the French Guiana Regional Council, the French Guiana Department of the Environment, Development and Housing, the French Guiana General Council, the French Guiana Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research, with the support of the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), the National Centre for Space Studies (CNES) and the Grand Connétable Island Nature Reserve. for the marine part; and the Amazonian Park of Guyana (PAG), the Armed Forces (9th Marine Infantry Regiment - RIMa) and the National Office of the forests for the terrestrial part. 

(Source: Museum of Natural History - January 2015)

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