On the Landsat Satellite Image, a distinctive feature
is visible more or less in the center of the National
Park, midway between the Sarstoon and Temash Rivers.
The bluish color on this image suggest a very open
habitat, not a forest at all. Unfortunately this habitat
is very difficult to reach as it is surrounded by
dense swamp forest that is inundated through much
of the year. Consequently, no scientists that we know
of ever visited the area.
During the 2003 REA, the Barranco parataxonomist
trainees made an attempt to reach this enigmatic
area while it was still at the peak of the dry season
(May). We approached the habitat from the north,
cutting our way for 2 km (1.3 ml) through the swamp
forest. This forest, although not inundated at this
stage was still wet and very difficult to walk through.
As the temperatures during this time of year are
typically very high, we found the trip very trying
and we soon ran out drinking water in spite of the
generous amount that we started out with.
What we found was a very unusual ecosystem. Not very
attractive and if possible, even more terrible to
traverse. The landscape consisted of low, dense, but
open canopied scrubland with a dense understory of
sedges (Furena umbellata?), all of this
growing on a bog of Sphagnum moss (possibly Sphagnum
subsecundum or S.portoricense). Sphagnum moss is rare in Belize
and restricted to higher elevations such as Victoria
Peak and the Mountain Pine Ridge. Finding it in Belize
at sealevel in these quantities was nothing less but
Because of the difficulty penetrating the area, we
managed to reach only the outer perimeter of the whole
ecosystem. If the ecosystem is as uniform as the satellite
image suggest, the whole ecosystem is no less than
2700 acres (1100 ha) large!
Sphagnum is intolerant of nutrients,
limestone, salt and drought. Consequently it is found
in situations where it is rainfed.
For the Sarstoon Temash situation this
means that the area does not receive any overflow
from any of the rivers (which contain salts, nutrients
Typically a peat bog develops when
a wetland fills in with organic matter forming a thick
layer of fenn peat. This fenn peat can have different
origins such as; reeds, sedges and tree-leaves. Once
the wetland has been filled in, a swamp forest forms.
If this swamp forest does not receive any outside
nutrients, but is wet year round, Sphagnum
moss can develop. Under the right conditions this
Sphagnum moss can outgrow the trees and completely
envelop them, forming a raised Sphagnum bog
(figure to the right adapted from Visscher, 1949).
The bog in the Sarstoon Temash NP appears
to be in-between the two last stages. From here it
could technically be expected to grow in a real raised
bog but many factors such as drought or fire could
interrupt this process.
The vegetation in the bog apart from the sedge (Hypolytrum longifolium?) and the moss Sphagnum (subsecundum?), proved to be very species poor and consisting of species that are otherwise mostly known only from higher elevation areas on very poor acidic soils such as the Mountain Pine Ridge. A very attractive shrub was Purdiae (Schizocardia) belizensis (Left). Other species included Cyrilla racemiflora, Clusia cf. massoniana, Connarus lamberti. Symphonia globulifera, Ouratea sp., Acoelorraphe wrightii, Blechnum ferns, Palicourea cf. crocea, Calophyllum brasiliense and a few as yet unidentified species.
Wildlife was very poorly represented. Which is not surprising given the inhospitable conditions. There were even very few birds. The butterfly Calospila sudias was quite common but the most unusual form of wildlife was the incredible amount of Stick Insects (Phasmidae) seen.
Latest News: In 2010 Bronwen Whitney from Nottingham University (UK) starts research into the Environmental History of the STNP Sphagnum Bog. See pollen page
Literature: Visscher, J., 1949. Veenvorming. Gorichem,
Noorduijn's wetensch. reeks 33. 115 pp.
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