Greater mekong ecosystems (EN)


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This report gives an overview of the current status and potential future of the principal ecosystems of the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and, by association, the well-being of millions of people who are dependent on the region’s ecosystem services.

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Greater mekong ecosystems (EN)

  1. 1. 2013REPORTGREATERMEKONGEcosystems in theGreater MekongPast trends, current status, possible futuresWWF-Greater Mekong
  2. 2. Ecosystems in the Greater MekongPast trends, current status, possible futuresDesign by cover photo: © Adam Oswell / WWF-Greater MekongPublished in May 2013 by WWF-World Wide Fund For Nature(Formerly World Wildlife Fund), Greater Mekong.Any reproduction in full or in part must mention the title andcredit the above-mentioned publisher as the copyright owner.© Text 2013 WWFAll rights reservedWWF is one of the world’s largest and most experiencedindependent conservation organizations, with over5 million supporters and a global Network active inmore than 100 countries.WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’snatural environment and to build a future in which humanslive in harmony with nature, by: conserving the world’sbiological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable naturalresources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction ofpollution and wasteful consumption.When citing this report, please use the following citation:WWF. 2013. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: Past trends,current status, possible futures.The report and details on methodology can be accessed
  3. 3. page 3Ecosystems in the Greater MekongContentsForeword5Summary71. Introduction 102. Forest ecosystems 16Introduction and changes over the past 50 years 16Forest change analysis: methods, assumptions and limitations 18Current status 20Future projections 22Forest cover and naturalness 23Forest fragmentation 26Forest futures 31Future scenarios 323. Freshwater systems 36Introduction and changes over the past 50 years 36Current status and pressures 37Future scenarios 414. Keystone / flagship species 44Changes over the last 100 years 44Maps of historical and current distribution of WWF focal species 45Current status 50Protected areas 50Future scenarios 535. Drivers of ecosystem change 54Human population density, poverty and increased wealth 54Unsustainable resource use and increasing resource demands 54Infrastructure56Government policy and lack of integrated planning 596. Conclusions: choosing a future 60Opportunities and remaining challenges 60Recommendations62Appendices66Maps of the spatial distribution of forest cover change 1973-2009 66References and sources for diagrams 70Abbreviations75Acknowledgements75
  4. 4. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 4Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigures1.1. The Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) with principal features1.2. Global ecosystem services values1.3. Forest carbon stored in the GMS2.1. Forest cover change in the GMS 1973-20092.2a. Forest cover by area and naturalness in the countries of the GMS2.2b. Change in forest area in GMS countries 1973-20092.3a. Fragmentation index for forests in the GMS, 19732.3b. Fragmentation index for forests in the GMS, 19852.3c. Fragmentation index for forests in the GMS, 20022.3d. Fragmentation index for forests in the GMS, 20092.4. Risk map of likelihood of conversion from forest to no-forest in the GMS2.5 Predicted forest cover in the GMS in 2030 under an unsustainable growth scenario and greeneconomy scenario2.6a. Potential fragmentation index for forests in the GMS, 2030 in an unsustainable growth scenario2.6b. Potential fragmentation index for forests in the GMS, 2030 in a green economy scenario3.1. Freshwater ecosystems of the Mekong river system in a connectivity tree3.2. Impact of existing dams and the planned Xayaburi dam on ecosystem connectivity3.3. Classification of the free-flowing systems of the Mekong River with 50 existing dams4.1. Historical, confirmed or compelling reports between 2002-2010 and confirmed in 2011 and/or 2012distribution of tiger in and around the GMS4.2. Historical and confirmed current distribution of elephant in and around the GMS4.3. Historical and current distribution of the Irrawaddy dolphin, Mekong River subpopulation4.4. Approximate historical distribution of Javan rhino4.5. Potential current distribution of saola4.6. Protected areas in the GMS5.1. Current and planned mineral and coal mines in the GMS5.2. Locations of principal national roads, planned major roads and major cities in the GMS5.3. Map of current and planned dams in the GMSA.1. Forest cover change from 1973 to 1985A.2. Forest cover change from 1985 to 1992A.3. Forest cover change from 1985 to 2002 in VietnamA.4. Forest cover change from 2002-2009Boxes1. Limitations of the forest change analysis2. Use and limitations of FAO data for the purposes of this report3. Levels of forest naturalness4. Fragmentation analysis5. Assumptions used to apply the scenarios to the forest change analysis6. Ecosystem services in the GMS
  5. 5. page 5Ecosystems in the Greater MekongIt highlights forest and freshwater ecosystems, and some of the most endangeredspecies these ecosystems support. It explores some of the main drivers of ecosystemchange and how these have impacted and will likely continue to impact the region’svaluable natural capital if current practices and policies prevail. To highlight someof the options facing the region, an “Unsustainable Growth” scenario based onsome current trends is contrasted with an alternative future scenario based on a“Green Economy”, based on systematic planning, strong conservation policies andsustainable development. The scenarios and accompanying maps are based on bestavailable information at the present time. The scenarios will be refined as morecomplete data becomes available and used as the basis for strategic planning.Purpose of this reportThe GMS is one of the most biologically diverse places on earth. About 70 millionpeople depend directly on its ecosystems for food, water, livelihoods and othervital services. In addition, natural resources and ecosystems have been fuellingthe region’s rapid economic development. Despite the vital importance of naturalecosystems in providing food, water and energy security, and the central role theyplay in the region’s development, a comprehensive and up-to-date assessment of thestatus of key ecosystems is lacking. Available evidence suggests that pressures fromdevelopment and other human activities are seriously degrading these ecosystems.Climate change is exacerbating this situation.This report is based on recognition of the strong interaction between ecosystemintegrity, sustainable economic development and human well being. These linkagesare articulated in a series of influential global studies (e.g., MEA, 2005; ten Brink,2011) and are accepted intuitively by GMS countries (see GMS Strategic Framework),but continued degradation of natural ecosystems and the services they providesuggests that they are not well appreciated or appropriately valued. Thus, the firstaim of the report is to take stock of some key ecosystems of the GMS to highlightwhat is at stake for the subregion’s economy and heritage. We hope it will informpolicy and decision-makers, as well as the private sector, donors, development andconservation organizations, and the general public.The need for a stock taking is especially important because of major changestaking place in land use and investments in infrastructure. Most of these changesare inconsistent with the stated goals of the GMS countries to green theireconomies, strengthen resilience to climate change impacts and achieve sustainabledevelopment. For example, the current 10-year GMS Strategic Framework (approvedin December 2011) stipulates as high-level outcomes reduced biodiversity loss,reduced greenhouse-gas emissions and reduced poverty. Thus, another purposeof the report is to show that these goals will be more feasible to achieve under aneconomy that emphasizes investments in maintaining natural capital than one thatdepletes natural capital. WWF hopes that the report will help to catalyse a high-levelForeword This report gives an overview of thecurrent status and potential futureof the principal ecosystems of theGreater Mekong Subregion (GMS) and, by association,the well-being of millions of people who are dependenton the region’s ecosystem services.
  6. 6. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 6Ecosystems in the Greater Mekongdialogue on how better to manage and conserve the region’s shared ecosystems. Thisis facilitated by reference to two alternative scenarios, representing possible futuresalong a spectrum between unsustainable and sustainable use.The analyses in this report were completed using an ecosystems lens. This approachhas limitations (see Chapter 2 for details) because, for example, data on forestor freshwater ecosystem conditions is not readily available at the scale of theentire GMS. Much of the data available for forests, for example, does not allowfor discerning differences between relatively intact and degraded forests or evendistinguishing natural forests from plantations, most of which are single-species.These distinctions, however, are crucial because biologically diverse naturalforests, which are well connected at landscape scales, are the main storehouses ofthe region’s globally important biodiversity and provide many ecosystem servicesbeyond those provided by single-species plantations. WWF has drawn on multipledata sources to provide the best available information but we recognize that seriousgaps in our knowledge still remain.Forests supply ecosystem services, including:carbon sequestration; protection againstfloods, landslides, avalanches, ocean surgesand desertification; provision of cleanwater, medicines, timber, non-timber forestproducts, crops and fish; pollination services;soil stabilization; sources of clean water;space for recreation; and places sacred tothe world’s various faiths(MEA, 2005; ten Brink, 2011).
  7. 7. page 7Ecosystems in the Greater MekongThe Greater Mekong Subregion(GMS: Myanmar, Thailand,Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam,and Yunnan and Guangxi in China) is undergoingunprecedented changes.Many of these are positive, reflecting political stabilization and economic growthfollowing decades of poverty and conflict. But the rate and type of development isalso threatening critical natural resources, particularly native forests, the MekongRiver and its tributaries, and many wild plant and animal species. The GMS facesa critical choice: it can either continue with unsustainable development and seemany of its unique natural resources disappear forever or switch policies andchoose a more sustainable path into the future. This report gives an overview ofwhat is happening, and provides key recommendations for how natural resourcemanagement can be made more sustainable.The core of the report is a series of maps, developed by WWF, describing thehistorical trends, current status and future projections of forests in the GMSexcluding China. Future projections for the period 2009 to 2030 contrast twoscenarios; an unsustainable growth scenario, which assumes deforestation ratesbetween 2002 and 2009 continue, and a green economy scenario, which assumes a50 per cent reduction in the annual deforestation rate relative to the unsustainablegrowth scenario, and no further losses in key biodiversity areas.ForestsRecent changes: between 1973 and 2009, the GMS (excluding China) lost justunder a third of its forest cover (22 per cent in Cambodia, 24 per cent in Laos andMyanmar, and 43 per cent in Thailand and Vietnam) according to WWF’s analysis.In official statistics for tree cover across the whole of the GMS, these losses arepartially masked by large-scale plantation establishment in Vietnam and China,where there has been a gradual replacement of natural forests by monocultureplantations. Myanmar accounted for over 30 per cent of total forest loss in the GMSover this period. At the same time, forests became far more fragmented: large areasof intact forest (core areas) declined from over 70 per cent of the total in 1973 to onlyabout 20 per cent in 2009.Projections: by 2030, under the unsustainable growth scenario, another 34 percent of GMS forests outside China would be lost and increasingly fragmented, withonly 14 per cent of remaining forest consisting of core areas capable of sustainingviable populations of wildlife requiring contiguous forest habitat. Conversely, underthe green economy scenario, core forest patches extant in 2009 would remainintact, although 17 per cent of GMS forests would still be converted to other uses.Regardless of scenario, deforestation “hotspots” include the margins of largeforest blocks remaining in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. The model suggests thatdeforestation in Vietnam will be distributed in small pockets across the country,although the greatest losses are anticipated in parts of the Central Highlands andnorthern provinces. This report also contains a map, constructed from historicalpatterns, of likelihood of conversion of any particular forest block, based on thedistances from roads, non-forest areas, water, cities, and new and planned mines,along with elevation and slope.Executive summaryThe GreaterMekongsubregionrisks losingmore than athird of itsremainingforest coverwithin thenext twodecades.(WWF, 2013)
  8. 8. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 8Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFreshwaterThe Mekong river basin contains one of the most productive and diverse riversystems on Earth. Its connectivity and natural variability of flows supportexceptional productivity, while sediments and nutrients sustain the landforms,agriculture, and marine fisheries of the Mekong Delta. The Mekong river systemsupports the world’s largest and most productive inland fishery at least 35 per centof which depends on migratory species. Thirteen unique, yet connected, ecosystemsexist. Despite long-term intensive human use, the freshwater system has maintainedconnectivity between 11 of the 13 ecosystems in about 60 per cent of the system byarea. The growing need for energy in the GMS has led to an unprecedented rate ofdam building, impacting on freshwater ecosystems, the river’s connectivity and flow,and the people that rely on these. Eleven dams are planned on the Mekong mainstem. Main stem dams:• Cause ecosystem collapse and biodiversity loss;• Hinder movements of fish up and down the river system to grow or spawn;• Harm wild fisheries in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia;• Reduce sediments and nutrients that build and feed the delta’s productivity;• Degrade the functionality of the whole interconnected ecosystem.Other major river systems in the region face similar challenges, but there areopportunities to benefit from lessons learned from experience in the Mekong basin.Wild speciesThe report maps the enormous decline in range of several important and iconicspecies of the region: the tiger, elephant, Irrawaddy dolphin and endemic saola,along with the historical range of the Javan rhino, now extinct in mainland SE Asiasince April 2010. All the species described face the same fate as the rhino unlessconservation becomes more effective.The MekongRiver supportsthe world’slargestand mostproductiveinland fishery,at least 35per cent ofwhich dependson migratoryspeciesThe Mekong Delta is one of the most fertile and productive deltas in the world.©ElizabethKemf/WWF-Canon
  9. 9. page 9Ecosystems in the Greater MekongDriversofchangeWWF identifies four key drivers of change of the region’s ecosystems:1. Human population growth and increasing population density, along withworsening income inequality;2. Unsustainable levels of resource use throughout the region, increasingly drivenby the demands of export-led growth rather than subsistence use;3. Unplanned and frequently unsustainable forms of infrastructure development(dams, roads and others);4. Government policies, along with lack of integrated planning, poor governance,corruption and wildlife crime on a massive scale.RecommendationsThe report outlines ten recommendations, which WWF believes will enable GMScountries to achieve their aspirations of building greener economies:1. Halt impacts to ecological patterns and processes that are at their breaking point.Key actions in this regard include:• Preventing further conversion of primary forest in the GMS;• Preventing the construction of dams on the main stems of major rivers, andsupporting only sustainable hydropower projects on select tributaries;• Implementing species-specific conservation and recovery actions for endemicspecies; and• Ceasing the illegal wildlife trade.2. Significantly increase the level of integration, the spatial scale, and the timeframeof planning.3. Commit sufficient and sustainable financing for conservation.4. Incorporate the values of ecosystems and the services they provide into decision-making.5. Insist on greater responsibility of companies operating in or purchasing fromthe GMS.6. Improve regional and international consultation and cooperation.7. Empower communities and civil society to more significantly and effectivelyparticipate in decision-making.8. Enforce existing laws, policies, and regulations.9. Ensure effective and representative protection of the region’s natural heritage.10. Restore natural capital in strategic areas.Fish supplyfrom theMekongRiver could becut by close to40% if allplannedhydropowerprojects arebuilt(Orr et al. 2012)
  10. 10. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 10Ecosystems in the Greater MekongThe Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS) (Figure 1.1) consists of Myanmar, Thailand,Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Yunnan and Guangxi in China. It is one of the mostbiologically and culturally diverse places on the planet, yet one facing tremendouspressures to utilize its vast natural resources quickly and sometimes withoutadequate planning or safeguards. Most ecosystems have already been greatlyreduced in extent and their condition severely degraded by centuries of humanexploitation – exploitation that has increased rapidly in the past two decades andshows little sign of slowing (Asia Pacific Forestry Commission, 2011). Diverse forestand freshwater systems provide food, livelihoods and other ecosystem servicesto tens of millions of people1(Figure 1.2), yet they have become precariouslyfragmented and are further threatened by plans for massive infrastructuredevelopment. Iconic species, including tiger and elephant, and species unique tothe region, such as the saola (Pseudoryx nghetinhensis), a forest-dwelling bovine,occur in only a small portion of their former ranges. Many challenges including thelegacy of recent wars (Loucks et al, 2009) and ongoing conflicts, poor governance(PROFOR, 2011) and high incidence of wildlife crime and timber poaching (Lawsonand MacFaul, 2010) all increase the pressures on natural systems. Recently problemsof protected area downgrading, downsizing, and degazettement (PADDD; Masciaand Pailler, 2011) and land-grabbing (Human Rights Watch, 2011; Vrieze and Naren,2012) of various sorts have become more significant.The region’s dependence on its natural ecosystems means that governments,communities, development banks and the private sector are increasingly recognizingthe importance of collaborating to maintain the functions these ecosystems provide.This is already happening, in the form of the Mekong River Commission (MRC),albeit still imperfectly (Ratner, 2003). Other critical cooperative initiatives includeofficial joint agreements by environment ministers from the six GMS countriesto develop a “green, inclusive, and balanced economy” that values and conservesthe productivity of natural systems and incorporates environmental aspects intonational development planning (Greater Mekong Subregion Economic CooperationProgram, 2011). Awareness of the importance of natural resource managementis increasing across the region. At the same time, standards of living are rising,freeing more people from the poverty trap and allowing them space to think aboutsustainability and natural resource management. A new air of optimism is growingin the region after decades in which many countries have suffered serious politicalconflicts and human rights abuses.However, the current rapid rate of damage requires equally fast reaction ifpermanent environmental degradation is to be avoided. Cooperative action needsto increase fast enough to halt and reverse the current levels of conversion anddegradation. The majority of the region’s globally important biological heritageand supporting ecosystems occur in landscapes that cross political boundaries,1 Introduction The Greater Mekong Subregion isone of the most biologically andculturally diverse places on theplanet, yet one facing tremendous pressures to utilizeits vast natural resources quickly and sometimeswithout adequate planning or safeguards.
  11. 11. page 11Ecosystems in the Greater Mekongnecessitating regional collaboration that reaches all levels and is long term.Cooperation, together with political will and financial investment, is needed both toconserve the remaining ecological systems and to restore formerly diverse terrestrialand freshwater ecosystems as a risk management strategy in the face of climatechange and other environmental pressures. The differing histories, economies,political systems and regional tensions present challenges to such cooperation(Ratner, 2003). At this crossroads moment, regional decision-makers must investin protecting remaining natural capital as a building block for a diverse, stable andsustainable green economy that maintains the region’s productivity and diversity forthe long-term well-being of its citizens.Fortunately, building greener economies in the GMS is well within reach becausethe subregion is still rich in natural capital. In fact, the GMS boasts some of thehighest ecosystem services values in the world (Figure 1.2). These high values areattributable to the many services provided by the region’s diverse natural ecosystemsand the fact that these services continue to benefit millions of people (Figure1.2). The GMS’s relative wealth in terms of natural capital provides it with manyadvantages compared especially with its mainland Asian neighbours (Figure 1.2inset). For example, the GMS’s high forest carbon stocks (Figure 1.3) and highbiodiversity should help secure forest carbon financing through programmes toreduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+). Commitment andcooperation of many actors and institutions from local to subregional levels will berequired to realize such investments.Few places on Earth demonstrate so dramatically the fundamental link between people and nature.©ZebHogan/WWF-Canon
  12. 12. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 12Ecosystems in the Greater MekongScenariosThe region is already undergoing severe losses of natural resources and ecosystemfunction, and these losses are likely to continue unless significant threats fromplanned infrastructure and demand for resources are addressed and decisions aretaken to invest in maintaining the region’s natural capital. As part of its analysis,WWF developed two contrasting scenarios, one looking at what will likely happenif things develop without due attention to managing natural resources responsibly(unsustainable growth) and the other looking at options for a more sustainablefuture (green economy). These scenarios represent examples of many possiblefutures. They are used here to help policy-makers consider the implications ofdecisions they make now on the subregion’s natural capital and in particular itsnatural ecosystems. Such scenarios mirror the approach used in the WWF LivingPlanet Report, published every two years as a major state-of-the-planet report(WWF, 2012). In the current study, WWF modelled the forest change analysis. Theassumptions used in building the scenarios for this purpose are explained in Chapter2 (see Box 5). Further descriptions of these scenarios are included in other sectionsas a basis for discussion. Thus, the scenario descriptions below and in other chaptersshould be read as contrasting storylines intended to catalyse dialogue about theregion’s future development. The green economy scenario constitutes an outline ofWWF’s vision for the region.Unsustainable growthThis scenario assumes a sustained high demand for land and agricultural products,coupled with weak institutions and governance, together leading to continuedregion-wide forest loss and degradation, which is assumed to continue at a constantrate. Forces of greater industrialization and urbanization, as well as agriculturalintensification and rural out-migration, which might be expected to slow the rate offorest loss, are balanced by higher demand for forest products. Illegal logging andforest clearing continues, particularly near existing agricultural areas, but also evenin protected areas.For a region with its natural capital already under severe stress, an unsustainablegrowth strategy is likely to effect a sharp deterioration of ecosystem viability andecosystem services. Accelerating subsistence and market demand from withinand outside the subregion for land, cash crops and wood products leads to furtherloss and degradation of remaining forests in all countries (FAO, 2011b), includingincreasing encroachment in protected areas. Conversion of forest to agricultureremains high, particularly in lower-income Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (FAO,2011b). Poor governance and weak rule of law facilitates illegal timber harvesting ona large scale. Other drivers, such as land grabbing by foreign governments and largecorporations, and badly managed and poorly planned economic land concessions,hamper implementation of sustainable forest management.Loss of forest cover from important montane and coastal areas puts residentcommunities at increased risk from natural disasters. In middle- and upper-income GMS countries such as Thailand and Vietnam, greater industrialization,urbanization and agricultural intensification slow or reverse the rate of forest loss insome areas, though the demands of a large population for energy and fluctuations infood prices continue to drive forest degradation and loss.Forest loss increasingly degrades natural capital and associated environmentalservices (FAO, 2011a; Achard et al., 2002), which, in turn, can promote further
  13. 13. page 13Ecosystems in the Greater Mekongdegradation. In the near future, government policies tend to prioritize rapideconomic growth at the expense of protecting environmental services or longer-termreturns. Implementation of green economy polices is hindered by a lack of enablingconditions or other factors, and is too weak to offset the drivers of degradation.Within government, there is poor understanding and/or implementation of forestmanagement, poor coordination among forestry and other sectors (e.g. energy,agriculture, mining), and inadequate funding for and coordination of adaptationactivities. This continues to undermine the capacity of forests in the GMS to adaptto climatic changes and provide ecosystem services to help human communitiesadapt to expected climate change. Low wages, a system of patronage andwidespread corruption further weaken efforts at sustainable management. Focus ontechnological fixes rather than maintenance and restoration of natural capital fails tomitigate impacts of climate change or rehabilitate degraded ecosystem services.Green economyA green economy scenario incorporates systematic land-use planning, as well asinstitutional and market mechanisms designed to reduce human impacts and allowdegraded ecosystems and their associated natural capital to recover while generatingsustainable financial flows. Consequently, this scenario assumes deforestationthroughout the subregion will be 50 per cent less than under the unsustainablegrowth scenario, and virtually zero in protected areas and other key biodiversityareas (see Box 5 for details).Applying enhanced knowledge, revenue and political stability, countries across theGMS adopt strategies to reduce human impacts and allow degraded ecosystems andthe natural capital and environmental services they provide to recover:1. “Climate-smart” planning (Kareiva et al., 2008) is implemented for sustainablelow-carbon growth throughout the region.2. Newly developed financing mechanisms are applied to support restoration ofdiverse forest cover by replanting native species, alongside ongoing mono-specificplantation establishment.3. Institutional and formal market mechanisms, such as ecotourism and paymentsfor environmental services (PES), develop and advance to protect forests whileproviding livelihoods (Chaudhury, 2009)4. Illegal logging and forest clearance are addressed through processes such as theEuropean Union’s FLEGT Action Plan and Timber Regulation, the amendedLacey Act in the United States and similar initiatives being developed in otherconsumer countries5. Ecologically representative protected area systems are completed throughoutthe GMS, with regulations enforced, poaching controlled and the systemeffectively managed.6. Reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD+) projects(Chenery et al., 2009) are employed to enhance forest carbon stocks, includingin protected areas, and to stabilize and reconnect remaining forest patches.These efforts, in turn, help reduce regional impacts of climate change and generatefinancing for sustainable rural development. With improved governance andassociated management of forests and protected areas, natural ecosystems andtheir endangered species are expected to recover.
  14. 14. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 14Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 1.1.The Greater MekongSubregion (GMS)with principal features(topography, Mekong Riverand delta, major cities).Credit: WWF.Data Source: elevationdata: NASA Shuttle RadarTopography Mission (SRTM)MekongMYANMARMAL AYSIATHAIL ANDC AMBODIAIND ONESIAINDIAC HINAVIE TNAML AOS200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokElevation (m)3000Figure 1.2. (below)Estimated values (US$/ha/year) of ecosystemservices (including food,water, fibre, climateregulation, waterprotection and erosioncontrol) realized byindividuals across theplanet, and the GMS(inset).Areas with brighter yellowhave higher ecosystemservice values because theyprovide many services andmany people are benefitingfrom them. The GMS standsout in mainland Asia forits high ecosystem servicevalues. These high valuesare attributable to the factthat the subregion’s naturalcapital, although degradedover the past several decades,is still relatively intact.(Source: Turner et al., 2012).
  15. 15. page 15Ecosystems in the Greater MekongForests in the GreaterMekong Subregion storemore than 320 milliontonnes of carbon(Saatchi et al. 2011)200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokFigure 1.3.Forest carbon stored inforests of the GMS.Across the GMS, forests storean estimated 320 milliontonnes of carbon. Source:Saatchi et al., 2011.Forest carbonHighLow
  16. 16. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 16Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong2. Forest ecosystemsThe Greater Mekonghas retained about98 million hectaresof natural forest,just over halfof the region’sland area.(WWF, 2013)Before the 1970s, the GMS was a highly forested region. Wet evergreen forestscovered the Cardamom and Elephant Mountains of Cambodia and the Annamites inVietnam, while evergreen, semi-evergreen and dry dipterocarp forests dominatedthe landscapes of northern and central Thailand, Laos and Cambodia (MRC, 2003)(Figure 2.1). In contrast to the Lower Mekong region, natural forests in Yunnanand Guangxi were heavily exploited after the People’s Republic of China was foundedin 1949, and by the 1970s large areas of primary forest had been degraded to post-extraction secondary forests (Zaizhi, 2001). These included a significant proportionof China’s tropical rainforests and subtropical evergreen broadleaved forests,originally distributed across Yunnan, Guangxi and other parts of the country’ssouthern subtropical zone (Dai et al., 2011).Most of the natural forest ecosystems of the GMS are now reduced, severelyfragmented or degraded (Chaudhury, 2009; Stibig et al., 2007). Large areasof lowland forest have been cleared, primarily for rice and other agriculturalproduction, increasingly by industrial actors rather than individual farmers. Staterestrictions on industrial logging and growing demand for timber in China, Thailandand Vietnam have resulted in indirect land-use change in other countries of the GMSand further afield through increased timber harvesting for export (Global Witness,2009; Meyfroidt and Lambin, 2009; WWF, 2009). In addition to logging concessionsand illegal forest conversion, some forests are in effect bartered by being exchangedas in-kind payment during infrastructure development projects; this system tends tobe particularly wasteful of forest resources.Among the other drivers of forest conversion is the production of exportcommodities such as rubber, sugar, rice (Baumüller, 2008) and, increasingly,biofuels (Yang et al., 2009). Some natural forests are also being replaced by treeplantations (Moeliono et al., 2010). Mangrove forests have been cleared for severalalternative land uses including rice production and shrimp farms throughout theregion. Large expanses of mangroves were destroyed with defoliants in the MekongDelta in the 1960s and 1970s during the war (Quy, 2005). Between 1980 and 2005,Lower Mekong countries (Cambodia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam) lost anestimated 222,650ha of mangroves (see Table 2.1).The clearing of forests along major rivers threatens hydrologic and ecologicalprocesses (Chapter 3) and the well-being of human cultures that have adapted to thehigh productivity of floodplain ecosystems. Forest clearing on steeper terrain hasbeen more recent, reflecting the increasing demand for wood products, agriculturalland and accompanying infrastructure. Natural forest habitats, along with theirresident wildlife (e.g., Baltzer et al, 2001; Tsechalicha and Gilmour, 2000 – seeChapter 4), face virtual elimination outside of protected areas if current developmenttrends toward intensive agro-industry continue.Introduction and changesover the past 50 years
  17. 17. page 17Ecosystems in the Greater MekongForest loss and degradation in the GMS is a major source of greenhouse gases (ADB,2009). Individual country statistics give a picture of what is happening. FAO dataindicates that between 1990 and 2005 average annual emissions from deforestationin Cambodia totalled 84 million tonnes and in Myanmar 158 million tonnes (TableA2, World Bank, 2010). In 2010, emissions from deforestation and degradation wereestimated at 60 million tonnes in Laos (Climate Investment Funds)1. More recentestimates of emissions based on remote sensing data and spatially explicit analysesare more conservative. Based on a global, spatially explicit analysis of forest extentand loss, between 2000 and 2005, median annual emissions from deforestation inthe GMS (except China) totalled 76 million metric tonnes (calculated from Table S2in Harris et al., 2012).1980 1990 2000 2005Cambodia 91,200 82,400 73,600 69,200Myanmar 555,500 536,100 516,700 507,000Thailand 280,000 250,200 244,100 240,000Vietnam 269,150 213,500 157,500 157,000Natural forest loss needs to be distinguished from changes in overall land areaunder tree cover. Concurrent with the loss of native forests in the GMS, the overallarea under trees in Yunnan and Guangxi in China, and in Vietnam, has increaseddramatically owing to large-scale reforestation and afforestation efforts. In Vietnam,reforestation has been mainly with monoculture plantations of exotic species (MRC,2003), particularly acacia and eucalyptus. Similarly, in China, most of the increase inforest cover has come from plantations, including shelterbelts, economic tree cropsand orchards (Rozelle et al., 2003; Song and Zhang, 2010).According to national reports, the establishment of new forest cover in China andVietnam has driven a regional forest “transition” in the GMS, with overall forestcover increasing by about 8.1 million hectares between 1990 and 2010. WWFwelcomes the substantial efforts that the countries of the GMS have made toprovide a secure supply of timber and other products by establishing plantations,particularly in China and Vietnam. Well-managed plantations (ideally certified toForest Stewardship Council standards or equivalent) can provide a range of goodsand services for industries and local communities. However, plantations cannotbe viewed as equivalent to natural forests in every respect. Most plantations, andin particular fast-growing plantations, support only a small range of wild species,and do not supply a full range of ecosystem services. For local communities, treeplantations do not supply non-timber forest products such as fodder, medicines andfoods, although they can provide fuelwood and housing timber. Plantations can alsoreduce erosion and protect against extreme weather, thus helping to stabilize localfarming systems. They therefore have an important role in the landscape, but onlyas one part of a sustainable forest mosaic that combines natural forests, plantations,agricultural land, infrastructure and settlements to meet the needs of multiplestakeholders (Chenery et al., 2009; The Center for People and Forests, 2012).1 See 2.1Mangrove loss (ha) inLower Mekong countriesbetween 1980 and 2005.Source: The World’sMangroves 1980-2005(FAO Forestry Paper 153,Chapter 5)Note: China is excludedfrom this analysis becauseof a lack of data. However,recent assessments indicatethat mangrove forests inGuangxi have been similarlyconverted and degraded overtime. According to Chen etal. (2009), in 2002 Guangxi’sremaining mangrovescovered only 8,375ha.
  18. 18. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 18Ecosystems in the Greater MekongMitigation actions should put priority on effortsto avoid deforestation, encourage reforestationand afforestation, and promote sustainableforest management in the forestry sector(ADB, 2009)Forestchangeanalysis:methods,assumptionsandlimitationsThe forest change analysis presented in the next sections of this chapter wasmotivated by the need to understand where the change in forest cover is happening,not just what form it takes. Conservation planners use the kind of spatially explicitanalysis presented below to plan and prioritize conservation actions. Likewise, toallocate land uses effectively and efficiently, and achieve as many of the benefitsfrom land and especially forests as possible, decision-makers need to understandforest trends across the landscape. Without such information, it is difficult to directresources and actions appropriately toward hotspots of deforestation or degradation,or to develop and implement policies that enable actions to reduce deforestation andenhance the supply of forest goods and services.Assessing forest change in a spatially explicit way is increasingly possible dueto the greater availability of remote sensing imagery, tools and approaches forinterpreting this imagery in robust ways. The maps presented below are based on thebest available interpreted data. As such, they represent a state-of-the-art, spatiallyexplicit assessment of forest change over the period 1973-2009.The WWF analysis marks a step forward in our understanding of the dynamics offorest cover in the GMS. However, it remains approximate. Box 1 explains some ofthe constraints faced by the WWF analysts, how these were addressed, and whatlimitations remain. The WWF analysis also differs in methodological approachfrom the FAO Global Forest Resource Assessments, which we also draw on in thisreport. Box 2 explains how and why the FAO data are different and thus why WWFundertook a separate, spatially explicit analysis of forest cover.In 2000, land-usechange and theforestry sectorcontributed 75 percent of SoutheastAsia’s emissions.(ADB, 2009)
  19. 19. page 19Ecosystems in the Greater MekongBox 1. Limitations of the forest change analysisWWF had to confront various challenges to producethe maps shown in Figures 2.1, 2.3, 2.4, 2.5 and thecorresponding maps in Appendix I. Major challengesand our solutions are described below.Challenge: Processing and interpreting primaryremote sensing data is very time consuming and costprohibitive.Solution: WWF used secondary (i.e., processed)datasets (see Online Methodology and Appendix IIfor source information).Challenge: Remote sensing data at appropriate andsimilar resolution was not necessarily available forall countries for the same time periods of the changeanalysis.Solution: WWF compiled comparable data for theGMS countries for five years over the past 50 years– 1973, 1985, 1992, 2002 and 2009 – from differentdatasets (see Online Methodology and AppendixX.X for source information). Unfortunately, datafor Yunnan and Guangxi was not available for theseyears, so we excluded China from the analysis. Datafor Vietnam was also unavailable for 1992, but wasavailable for all other time steps so we were able toinclude Vietnam in the analysis.Challenge: The lack of data for Vietnam in 1992 andalso cloud cover obscuring some land areas in all thecountries posed a substantial problem.Solution: We assumed that any area (pixel)classified as forest in the most recent point in timeshould be classified as forest in previous time steps.For Vietnam, this assumption meant that any areaclassified as forest in 2002 would also be classifiedas forest in 1992. For areas obscured by clouds(anywhere in the region) in 1973, 1985 and 1992, butclassified as forest in 2002, we also classified them asforest for the previous years. We recognize that thisapproach may, in some cases, misclassify non-forestareas that were afforested or reforested betweenearlier years and 2002, particularly in Vietnam.Challenge: Due to seasonal flooding especially incoastal areas, but also in some low-lying areas, aswell as wetland drainage and dam construction,we found that areas classified as forest in one yearbecame water in a subsequent year or vice versa.Solution: WWF did not attempt to modify theresults because we did not have the resources toground-truth the imagery and because the proportionof areas where we encountered this challenge wasrelatively small and mostly near the coasts. Wepoint out this challenge here because there are slightinaccuracies in the change statistics (among the threeclasses: water, non-forest and forest).Challenge: Available remote sensing datasets do notdistinguish between plantations and natural forest,or relatively undisturbed and degraded forests.Solution: WWF could not overcome this challenge;thus, all maps and statistics reported from theanalysis include plantations and natural forests. Oneof the key messages of this report is that investmentsin monitoring must be made to overcome thischallenge in the near future.
  20. 20. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 20Ecosystems in the Greater MekongBox 2. The FAO Forest Resource AssessmentAll six countries in the GMS provide periodic forest inventory data to the FAO,which is aggregated in FAO’s Global Forest Resource Assessments; this data isuseful primarily for assessing overall trends at the national level. The data isused by most organizations and in public documents because it constitutes theofficial statistics of each country. However, the countries reporting to FAO donot necessarily use the same definition of forest. Plantations (including oil palm,rubber, and other single-species tree crops) are often considered to be forests.Other challenges include a lack of completeness and comparability in nationaldata, stemming from wide variations in measurement and estimation techniques(Grainger, 2008). Most importantly for the purposes of this report, the FAO datais in many cases not based on spatially explicit trend analyses, making it difficultfor decision-makers to take action in specific locations where changes in forestcover or condition are most worrisome. By using spatially explicit data WWFhas been able to track where forests still exist, where they have only recentlydisappeared and, through a trends analysis, where they are most highly at risk.CurrentstatusandtrendsWWF’s forest cover change analysis indicates that the GMS, minus Yunnan andGuangxi, still retains about 98 million hectares of forest (Figure 2.1), just over halfof its land area. By contrast, the most recent Global Forest Resources Assessment(FAO, 2010) provides an equivalent figure of about 90 million hectares, of whichonly 13 per cent is primary forest, about 10 per cent is in tree plantations, andthe remainder (about 75 per cent) is mostly degraded natural forest that, wherepermitted, is naturally regenerating (Figure 2.2b, Corlett, 1994; FAO, 2010; FAO,2011c) (see Box 3 for definitions of these categories). According to FAO (2010),primary forest has virtually disappeared in Vietnam, is extremely low in Cambodia,and is scarce in Laos, Myanmar and Thailand (Figure 2.2b).The WWF analysis allows us to draw a detailed picture of changing forest resourcesin the region. Between 1973 and 2009, natural forest cover fell dramatically. TheGMS outside China lost just under a third of its forest cover. During this period, theproportion of forests lost in each country was 22 per cent for Cambodia, 24 per centfor Laos and Myanmar, and 43 per cent for Thailand and Vietnam (Figure 2.2a).However, the different sizes of the various countries mean that their proportionalcontributions to total forest loss vary. Forest loss in Myanmar accounted for about31 per cent of total forest loss for the GMS, followed by Thailand (27 per cent),Vietnam (24 per cent), Laos (12 per cent) and Cambodia (7 per cent, all figuresrounded). At the same time, forests became far more fragmented: intact core forestareas declined from over 70 per cent of the total in 1973 to only about 20 per centin 2009. (see Figures 2.3a to 2.3d and Box 4 for an explanation)WWF’s spatial analysis detected some forest gain during this period, mostly inVietnam as a result of national afforestation and reforestation programmes. Thisforest increase occurred in the most fragmented areas – small patches, transitionforests and forest edges – and appears to have taken place in close proximity to areasof forest loss. Not all of the gains in forest cover have been captured for Vietnam,because of the missing data for 1992 and the potential misclassification of non-forestareas as forest areas (see Box 1 above). These constraints may have led to an under-estimation of the increase in forest cover in Vietnam and other countries.
  21. 21. page 21Ecosystems in the Greater MekongMixed deciduous forest in Huai Kha Khaeng Sanctuary, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in West Thailand.©GeraldS.Cubitt/WWF-Canon
  22. 22. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 22Ecosystems in the Greater MekongWWF’s analysis draws entirely on satellite imagery, whereas the data used by FAOin its periodic Global Forest Resource Assessments is drawn primarily from countryreporting, some but not all of which uses remote sensing methods. Comparison of thetwo datasets highlights some key differences:• WWF data describes a faster rate of annual decline for each country in terms ofpercentage lost per year.• The trends in WWF and FAO estimates were similar for Cambodia, Laos, andMyanmar but differed for Thailand and Vietnam. The FAO estimates show verylittle forest cover loss since 1990 for Thailand and a gain in forest cover forVietnam in contrast to WWF’s estimates of steady forest loss in both countries.• In 2010, FAO reported an overall reduction in forest loss during the past decade,whereas WWF has found a continuing increase (Figure 2.2a), with the greatestrate of loss between 2002 and 2009. WWF attributes this difference to thesignificant increase in forest cover in China (and in Vietnam according to FRA,2010), which masked ongoing loss of forests in Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar.• The trends in WWF and FAO estimates were similar for Cambodia, Laos, andMyanmar but differed for Thailand and Vietnam. The FAO estimates show verylittle forest cover loss since 1990 for Thailand and a gain in forest cover forVietnam in contrast to WWF’s estimates of steady forest loss in both countries.FutureprojectionsWWF’s Living Forests Report (Chapter 5, publication pending) identifies part of theGMS as one of 10 “deforestation fronts”, where natural forest loss of several millionhectares is projected over the next 20 years. Projections for the future suggest thatthe region will continue to suffer from elevated rates of natural forest loss over thecoming few decades, particularly in Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, unless majorshifts of policy occur and are implemented on the ground, including application ofREDD+ and consumer-driven attempts to reduce the illegal timber trade, such asFLEGT.Losses of naturalforest are likelyto remain highest inCambodia, Laos andMyanmar, wheredeforestationfrom 2010 to 2020 isprojected at4.8 million hectares(FAO, 2009).
  23. 23. page 23Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 2.1.Forest cover change inthe GMS 1973-2009.Forest area has been reducedfrom approximately 140million hectares (73% of landarea) in 1973 to under 100million hectares (51%) in2009 (green colour), a 31%decrease (in red).Source: WWF-GreaterMekong Programme basedon multiple datasets, seeappendix.Types of changeNo change in forestNon-forestForest to non forest200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningBangkokPhnomPenhForestcoverandnaturalness
  24. 24. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 24Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong0 5 10Area (million ha)15 20 25 30 35CambodiaLao PDRMyanmarThailandViet NamFigure 2.2a.Forest cover by areaand naturalness in thecountries of the GMS(except China) for 2010.Source: FAO, 2010.KeyPlantedNaturally regeneratedPrimaryFigure 2.2b.Change in forest area in GMS countries 1973-2009.(Includes natural and planted forests).Vietnam data unavailable for 1992. Yunnan and Guangxi data unavailable.Source: WWF-Greater Mekong Programme based on multiple datasets, see Appendix).The data shows an increased loss of forest in Myanmar during the period analysed, with amajor loss during the time step 2002-2009 (about 15% of loss, from 49 million hectares toaround 42 million hectares). Thailand and Vietnam both show a high rate of deforestationduring the whole analysis period, with a decrease in the latest one (2002-2009).010,00020,00030,00040,00050,00060,000Area(x1,000ha)VietnamThailandMyanmarLaosCambodiaKey1973WWF figures1985199220022009
  25. 25. page 25Ecosystems in the Greater MekongBox 3. Levels of forest naturalnessPrimary forest: largely undisturbed (directly) by humans and composed ofnative plant species that have regenerated naturally. Primary forest over rich soilsin the GMS is complex in terms of structure (e.g. often having a tall, multi-layeredtree canopy with natural breaks caused by tree falls) and species composition,with original suites of native plants, animals and fungi intact. In areas where soilsare shallower and more poorly developed, the primary dry forest is simpler interms of structure and composition but with a very productive understory, usuallysupporting a diverse faunal assemblage.Modified, disturbed (or degraded) forest: forest that has been substantiallylogged, cleared or otherwise damaged but is still composed of native species andwill regenerate naturally.Secondary forest: forest that has regenerated, usually naturally, on landpreviously cleared or seriously disturbed by humans or by some extreme naturalcauses, such as fire. Initially dominated by fast-growing trees, vines and shrubsthat form a short, single-layer canopy and provide shade needed for the climaxcanopy to regrow.Planted forests: composed of trees established through planting or seeding byhuman intervention. Plantation forests are planted forests that comprise primarilynon-native tree species and are managed to produce commercial forest products orprovide an environmental service. In the GMS plantation forests primarily consistof eucalyptus and acacia species.
  26. 26. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 26Ecosystems in the Greater MekongBox 4: Fragmentation analysisForests were categorized into five levels of historical fragmentation for the years1973, 1985, 2002 and 2009 (Figures 2.3a - 2.3d) and potential fragmentation,under two future scenarios, for 2030 (Figures 2.6a - 2.6b). The levels, based ona neighbourhood analysis of each pixel in the map surface (see Ritters et al., 2000),can be described as follows:Core: Interior zones within a continuous forest. The neighbourhood (a 7-pixel x7-pixel window) is 100 per cent “forest”, and so are all neighbours of a pixel.Patch: The neighbourhood is 40 per cent or less forest. Represents primarilysmall patches of less connected forest dispersed from a core area.Transition: Between core and patch typology, these represent areas withapproximately 40-60 per cent forest that are at the limits of connectivity. Lowerends of the range (lower percentage of forest cover) will be more fragmented, whilehigher ends (higher percentage forest) are more connected to core areas.Edge: Represents forested pixels bordering “non-forest”.Perforation: Represents an area of non-forest inside forest (like adoughnut hole).Forest in five levels of predicted fragmentation are presented for the year2030, under an unsustainable growth scenario (2.6a) and a green economyscenario (2.6b), using the same levels of fragmentation (core, patch, transition,edge, perforation) and methods of fragmentation analysis as above. For bothscenarios, the value of each pixel was generated using a combination of valuesfor the following parameters: distance to roads, distance to non-forest, distanceto water (coasts and rivers), elevation, distance to cities. The green economyscenario differs by assuming a 50 per cent reduced deforestation rate (overall); nodeforestation inside protected areas, key biodiversity areas or “core areas”; and a1km “no deforestation” buffer on either side of rivers.Source: WWF-Germany using the software created by DLR-Deutsches Zentrumfür Luft und Raumfahrt, and methodology from Riitters et al., 2000.ForestfragmentationIn parallel to forest loss, once-intact blocks of natural forest are gradually beingfragmented. Fragmented forest comprises patches of natural habitat separated byroads or other land uses. Fragmentation not only decreases total forest area: it alsoisolates remaining patches and their resident species; increases the proportion ofedge habitat; dries soil; increases risks of fire; obstructs movements of wide-rangingand migratory species; and facilitates entry of invasive species. Fragmentation alsooften facilitates access by humans, including illegal access for bushmeat hunting andpoaching, leading to the “empty forests” syndrome. Increased fragmentation reflectsboth loss of habitat and alteration of remaining habitat (Laurance, 1991; Corlett,1994; Laurance et al., 2009).
  27. 27. page 27Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningPhnomPenh Ho Chi Minh CityBangkokFigure 2.3a.Fragmentation index forforests in the GMS, 1973Forest fragmentationtypeCorePerforationTransitionEdgePatch
  28. 28. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 28Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokFigure 2.3b.Fragmentation index forforests in the GMS, 1985.CorePerforationTransitionEdgePatchForest fragmentationtype
  29. 29. page 29Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 2.3c.Fragmentation index forforests in the GMS, 2002.Forest fragmentationtypeCorePerforationTransitionEdgePatch200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningPhnomPenh Ho Chi Minh CityBangkok
  30. 30. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 30Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 2.3d.Fragmentation index forforests in the GMS, 2009.200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningPhnomPenh Ho Chi Minh CityBangkokCorePerforationTransitionEdgePatchForest fragmentationtype
  31. 31. page 31Ecosystems in the Greater MekongForestfuturesMany development pressures and trends indicate that natural forests will continueto be converted in the GMS. WWF used a computer model to predict the likelihoodof any particular forest block being cleared based on its distance from roads, non-forest areas, water, cities and mines (new and planned), along with its elevation andslope (see Box 5). This was combined with information on the location of historicaldeforestation in relation to each variable, giving a rank of areas by likelihood ofconversion. The resulting map shows major areas of threat in Cambodia, westernMyanmar and southeast Thailand (Figure 2.4).Figure 2.4.Risk map of likelihood ofconversion from forest tono forest in the GMSbased on changes from 2002to 2009 and on statisticalcorrelation with drivervariables (distance to roads,rivers, cleared areas, andmines, as well as elevationand slope). Source: WWF-Germany using Idrisi TaigaLand Change Modeller(Clark University, 2009).Likelihood of deforestationHighLow200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayHatyaiVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningPhnomPenh Ho Chi Minh CityBangkok
  32. 32. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 32Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFuturescenariosThe future scenarios summarized in the introduction were appliedto forests of the GMS excluding China (due to data limitations). It isimportant to emphasize that we did not model climate change or otherwiseexplicitly include climate change impacts in the land-use change model we used tocompare the scenarios. Nor did we include other potential drivers of change. Thekey technical assumptions relating to the scenarios are described below in Box 5.Modelling these scenarios indicates that by 2030, under the unsustainable growthscenario, 34 per cent of GMS forests would be cleared (Figure 2.5) and becomeincreasingly fragmented (Figure 2.6a), with only 14 per cent of remaining forestconsisting of core areas capable of sustaining viable populations of wildlife requiringcontiguous forest habitat. Conversely, under the green economy scenario, core forestpatches extant in 2009 would remain intact (Figure 2.6b), although 17 per centof GMS forests would still be converted to other uses (Figure 2.5). Deforestation“hotspots” regardless of scenario include the margins of large forest blocksremaining in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar (Figure 2.5). The model suggests thatdeforestation in Vietnam will be distributed in small pockets across the country,although parts of the Central Highlands and Northern provinces appear to suffer thegreatest losses (Figure 2.5).Box 5: Assumptions about the scenariosThe unsustainable growth model assumes a constant rate of deforestation, whichis based on the observed 2002-2009 change from forest to agriculture. Thegreen economy scenario includes a 50 per cent overall reduction in deforestationrate. Both models use “distance to agriculture” as a dynamic variable, which isrecalculated at yearly intervals. For every time step a new distance to agriculturearea is determined and used for the next time step.The modelling of the variables related to past change (2002-2009) is done bymachine learning neural networks using Idrisi Land Change Modeller (Eastman,2009). It takes samples of points that have changed, and samples of points thathave not changed, and adjusts a multivariate function in a series of iterations(n=10,000) until criteria of accuracy are met, using a separate sample of randompoints as validation. In each case, the models achieved an accuracy of 70-75per cent.Once these multivariate models have been created, the prediction is thencompleted with transition probabilities from the known data sets, and uses Markovchains to determine exactly how much land is expected to change and predict thesechanges into the future.Software: Eastman, J.R., 2009. IDRISI Taiga (Worcester, MA: Clark University).Scenario 1: unsustainable growth Figure 2.5The unsustainable growth scenario was produced using material from scenariosdeveloped according to different levels of willingness and ability to protectforest services by 2020 based on the socioeconomic condition of the country(Chaudhury, 2009).
  33. 33. page 33Ecosystems in the Greater MekongScenario 2: green economy: systematic planning and sustainabledevelopment Figure 2.5The green economy scenario is generated using the same variables as theunsustainable growth scenario but assumes a 50 per cent reduction indeforestation rate, and zero deforestation in important conservation areas (keybiodiversity areas, protected areas and riparian buffers).For four alternative scenarios that consider macroeconomic trends and levelsof aggregate demand and institutional effectiveness, please consult FAO, 2011.200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayVientianeHatyaiPhnomPenhFangcheng GangNanningHo Chi Minh CityBangkokFigure 2.5.Projected forest cover inthe GMS in 2030 underan unsustainable growthscenario and greeneconomy scenario.Inset shows details foreastern Cambodia, whichour analysis shows is adeforestation front.Source: WWF-Germany,based on multiple datasets,see Appendix.Projected forest coverForest lost underboth scenariosForest lost inunsustainable growth,conserved in greeneconomy scenarioForest remainingin 2030 under bothscenarios200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayVientianeHatyaiPhnomPenhFangcheng GangNanningHo Chi Minh CityBangkokHanointianePhnomPenhFangcheng GangNanningHo Chi Minh CityPhnom Penh
  34. 34. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 34Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong200kmKunmingYangonHanoiMandalayVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningPhnomPenh Ho Chi Minh CityBangkokFigure 2.6a.Potential fragmentationindex for forests in theGMS in an unsustainablegrowth scenario, 2030.Forest fragmentation typeCorePerforationTransitionEdgePatch
  35. 35. page 35Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 2.6b.Potential fragmentationindex for forests in theGMS in a green economyscenario, 2030.200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayVientianeHatyaiFangcheng GangNanningBangkokPhnomPenhForest fragmentation typeCorePerforationTransitionEdgePatch
  36. 36. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 36Ecosystems in the Greater MekongThe Mekongriver systemsupportsaround 850freshwaterfish Speciesincluding theMekong giantcatfish, one ofthe world’slargestfreshwaterfish.The Mekong river basin is one of the most productive and diverse river systems onEarth and is particularly rich in migratory fish species. Its connectivity and naturalvariability of flows drive both its exceptional productivity and basin-wide fishmigrations (Coates et al., 2003). Sediments and nutrients from upriver sustain theproductive Mekong Delta which in turn supports more than 50 per cent of Vietnam’sstaple food crop production and marine fisheries and aquaculture, worth up toUS$2.7 billion annually1(ICEM, 2010; WWF, 2011).While not at quite the same scale, much of the Mekong’s uniqueness and significanceto livelihoods, agriculture and industry is also reflected in other major river systemsin the region. Indeed, for several large rivers, including the Salween and Irrawaddy,there is still an opportunity to retain ecological connectivity that has already beenlost on the upper Mekong. In this chapter we focus on the situation of the Mekongbasin in hope that patterns and lessons learned can positively inform decisions thatrelate to all complex river basins in the region.Thirteen unique, yet connected, ecosystems have been identified in the basin(Sindorf and Wickel, 2011; Sverdrup-Jensen, 2002) (Figure 3.1). Each of theseecosystems represents a unique combination of hydrologic conditions, nutrientprofiles and temperature regimes, producing unique environmental conditions andassociated natural communities. The strong connection among these ecosystemsand the linkages between riparian and forest systems (Sheil and Murdiyarso, 2009)(e.g., through microclimates and regulation of the flow of water and sediment) bothcontribute to the system’s high biological diversity.The linked character of a river system presents its own responses to and challengesfor human management activity: the system depends on unimpeded flow and onthe maintenance of and connectivity among a variety of ecosystems – from coldhighland streams to brackish channels of the delta. Power sector projections ofincreasing electricity demand in the GMS (ICEM, 2010) have led to an unprecedentedrate of dam building, in which many projects are poorly planned from a social andenvironmental perspective and implemented with little consideration of the impactson the freshwater ecosystems, the river’s connectivity and flow, and the peoplethat rely on these (Amornsakchai et al., 2000; MRC, 2009; Dugan et al., 2010;ICEM, 2010; MRC, 2010). Such disturbances affect sections both far upstream anddownstream, yet environmental impact assessments, when they are performed, havefocused on discrete project sites without considering the cumulative impacts onconnectivity at the sub-basin to basin levels (Dugan et al., 2010; ICEM, 2010; Sindorfand Wickel, 2011).1 Freshwater systems Introduction and changesover the past 50 years
  37. 37. page 37Ecosystems in the Greater MekongCurrentstatusandpressuresDespite long-term intensive human use of freshwater resources in the Mekong basin,the system has maintained connectivity between 11 of the 13 ecosystems in ~60per cent of the system by area, as well as much of its original ecological patternsand processes (Sindorf and Wickel, 2011; WWF-Germany, 2011) (Figure 3.2a).Nevertheless, the main threat to the persistence of the Mekong river system is theconstruction of dams, particularly on the main stem, such as the disputed Xayaburidam in Laos, which will disrupt linkages among sub-basins. Of key concern is thelack of appropriately coordinated planning among decision-makers for the differentportions of the basin (ICEM, 2010). Xayaburi is not the largest dam planned on themain stem, but its go-ahead would set a precedent for countries and marginalizethe Mekong River Commission’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation andAgreement (PNPCA) and could herald even more disruptive developments, with upto 10 additional dams planned (Grumbine et al, 2012) (One non-dam hydropowerproject, Thako, is also planned; WWF supports this). Models indicate that althoughthe loss of connectivity from existing dams has already negatively affected fisheriesproduction in various Mekong sub-basins, declines in productivity to date have notFigure 3.1.Freshwater ecosystemsof the Mekong riversystem in a connectivitytree with the ecosystemcharacteristics of themain stem and maintributaries.Source: Sindorf and Wickel,2011.Freshwater EcosystemsHighlands with snowinfluenceTributary onhighlandsUpland slopesTributary on uplandslopesTributary on uplandslopesTributary on upperplateauTributary on lowerplateauTributary throughkarstic formationsMain stem alongkarstic formationsMain stem plateauto deltaUpper plateauKarstic formationsLower plateau
  38. 38. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 38Ecosystems in the Greater Mekongsubstantially affected overall fisheries output (Amornsakchai et al., 2000; Coateset al., 2003). This is likely to change if planned developments go ahead (Friend etal., 2009, Cochrane et al., 2010), with major impacts downstream and on majorfreshwater resources such as Tonle Sap (Arias et al., 2012). Additional models alsoindicate that some 60 per cent of the basin is no longer free-flowing: many smallersystems are effectively “locked” behind dams (Sindorf and Wickel, 2011; WWF-Germany, 2011) (Figure 3.3).Decision-makers in the Mekong river basin face a difficult dilemma: how cancountries that share the freshwater resources of the Mekong River profit from arenewable energy source such as hydroelectric power without at the same timedegrading the fisheries and ecological services that support at least 60 millionpeople? To produce energy through hydropower, up to 11 new dams are planned forthe main stem of the Lower Mekong River alone. Their construction will negativelyimpact both wild fish populations (Amornsakchai et al., 2000; ICEM, 2010) and themany people who rely on wild fish as their major source of protein. For example, oncebuilt, a main stem dam would:• Hinder movements of eggs and young fish downstream to the Lower Mekongfloodplains to grow and those of adult fish upstream to spawn;• Harm wild fisheries in Laos, Thailand and Cambodia by flooding upstreamspawning grounds and altering nutrient input and replenishment of downstreamhabitats (Dugan et al., 2010; ICEM, 2010; Sindorf and Wickel, 2011);• Reduce sediments and nutrients that build and feed the Mekong Delta’sproductivity;• Degrade the functionality of the whole, interconnected ecosystem and riskexceeding thresholds that could lead to very large and rapid negative impacts(WWF, 2011).a. b.Figure 3.2.Impact of existingdams and the plannedXayaburi dam onecosystem connectivity,expressed as number ofconnected ecosystems:(a) in 2011 and (b) if theXayaburi dam is built.If the dam is built, thenumber of connectedecosystems will decreasefrom 11 to 9 (see legend) andthe proportion of the basin’stotal system length that isstill connected will decreasefrom 60% to 40%. Notethat connectivity as of 2011was already reduced due tohistoric dam development.Source: Sindorf andWickel, 2011.Number of ecosystems12346911
  39. 39. page 39Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 3.3.Classification of the free-flowing systems of theMekong River with 50large existing dams.While 60% of the basinretains the functionality offree-flowing rivers, the flowin the main stem and somesub-basins, particularlyin Thailand, China andVietnam, has been impededby dams. The flows of types1b and 2 rivers with bothupstream and downstreamdams are most compromised.Source: Sindorf and Wickel,2011, more details inreference section.Free flowingCompromisedFF Type 1C Type 1FF Type 2C Type 1bC Type 2C Type 2b
  40. 40. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 40Ecosystems in the Greater MekongThe hydropower potential in the basin has been subject to a series of evaluations(King, Bird and Haas, 2007; MRC, 2009; ICEM, 2010). Results suggest that althoughdams would bring substantial additional income to the region, they would negativelyimpact fisheries, increase inequality and net poverty, and have long-term anddetrimental environmental impacts. Some key aspects of river ecosystems and theirfunctions – such as flow dynamics and the capacity of rivers to reshape ecosystemfeatures (Coates et al., 2003) – are difficult to identify and measure and thus havebeen excluded from main stem hydropower cost-benefit analyses.Over 75 per cent of rural households in theLower Mekong basin are involved in fisheries,both for their own consumption and for sale(MRC, 2003).Fishing and aquaculture in the Mekong Delta employ over 2.8 million apeople– 10 per cent of Vietnam’s labour force.©ElizabethKemf/WWF-Canon
  41. 41. page 41Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFuturescenariosUnsustainable growthDemand for electricity in the GMS grows 6-7 per cent per year (cf. Rowcroft,2005), and planned dams are built on the main stem (Figure 3.3) and numeroustributaries of the Mekong River. Connectivity among ecosystems declines markedly(Figure 3.2). Economic valuation of dams, especially on the main stem, continuesto exclude their substantial costs to human and wildlife communities and, in theface of potential climatic effects, to the system as a whole. Multiple main stemand major tributary dams trap the sediment that rebuilds the Mekong Delta,identified as one of the three most vulnerable deltas to climate change by theIntergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) (IPCC, 2007; WWF, 2009a),and carries nutrients that feed the delta’s outstanding productivity. Reduction insediment flow decreases the capacity of the delta to replenish itself, making it morevulnerable to threats of climate change, including sea level rise, saline intrusion intofresh and brackish water, and severe storms and subsequent coastal erosion. Serioussocial and economic challenges arise from the subsequent deterioration of the delta’sproductivity and continued decline of migratory fish populations and associatedfisheries (ICEM, 2010).Green economyConsistent with the results of the MRC-commissioned strategic environmentalassessment (ICEM, 2010), GMS countries agree to a 10-year delay in the approvalof the main stem dams to fully consider the costs and benefits of their constructionand operation (ICEM, 2010). Conservation and development plans incorporate themaintenance of the natural processes related to connectivity along rivers, acrossrivers and through the water column required to ensure persistence of freshwatersystems and their biodiversity. Natural connectivity, together with better fishingpractices – including improved processing, reducing waste and curtailment of illegalfishing – enable wild fish populations, including those of migratory species and toppredators, to remain sufficiently intact to both fulfil their biological roles and sustainthe region’s immense fishery. GMS countries develop a comprehensive energy visionfor the region, which considers the need for additional power generation capacity tomeet projected increases in electricity demand. In addition to energy conservationthrough policy, individual behaviour change and technology, this vision includes ahydropower generation plan, which:• Emphasizes only sustainable hydropower on tributaries, and avoids mainstem dams;• Employs rapid basin-wide hydropower sustainability assessment tool (RSAT)methodology to determine the most sustainable hydropower options in key riversub-basins;• Includes provisions to maintain ecosystem connectivity and to mitigate any lossof flow; and• Protects watersheds by avoiding deforestation of steep slopes.35-40 per cent offish catch in theMekong dependson species thatmigrate longdistances alongthe Mekong mainstem and into itstributaries(Baran et al., 2013);
  42. 42. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 42Ecosystems in the Greater MekongDeciduous mixed species forest at the Thi Lo Su waterfall in Umphang Wildlife Sanctuary, West Thailand.©GeraldS.Cubitt/WWF-Canon
  43. 43. page 43Ecosystems in the Greater MekongEcosystem services in the GMSNatural habitats provide distinct services to society.The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA, 2003)divides these into four main categories:• Supporting services: soil formation, nutrientcycling, primary production• Provisioning services: food security, water,fuelwood, fibre, genetic resources• Regulating services: climate, water flowand quality, control of disease vectors, disastermitigation, pollination• Cultural services: spiritual, recreational andtourism, aesthetic, cultural heritage, sense of place.Ecosystem services play a huge and frequently under-reported role in the GMS, and their significancecould be further capitalized on by better naturalresource management and, where necessary, targetedrestoration. Critical services include protein frominland fisheries, coastal protection from naturalvegetation, soil stabilization and a host of freelyavailable natural resources, many now at risk.Inland fisheries in the Mekong watershed yield anestimated 2 million tonnes of fish per year (Wellcomeet al., 2010). Freshwater fish contributes almost 80per cent of animal protein for people in Cambodia(Hortle, 2007). Protected areas have helped regulateoff-take: 60 per cent of fish come from Tonle SapLake, a UNESCO Man and Biosphere reserve (ICEM,2003) and the Ream National Park in Cambodiagenerates an estimated US$1.2 million a year for localresidents, particularly from fishing (Emerton, 2005).In Laos, fish conservation zones are co-managed as aconservation tool for fisheries, in areas selected usingindigenous knowledge. Since their establishment,villagers have reported significant increases in stocksof over 50 fish species (Baird, 2000). Marine fisheriesare also important: the gross value of fisheries suppliedby the Hon Mun Marine Protected Area in Vietnam isestimated at US$15,538 per km2 per year through reef-related aquaculture and near-shore fishing, supportingover 5,000 people (Dudley et al., 2008).Low-lying land and frequent storms open theMekong Delta to serious coastal damage and naturalbarriers, particularly mangroves and corals, areincreasingly valued. In Thailand, mangrove speciessuch as Rhizophora apiculata and R. mucronataand Pandanus odoratissimus, a tree that grows inbeach sand, were found to be effective barriers inpart because of their complex aerial root structure(Tanaka et al., 2007). The coastal storm protectionvalue of mangroves in Thailand has been estimatedat between US$27,264 and US$35,921 per hectare(Sathirathai and Barbier, 2001). Restoring mangrovescan be a cost-effective option for improving coastalprotection. For example, a US$1.1 million mangroverestoration scheme in northern Vietnam savedan estimated US$7.3 million a year in sea dykemaintenance, and provided effective protectionduring typhoons (Brown et al., 2006).Other natural resources remain highly important. InNam Et National Biodiversity Conservation Area inLaos, 81 village communities depend on the area fornon-timber forest products with a value estimated atUS$1.88 million/year (30 per cent cash income andthe rest subsistence), providing villagers in the regionwith a higher than average per capita income (ICEM,2003a).Natural ecosystems also provide an increasinglyimportant facet of tourism, ranging from coral reefdiving through to forest and mountain trekking,nature viewing, and homestays with local andindigenous people. Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodiain particular have experienced rapid growth oftourism, in part connected with nature-basedtourism (Mastny, 2001).To date there has been no comprehensive overviewof the value of ecosystem benefits in the region,leading to a serious undervaluing by both politiciansand even many local communities. A full review ofMekong ecosystem services is urgently overdue.
  44. 44. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 44Ecosystems in the Greater MekongThe GMS is home to approximately5 per cent of globally threatenedwildlife species (UNEP, 2006).Changes over the last 100 yearsThe GMS has exceptionally rich wildlife, including many species endemic to theregion. But the expanding human footprint has increasingly threatened the region’sglobally important biodiversity, to the point of pushing many species to the verge ofextinction, including some of the largest and most iconic. The dry forest savannahsof the GMS were once called the Serengeti of Southeast Asia: 100 years ago,elephants, wild cattle and other large mammals were plentiful (Bennett et al., 2002;Corlett et al., 2007; FAO, 2011b). Their movements and foraging helped to shape theecosystems we still see today and created unique ecological features (such as isolatedephemeral ponds).Intensive hunting and extensive deforestation together have caused virtually alllarger species – including Asian elephants (Elephas maximus), tigers (Pantheratigris), banteng (Bos javanicus) and gaur (Bos gaurus) – to suffer serious declinesin number and range (Figures 4.1 - 4.4); endemic species such as the saola(Pseudoryx nghetinhensis) (Figure 4.5), kouprey (Bos sauveli), and giant(Thaumatibis gigantea) and white-shouldered (Pseudibis davisoni) ibises are amongthe most endangered species in the world; the kouprey has not been seen for manyyears and is likely to be extinct. The region lost its last Javan rhinoceros (Rhinocerossondaicus) to poaching in 2010 (Brook et al., 2011). Populations of primates,elephants and other dispersers of large seeds now depend almost exclusively onprotected areas (Corlett, 1998), and even there they continue to be hunted and facepossible extirpation. Vast areas of forest across the Lower Mekong are empty ofmegafauna. Loss of these large animals has altered disturbance and regenerationregimes, which have, in turn, degraded the structure and function of the ecosystemsand, hence, the services they provide. Among aquatic species, the migratory Mekonggiant catfish (Pangasianodon gigas) has declined more than 80 per cent over the last21 years (since 1990), due primarily to overfishing (Hogan, 2011; MRC, 2009a).4. Flagship speciesWith therecentextinction ofa uniquesub-speciesof Javan rhino,the GMS hasexperiencedone of the mostspectacularwildlife lossesof the pasthalf-century(Brook et al., 2011). ©WWFGreaterMekongIn 2010, poachers killed the last rhino in mainland SE Asia, in Cat Tien National Park, Vietnam
  45. 45. page 45Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 4.1.Historical, confirmedor compelling reportsbetween 2002-2010 andconfirmed in 2011 and/or2012 distribution of tigerin and around the GMS.Source: WWF-GreaterMekong Programme basedon multiple datasets, seeAppendix.Tigers200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayHatyaiVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokSpecies presenceConfirmed during2011-2012Confirmed orcompelling reportsbetween 2002-2010Tiger historicaldistribution95 per cent of the world’s tigers havedisappeared in the last century, dueto decimation of their habitats andprey, and deliberate hunting tomeet demand for skins andin traditional medicines (Thompson, 2010).
  46. 46. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 46Ecosystems in the Greater MekongSpecies presenceHistoricaldistributionCurrentdistributionFigure 4.2.Historical and confirmedcurrent distribution ofelephant in and aroundthe GMSSource: WWF-GreaterMekong Programme basedon multiple datasets, seeAppendix.200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayHatyaiVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokElephant
  47. 47. page 47Ecosystems in the Greater MekongSpecies presenceHistoricaldistributionCurrentdistribution200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayHatyaiVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkok200kmKunmingHanoiHo Chi Minh CityVientianePhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningokFigure 4.3.Historical and current(red circle and inset)distribution of theIrrawaddy dolphin,Mekong Riversubpopulation.Habitat degradation, gillnetentanglement, killing foroil and destructive fishingpractices have drivenpopulations near extinction.Source: WWF-GreaterMekong Programme basedon multiple datasets, seeAppendix.IrrawaddyDolphins
  48. 48. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 48Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayHatyaiVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokFigure 4.4.Approximate historicaldistribution of Javanrhino.In 2010, poachers killed thelast rhino in mainland SEAsia, in Cat Tien NationalPark, Vietnam (red circle).Source: WWF-GreaterMekong Programme basedon multiple datasets, seeAppendix.JavanRhinoSpecies presenceHistoricaldistributionLast knownlocation
  49. 49. page 49Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokFigure 4.5Potential currentdistribution of saola,which is endemic to wetevergreen forest in thenorthern and centralAnnamites on the Laos-Vietnam border.The saola was discovered bya joint government-WWFsurvey in 1992. There arefew records of the criticallyendangered species, whichis threatened with extinctionfrom hunting (snares) andhabitat loss throughout itsnarrow range.Source: WWF-GreaterMekong Programme basedon multiple datasets, seeAppendixSaolasSpecies presenceHistoricaldistributionCurrentdistribution
  50. 50. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 50Ecosystems in the Greater MekongCurrent statusThe GMS still supports extraordinary numbers of species: over 430 mammal species,over 800 reptile and amphibian species, some 1,200 bird species and at least 20,000species of plants. However, the subregion’s unsustainably high rates of hunting,exploitation of other natural resources and habitat loss have left only about 5 per centof its natural habitats in relatively pristine condition (Conservation International,2007), rendering the region among the world’s most threatened biodiversityhotspots. Given the high endemism and rapid rate of new species discoveries in theGMS over recent decades, the drastic loss of habitat suggests that many additionalspecies may disappear before scientists can find and identify them.Protected areasThe survival of many species in the GMS depends on the existence of effectivelymanaged protected area systems. Protected area systems have expandeddramatically in the GMS since 1970, to levels close to 20 per cent of total area inCambodia, Laos and Thailand, though still less than 10 per cent in Myanmar andVietnam (Figure 4.6). Countries in the region have agreed protected area systems,and agencies and staff to carry out management. Ecotourism, while still small scalewhen compared with the most popular tourist destinations for wildlife holidays, isincreasing fast.However, the system remains fragile. Even today 11 per cent of the land area and only19 per cent of remaining forest is under protection, and encroachment into protectedareas seriously threatens the stability of many species (Conservation International,2007; Stibig et al,. 2007; MRC, 2010; FAO, 2011a). Many species and criticallythreatened habitat types largely occur outside the protected area network (e.g.Wright et al., 2012; Packman et al., 2013). Governments have also frequently reducedthe size of protected areas throughout the region, for example in Thailand (Deardenet al., 1998) and Vietnam, while Cambodia has made major degazettements,converting large parts of protected areas to economic land concessions (ELCs)1(Vrieze and Naren, 2012); the network is still far from secure. Many protected areasexist in name only; even those that have secure boundaries often face continualdegradation through poaching and timber theft. Despite long-term capacity-buildingexercises in the region, including by WWF, many protected area managers andrangers feel faced with an impossible task and morale in many protected areasremains low.Nonetheless, protected areas now conserve much of the remaining primary forestand some important secondary forests. Importantly, they have been the site forrestoration programmes, particularly in mangrove forests (Hong, 2004; Nguyenet al., 2008), and for some threatened species such as sarus crane (Grus antigonesharpii) (Buckton and Safford, 2004). The Cambodian government is committed torestoring tiger within the protected area complex of the Eastern Plains Landscape.Consolidating and building capacity within the protected area system is one of thekey priorities for the GMS. Countries like Thailand, where the protected area systemis now well established, can help in this process.1 See Open Development Cambodia for details of granted ELCs at www.opendevelopmentcambodia.netNew speciesare still beingdiscovered in theGMS! Between 1997and 2011, scientistsdiscovered 1,710new species. In 2011alone, another82 plants, 21reptiles, 13 fish,5 amphibians and5 mammals – allnew to science –were added to theregion’s incrediblebiodiversity. That’sover 2 speciesper week(Thompson, 2012).The recentlarge-scaledeforestation inthe GMS meansthat many nativespecies, such asrare long-livedtrees, while notextinct, mightpersist as “livingdead” – unableto reproducedue to isolationcaused by habitatfragmentation(Sodhi et al., 2004).
  51. 51. page 51Ecosystems in the Greater MekongBelieved capable of reaching an almost mythical three metres in length and 350kg10, the Giant Mekongcatfish is one of the fastest growing in the world; newly hatched fry measure half a centimetre, by day 11 theymeasure 2.5cm, and at only six years of age they can weigh nearly 200kg.©ZebHogan/WWF-Canon
  52. 52. Ecosystems in the Greater Mekong: past trends, current status, possible futures page 52Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFigure 4.6.System of protectedareas across the GMS.Source: WWF-GreaterMekong Programmebased on multipledatasets200kmKunmingYangonHanoiHo Chi Minh CityMandalayHatyaiVientianeHatyaiPhnom PenhFangcheng GangNanningBangkokProtected Areas SystemRemaining forest2009Protected area
  53. 53. page 53Ecosystems in the Greater MekongFuturescenariosUnsustainable growth:Trends of forest degradation and loss continue, while poaching for local consumptionand global trafficking continues to lower the densities of iconic, endangered speciesand their prey to near or complete regional extinction. The prognosis for much of thebiodiversity of the GMS, and particularly that of focal species, is poor. Of the 13–42per cent of species expected to be lost in Southeast Asia by 2100, at least half couldrepresent global extinctions (Sodhi et al., 2004). Continued forest fragmentationdevastates populations of larger animals, particularly tigers, which require large,intact landscapes (Wikramanayake et al., 2001; Thompson, 2010); forest interiorspecialist species, such as the saola; and those requiring large hunting areas, suchas dhole (Cuon alpinus). Protected areas are largely “empty forests” devoid ofcharismatic and endemic megafauna.As the impacts of climate change become more pronounced, animals are less ableto move across habitat gradients which have become discontinuous due to forestfragmentation (Campbell et al., 2009; Millien et al., 2006). The ensuing increasein hotter, drier edge habitat relative to forest interior, combined with the generalwarming due to global climate change, facilitates the spread of pests, pathogensand invasive species, thereby directly and indirectly affecting native biodiversity.The warming and drying of certain habitats, particularly highland forests andstreams and seasonal ponds, limits the survival and dispersal capacity of specieslimited to those areas and may hasten their regional, and perhaps global, extinction.Lack of climate change resilience within the protected area network prevents speciesmovements and colonization in response to climate change.Green economy:With efforts made to improve governance and to make planning and developmentmore sustainable, natural capital is protected and enhanced. The implementationof REDD+ and payments for ecosystem services projects improve communitylivelihoods and reduce unsustainable use of the forests, particularly in areassurrounding protected areas. Local land-lease property rights have helpedto stabilize communities. Improved conservation awareness reduces demandfor wildlife products along with strategic engagement to reduce opportunisticor poverty-based hunting, and more effective enforcement has also reducedlevel of trade. Through these mechanisms, forest regenerates and connectivityacross ecosystems is enhanced, allowing species threatened by habitat loss andfragmentation to recover (Thompson et al., 2009). With better governance, forest-associated stakeholders are engaged and become defenders of forests and theirbiodiversity. Protected areas are valued for both ecosystem services and potentialfor poverty alleviation and are therefore effectively managed. Wildlife premiummechanisms help provide special incentives to governments and external funders tosupport conservation in areas that allow tigers and other large mammals to recover(Dinerstein et al., 2013). Adaptation for climate change becomes part of regionalplanning processes, encouraging forest restoration to reduce threats from fire andto give species more opportunity to adjust to conditions caused by climate change.The GMS containsthe largestcombined areaof tiger habitatin the world, aswell as 5 of the 11countries wheretigers still exist,so preservationof intact tigerhabitat andpopulations hereis both essentialand possible(Thompson, 2010).