The seasonally flooded grasslands around the Tonle Sap, Southeast Asia’s largest freshwater lake, are of great importance for biodiversity and a refuge for 11 globally-threatened bird species. They are also a vital fishing, grazing, and traditional rice farming resource for around 1.1 million people.
Research published today in the journal Conservation Biology quantifies for the first time the area’s catastrophic loss of tropical flooded grassland.
The grassland area spanned 3349 km² in 1995, but by 2005 it had been reduced to just 1817 km² – a loss of 46 per cent.
They then collected habitat information from almost 1,000 points to establish the rate of habitat change between 2005 and 2009 in the largest remaining area of grassland. This showed that grassland in the key southeast area had declined from 923 km² to 751 km² in just four years. Almost all of this loss was attributable to either intensive rice cultivation, which had risen by 666 per cent during that period, or associated newly constructed reservoirs.
Dr Packman added: “Between 1995/1996 and 2005, the encroachment of scrubland was the major cause of grassland loss, due to a reduction in traditional, low intensity agricultural practices in the grasslands. Since 2005, intensive rice cultivation by private companies has rapidly become the most serious threat to these grasslands, destroying huge areas at a very alarming rate.”
'Rapid Loss of Cambodia's Grasslands' by Dr Charlotte Packman, Dr Thomas Gray, Prof Andrew Lovett, and Dr Paul Dolman (all UEA), Prof Nigel Collar (Birdlife International and UEA), Dr Tom Evans, Robert Van Zalinge and Son Virak (all Wildlife Conservation Society Cambodia Program), is published by Conservation Biology on March 18, 2013.
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