By Dr. Triet Tran, Dr. Duong Van Ni, and the Project Team
This research project, which is seeking to understand and map how humans and animals are connected to wetlands in the Mekong River Basin, has commenced key activities in pilot wetlands of Cambodia and Vietnam.
The fish and birds that make use of wetlands significantly contribute to the biodiversity of the Mekong Region. In turn, the people of the Mekong Region are able to benefit from such bio-diverse wetlands, specifically as a form of natural capital for rural livelihood sustainability. However, the environmental sustainability of this human use of wetlands is in question, and must be better understood as part of wider sustainable development planning in the region. This project aims to address this gap by mapping the natural wetlands of the study areas, and devising a classification system for these wetlands. These outputs will be able to guide researchers and policy-makers in communicating the value and importance of wetland ecosystems for the biodiversity of the Mekong Region.
Since the commencement of the project in late 2014, the research team, led by Dr. Triet Tran, has been established to bring together academics and students from Can Tho University in Vietnam, the University of Science at Vietnam National University, and the Royal Agriculture University in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in collaboration with the International Crane Foundation and FISHBIO. As part of the initial scoping of the project, the team undertook a field visit to one of the study sites – the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province, Cambodia. One of the primary objectives of the visit, which was funded through matching funds from the US Geological Survey (USGS), was to test data collection methods by surveying wetland sites. In total, across four days of fieldwork, 23 sites were located and surveyed with guidance from local residents who possess extensive knowledge of the wetlands and inhabitant species. The methods used included wetland boundary profiling, elevation profiling, plant and fish specimen collection, recording the presence of bird species, and consulting with local residents to understand the history of the wetlands in terms of land use, presence of species, and water level and quality.
One of the findings of the survey was that over time local residents have observed more natural wetlands being converted into rice fields, and that the Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary lacks the legal power to prevent this from occurring. It appears that this change is disturbing natural habitats, for example the appearance of the Sarus crane, which nests within wetlands, may be less common than it once was as its breeding territories are being altered for the benefit of local livelihoods. In total, 514 plant specimens were collected and handed over to the botany laboratory at the University of Science, Ho Chi Minh City, for taxonomic identification, and 15 species of fish were recorded. The data collected across the wetland sites will aid the research team in answering the project research questions and meeting the objectives.
Following the fieldwork, the team held a meeting in Siem Riep to review activities and methods, and discuss next steps and lessons learnt for data collection. For example, the team may choose to sample the same sites again during the transition between the dry and wet seasons, normally between May and June, for comparison of site conditions. This time is also the breeding season for Sarus cranes, and presents an opportunity to corroborate the accounts of the local residents that breeding territories are altering as land uses change.
In addition to the preliminary survey conducted at Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, the team has conducted field method training within the team, to build the research capacity of researchers and graduate students involved in the project, and streamline data collection techniques for future wetland surveying at project sites. The team plans to continue the field training during the next phases of surveying. Also, an initial spatial analysis has begun, based on data gathered at Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary, but faces a challenge in that intermediate wetlands that were identified are difficult to characterize with remote sensing tools. Once more data is available, a wetland map will be produced.
Blog posts on the Mekong Fish Network and FISHBIO websites have featured this project and brought it to the attention of many relevant actors and stakeholders in the region. You can also read more about this wetlands project here, on its project page.