There are increasing concerns for the ecological health of rivers, and their ability to provide important ecosystem services. Frameworks describing the character and condition of rivers have been developed in many parts of the world but rarely include river ecosystem services. South East Asia is a region with some of the world’s great rivers—Mekong, Salween and Ayeyarwady—running through six different countries, but data on river ecological character and condition is patchy and inconsistent. Development pressures on these rivers has never been higher, and ecosystem services may be lost before being described and valued. The development of a framework of ecological importance is envisaged, which maps out the relative contributions of river reaches to a wide range of ecosystem services. This could be a tool for river basin planning and water resource management, baseline information for impact assessment of infrastructure (for example, hydropower and irrigation), and for protecting ecologically important areas. We asked a diverse group of 109 river basin planners, and water and natural resource management professionals in the region whether a framework of ecological importance would support their activities, and which river ecosystem services are most important to be assessed. Our findings allow prioritisation of river ecosystem services to be assessed and mapped according to importance in different river reaches and sub-basins within the region. The locations of ranked threats and pressures on the river systems allow indication of river health and integrity in these sub-basins. We consider the feasibility of measuring ecosystem services and pressures through the identification of appropriate indicators, methods, and availability of global, regional, and national data.
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