Special Issue "Channels for Change: Integrating Multiple Disciplines for New Frontiers in Managing the Mekong River Basin"

A special issue of Water (ISSN 2073-4441). This special issue belongs to the section "Water Resources Management, Policy and Governance".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: closed (31 December 2021) | Viewed by 44002

Special Issue Editors

Dr. Flavia Tromboni
E-Mail
Guest Editor
Global Water Center and Biology Department, University of Nevada, Reno, USA
Interests: limnology; biogeochemistry; tropical freshwater ecology
Prof. Dr. Sudeep Chandra
E-Mail Website
Guest Editor
Global Water Center, University of Nevada, Reno, USA
Interests: limnology; conservation biology; environmental policy

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

The Mekong River is considered one of the 35 hotspots for global biodiversity, supporting 1200 species of fishes and the world’s largest inland fishery. Its fish resources are used by more than 60 million people for food and income. Despite its importance, the Mekong today faces mulitple challenges from dams, climate change, land use change, and substantial increases in legal and illegal fishing pressure.

The aim of this Special Issue is to provide interdisciplinary insights and effective solutions for the sustainable management and conservation of a healthy Mekong River Basin. Contributions are welcome on topics such as fisheries status and trends, the impact of dams’ development, hydrology and climate change, aquatic ecology, land use change, pollution, environmental policy and planning, stakeholder engagement, and effective communication. Literature reviews, field-based research, and case studies are all welcome.

Dr. Flavia Tromboni
Prof. Dr. Sudeep Chandra
Guest Editors

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Keywords

  • Mekong River
  • Fisheries
  • Education and effective communication
  • Dams
  • Drought

Published Papers (21 papers)

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Research

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Article
A Strontium and Hydro-Geochemical Perspective on Human Impacted Tributary of the Mekong River Basin: Sources Identification, Fluxes, and CO2 Consumption
Water 2021, 13(21), 3137; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13213137 - 08 Nov 2021
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1080
Abstract
As the largest and most representative tributary of the Mekong River, the Mun River Basin (MRB) provides critical understanding of regional hydro-geochemical features and rock weathering processes on a basin scale. The present study measured strontium (Sr) isotopes with hydro-geochemistry data of 56 [...] Read more.
As the largest and most representative tributary of the Mekong River, the Mun River Basin (MRB) provides critical understanding of regional hydro-geochemical features and rock weathering processes on a basin scale. The present study measured strontium (Sr) isotopes with hydro-geochemistry data of 56 water samples in detail in the MRB in northeast Thailand. The dissolved Sr contents and 87Sr/86Sr isotopic ratios were reported to be 8.7–344.6 μg/L (average 126.9 μg/L) and 0.7085–0.7281 (average 0.7156), respectively. The concentrations of dissolved Sr in the mainstream slightly decreased from upstream to downstream, while the variation trend of 87Sr/86Sr was on the contrary. Correlation analysis showed that Na+ strongly correlated with Cl (0.995, p < 0.01), while Ca2+ exhibited weak relationships with SO42 (0.356, p < 0.01). Samples of the MRB exhibited lower Mg2+/Na+, Ca2+/Na+, HCO3/Na+ and 1000Sr/Na ratios, and gathered around the end-member of evaporite dissolution, with slight shift to silicate weathering end-member, demonstrating the dominant contribution of evaporite dissolution and silicate weathering on dissolved loads. Comparing with data of major world rivers from previous research, our results remained consistency with rivers draining through similar geological conditions. The dissolved Sr flux to the adjacent Mekong River was estimated to be 20.7 tons/year. In accordance with the forward model, silicate weathering rate and CO2 consumption rate during dry season were calculated to be 0.73 tons/km2/year and 1.94 × 104 mol/km2/year, and may get underestimated due to intense water consumption by extensive agricultural activities. The superimposed effect of anthropogenic impacts on the water environment could enhance chemical weathering, and thus should be taken into account in regional ion cycles and carbon budgets. These findings highlight the coupling analysis of Sr isotopes and hydro-geochemistry in Earth surface processes and provide basic investigation for sustainable regional water treatment mechanisms in the pan basin of the Mekong River. Full article
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Article
Spatial and Long-Term Temporal Changes in Water Quality Dynamics of the Tonle Sap Ecosystem
Water 2021, 13(15), 2059; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13152059 - 29 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1002
Abstract
Tonle Sap lake-river floodplain ecosystem (TSE) is one of the world’s most productive freshwater systems. Changes in hydrology, climate, population density, and land use influence water quality in this system. We investigated long term water quality dynamics (22 years) in space and time [...] Read more.
Tonle Sap lake-river floodplain ecosystem (TSE) is one of the world’s most productive freshwater systems. Changes in hydrology, climate, population density, and land use influence water quality in this system. We investigated long term water quality dynamics (22 years) in space and time and identified potential changes in nutrient limitation based on nutrient ratios of inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus. Water quality was assessed at five sites highlighting the dynamics in wet and dry seasons. Predictors of water quality included watershed land use, climate, population, and water level. Most water quality parameters varied across TSE, except pH and nitrate that remained constant at all sites. In the last decade, there is a change in the chemical nutrient ratio suggesting that nitrogen may be the primary limiting nutrient across the system. Water quality was strongly affected by development in the watershed i.e., flooded forest loss, climatic variation, population growth, and change in water level. Seasonal variations of water quality constituents were driven by precipitation and hydrology, notably the Mekong’s distinct seasonal flood pulse. Full article
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Article
Changing Land Use and Population Density Are Degrading Water Quality in the Lower Mekong Basin
Water 2021, 13(14), 1948; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13141948 - 15 Jul 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 959
Abstract
Establishing reference conditions in rivers is important to understand environmental change and protect ecosystem integrity. Ranked third globally for fish biodiversity, the Mekong River has the world’s largest inland fishery providing livelihoods, food security, and protein to the local population. It is therefore [...] Read more.
Establishing reference conditions in rivers is important to understand environmental change and protect ecosystem integrity. Ranked third globally for fish biodiversity, the Mekong River has the world’s largest inland fishery providing livelihoods, food security, and protein to the local population. It is therefore of paramount importance to maintain the water quality and biotic integrity of this ecosystem. We analyzed land use impacts on water quality constituents (TSS, TN, TP, DO, NO3, NH4+, PO43−) in the Lower Mekong Basin. We then used a best-model regression approach with anthropogenic land-use as independent variables and water quality parameters as the dependent variables, to define reference conditions in the absence of human activities (corresponding to the intercept value). From 2000–2017, the population and the percentage of crop, rice, and plantation land cover increased, while there was a decrease in upland forest and flooded forest. Agriculture, urbanization, and population density were associated with decreasing water quality health in the Lower Mekong Basin. In several sites, Thailand and Laos had higher TN, NO3, and NH4+ concentrations compared to reference conditions, while Cambodia had higher TP values than reference conditions, showing water quality degradation. TSS was higher than reference conditions in the dry season in Cambodia, but was lower than reference values in the wet season in Thailand and Laos. This study shows how deforestation from agriculture conversion and increasing urbanization pressure causes water quality decline in the Lower Mekong Basin, and provides a first characterization of reference water quality conditions for the Lower Mekong River and its tributaries. Full article
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Article
Fishing Methods Matter: Comparing the Community and Trait Composition of the Dai (Bagnet) and Gillnet Fisheries in the Tonle Sap River in Southeast Asia
Water 2021, 13(14), 1904; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13141904 - 09 Jul 2021
Viewed by 935
Abstract
The Tonle Sap Lake and River ecosystem in the Lower Mekong Basin of Southeast Asia is one of the most productive inland fisheries globally but is currently threatened by overfishing, dam construction, and climate change. We compare the catch composition and amount from [...] Read more.
The Tonle Sap Lake and River ecosystem in the Lower Mekong Basin of Southeast Asia is one of the most productive inland fisheries globally but is currently threatened by overfishing, dam construction, and climate change. We compare the catch composition and amount from 2007–2013 of two fishery gear types, the bagnets of the largest commercial fishery, the Dai fishery, and gillnets, which are deployed ubiquitously by independent fishers. We found that the two methods captured a similar number of genera (81 and 88 in the Dai and gillnet). Catches of both fisheries were dominated (>75%) by three genera that migrate longitudinally, Henicorhynchus, Labiobarbus, and Paralaubuca. The catch of the Dai fishery followed annual variation in the flood pulse extent, but the gillnet catch did not. We used resource selection ratios to quantify selection pressure by the gillnet fishery, relative to the Dai fishery, on fish from different genera and trait groups. The gillnet selected for fish that migrate laterally from the floodplain to the main river and for higher trophic level fish. Gillnets may target groups of fish that are less impacted by the long-standing Dai fishery. For both fisheries, we note a need for monitoring fish lengths in order to understand the effects of selection on population dynamics and species-specific trait changes. Full article
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Article
Are Genetic Reference Libraries Sufficient for Environmental DNA Metabarcoding of Mekong River Basin Fish?
Water 2021, 13(13), 1767; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13131767 - 26 Jun 2021
Viewed by 1390
Abstract
Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding approaches to surveillance have great potential for advancing biodiversity monitoring and fisheries management. For eDNA metabarcoding, having a genetic reference sequence identified to fish species is vital to reduce detection errors. Detection errors will increase when there is no [...] Read more.
Environmental DNA (eDNA) metabarcoding approaches to surveillance have great potential for advancing biodiversity monitoring and fisheries management. For eDNA metabarcoding, having a genetic reference sequence identified to fish species is vital to reduce detection errors. Detection errors will increase when there is no reference sequence for a species or when the reference sequence is the same between different species at the same sequenced region of DNA. These errors will be acute in high biodiversity systems like the Mekong River Basin, where many fish species have no reference sequences and many congeners have the same or very similar sequences. Recently developed tools allow for inspection of reference database coverage and the sequence similarity between species. These evaluation tools provide a useful pre-deployment approach to evaluate the breadth of fish species richness potentially detectable using eDNA metabarcoding. Here we combined established species lists for the Mekong River Basin, resulting in a list of 1345 fish species, evaluated the genetic library coverage across 23 peer-reviewed primer pairs, and measured the species specificity for one primer pair across four genera to demonstrate that coverage of genetic reference libraries is but one consideration before deploying an eDNA metabarcoding surveillance program. This analysis identifies many of the eDNA metabarcoding knowledge gaps with the aim of improving the reliability of eDNA metabarcoding applications in the Mekong River Basin. Genetic reference libraries perform best for common and commercially valuable Mekong fishes, while sequence coverage does not exist for many regional endemics, IUCN data deficient, and threatened fishes. Full article
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Article
Identifying Ecosystem Services for a Framework of Ecological Importance for Rivers in South East Asia
Water 2021, 13(11), 1602; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13111602 - 06 Jun 2021
Viewed by 1064
Abstract
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 [...] Read more.
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. Full article
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Article
Water Quality Degradation in the Lower Mekong Basin
Water 2021, 13(11), 1555; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13111555 - 31 May 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 2209
Abstract
The Mekong River is one of the world’s largest rivers, unparalleled in terms of its biodiversity and ecosystem services. As in other regions, sufficient water quality is required to support diverse organisms, habitats, and ecosystems, but in the Mekong region, water quality has [...] Read more.
The Mekong River is one of the world’s largest rivers, unparalleled in terms of its biodiversity and ecosystem services. As in other regions, sufficient water quality is required to support diverse organisms, habitats, and ecosystems, but in the Mekong region, water quality has not been well studied. Based on biological and physical-chemical data collected over the last two decades, we evaluated spatial-temporal water quality of the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) using biotic and abiotic assessment metrics. We found that during the 2000s, water quality in the LMB was unpolluted, with “very good” metrics for tributary rivers and “good” status for mainstem rivers. However, during the last decade, water quality has been degraded in the LMB, particularly near Vientiane City; the Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok (3S) Rivers; the Tonle Sap Lake system; and the Mekong Delta. Water quality degradation likely corresponds to flow alteration, erosion, sediment trapping, and point and non-point wastewater, which have occurred from rapid hydropower development, deforestation, intensive agriculture, plastic pollution, and urbanization. Regular biomonitoring, physical-chemical water quality assessment, transparent data sharing, and basin-wide water quality standards or management are needed to sustain water quality to support biodiversity and ecosystem function in the LMB. Full article
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Article
Factors Driving Long Term Declines in Inland Fishery Yields in the Mekong Delta
Water 2021, 13(8), 1005; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13081005 - 07 Apr 2021
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 982
Abstract
The Mekong basin’s fisheries are important sources of food, income, and livelihoods for millions of people in six countries. However, fish yields appear to have declined in recent years according to reports from local fishers throughout the basin. It is important to understand [...] Read more.
The Mekong basin’s fisheries are important sources of food, income, and livelihoods for millions of people in six countries. However, fish yields appear to have declined in recent years according to reports from local fishers throughout the basin. It is important to understand the factors driving the decline in fisheries so that they can be adequately managed. We analysed interview data from 1020 fishers in the Mekong Delta in Vietnam in 2014 to identify trends in catch rates and the possible factors driving the trends. Most of the fishers (68–90%) reported that their catch rates had declined over the previous five years, although some fishers stated that their fish catches had remained stable or even increased. They identified eleven factors that they believed contribute to declines in fish catches, among which the use of illegal gears and overfishing were considered most important, with other factors relatively unimportant. Separately, long-term datasets (1995–2016) showed a general decline in commercial fish catches, which was positively correlated with peak water levels (which indicate flood levels), and negatively correlated with the intensification of rice farming, especially where flooding has been prevented to allow a third annual rice crop. Some data suggests that fishing effort has declined significantly in recent years, so an apparent downward trend in catches is not likely to be a result of overfishing as believed by fishers, which suggests that fishers are not aware of or under-rate the significance of hydrological and land-use/landscape changes. Due to the exceptional importance of the Mekong fishery and the interactions with other more dominant sectors, improved data collection is required to quantify changes in fisheries that result from land use and hydrological changes, and to guide planning which would better resolve competing demands for water and land use. Full article
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Article
Acoustic Telemetry Monitors Movements of Wild Adult Catfishes in the Mekong River, Thailand and Laos
Water 2021, 13(5), 641; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13050641 - 27 Feb 2021
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1324
Abstract
Research on fish movement and habitat use in large tropical rivers is urgently needed to protect fisheries that are a primary source of protein for millions of people. In this pilot study, acoustic telemetry was used to monitor movements of wild catfishes in [...] Read more.
Research on fish movement and habitat use in large tropical rivers is urgently needed to protect fisheries that are a primary source of protein for millions of people. In this pilot study, acoustic telemetry was used to monitor movements of wild catfishes in a 94.6 rkm reach of Mekong River, where it functions as the border between Thailand and Lao People’s Democratic Republic (PDR). Twenty fish were tagged and released in May 2006 and monitored through May 2007 with 17 fixed-site acoustic receivers. Ten receivers had detection probabilities ranging from 0.67 to 1.00, and five receivers had detection probabilities of 0.50 or less. Detection probability was not correlated with river width. Eighteen (90%) of the tagged fish were detected by at least one receiver. Monitoring durations of individual fish ranged from 0.1 to 354.4 days. The longest total movement was 88.3 rkm, while the longest upstream movement was 52.1 rkm. Movement rates ranged from 0.1 to 156.7 rkm/d. This work provided preliminary data on movement patterns of wild Mekong catfishes. The methods and lessons learned from this study can be used for future positional telemetry research to address management-relevant uncertainties about migration corridors, habitat use, efficacy of fish reserves, and river development planning. Full article
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Article
Fish Community Responses to Human-Induced Stresses in the Lower Mekong Basin
Water 2020, 12(12), 3522; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12123522 - 15 Dec 2020
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 1754
Abstract
The Mekong River is one of the world’s largest rivers and has an annual captured fish production of about 2.3 million tonnes, equivalent to around 11 billion USD. Although the Mekong provides important ecological and socioeconomic benefits to millions of people, it is [...] Read more.
The Mekong River is one of the world’s largest rivers and has an annual captured fish production of about 2.3 million tonnes, equivalent to around 11 billion USD. Although the Mekong provides important ecological and socioeconomic benefits to millions of people, it is facing intensive change due to anthropogenic stressors. Therefore, it is necessary to understand the changes to the spatiotemporal fish communities to inform sustainable fisheries management. Here, we aimed to characterize patterns of the fish communities and identify the ecological status of each fish community using daily catch data from 2007 to 2018 at 25 monitoring sites in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). The collected data were classified by a self-organizing map into four main groups. Group 4 represented the lower Vietnam Mekong Delta (VMD), while groups 1, 2, and 3 were subdivided into subgroups 1a (upper LMB), 1b (upper and middle LMB), 2a (Mekong River below the Khone Falls and Sesan River), 2b (Mekong River below the Khone Falls and Sekong, Sesan and Srepok (3S) Rivers), 3a (Floodplain-Tonle Sap and Songkhram) and 3b (upper VMD). Among the 571 species recorded, 119 were identified as indicator species. Based on the abundance and biomass comparison curves, the fish community of 2b was in a healthier condition with a positive W-statistic value while the rest had a negative W-statistic value. The highest species richness and diversity were observed in 3a and 2b, so these subgroups deserve high management and conservation priority. Likewise, 1a should also be considered as a high priority area since it harbors several endangered and long-distant migratory fishes. It was also noticed that the fish communities of groups 3 and 4, located far from the hydropower dams, remained mostly unchanged compared to those of groups 1 and 2, close to the mainstream and tributary dams in the upper LMB and 3S Rivers. Full article
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Article
Temporal Dynamics of Fish Assemblages as a Reflection of Policy Shift from Fishing Concession to Co-Management in One of the World’s Largest Tropical Flood Pulse Fisheries
Water 2020, 12(11), 2974; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12112974 - 23 Oct 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 1091
Abstract
Inland fisheries management in Cambodia has undergone two major policy reforms over the last two decades. These reforms led to the abolishment of a century-old commercial fishing lot system in 2012 and the establishment of new fish sanctuary and community fishing areas. However, [...] Read more.
Inland fisheries management in Cambodia has undergone two major policy reforms over the last two decades. These reforms led to the abolishment of a century-old commercial fishing lot system in 2012 and the establishment of new fish sanctuary and community fishing areas. However, the status of fisheries and fish assemblages following the reforms is not well understood. Here, we investigated the temporal changes in fish catch weight and fish assemblage structure for the period 1995–2000 before fishing lot abolishment (BLA) and for the period 2012–2015 after the removal of all fishing lots (after lot abolishment-ALA) using time-series fish catch data recorded from the Tonle Sap Lake (TSL), one of the world largest inland fisheries. We found (i) mean catch trends vary seasonally, with stable catch trends during the BLA and decreasing catch trends during the ALA and (ii) significant shifts in fish assemblage composition, notably a shift from large-bodied, migratory, and/or predatory species during the BLA toward more short-distance migratory and/or floodplain, small-bodied species during the ALA. Fishing lot abolishment coincided with substantial changes to floodplain habitats and increases in fishing pressure, threatening TSL fish stocks. Flow alterations caused by dams and climate change may exacerbate the problem. Therefore, to realize the fisheries reform objectives, it is imperative to strengthen the fisheries’ governance and management system, including effective law enforcement, institutional strengthening, improved planning, cooperation, and coordination as well as clearly defined roles and responsibilities among concerned stakeholders at all levels. Full article
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Article
Patterns of Mekong Mollusc Biodiversity: Identification of Emerging Threats and Importance to Management and Livelihoods in a Region of Globally Significant Biodiversity and Endemism
Water 2020, 12(9), 2619; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12092619 - 18 Sep 2020
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 1634
Abstract
The Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) is a key biodiversity hotspot. To facilitate conservation and management, we examine mollusc biodiversity patterns and distribution along LMB’s longitudinal gradients, identify environmental drivers, and discuss the importance of these drivers to management. Cluster analysis, redundancy analysis (RDA), [...] Read more.
The Lower Mekong Basin (LMB) is a key biodiversity hotspot. To facilitate conservation and management, we examine mollusc biodiversity patterns and distribution along LMB’s longitudinal gradients, identify environmental drivers, and discuss the importance of these drivers to management. Cluster analysis, redundancy analysis (RDA), and variation partitioning were conducted using mollusc data collected from 63 sampling sites. Results indicated that species diversity is dominated by gastropods (61%) and bivalves (39%) and feeding trait diversity by scrapers (52%) and filter-collectors (37%). Only 48 species (49%) out of 98 taxa have been assessed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) including a growing number of invasive species. The lack of complete, up-to-date information highlights the need for more research on both native and alien species. Cluster analysis revealed a clear mollusc biodiversity structure along the LMB’s longitudinal segments. Diversity was lowest in upstream tributaries, increased in upstream main channels, and was highest in downstream channels and the Mekong delta, the exception being the observed high gastropod abundance in Chi-Mun river mouth and Luang Prabang areas. The RDA and variation partitioning demonstrated that combined physical–chemical and climatic conditions are the key drivers of biodiversity patterns. Given the potential spread of invasive alien species and increasing anthropogenic impacts, further ecological research, regular monitoring, and adaptive management are needed to sustain mollusc biodiversity and associated ecosystem services, which contribute to food security, nutrition, and livelihoods in the LMB. Full article
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Article
Cambodian Freshwater Fish Assemblage Structure and Distribution Patterns: Using a Large-Scale Monitoring Network to Understand the Dynamics and Management Implications of Species Clusters in a Global Biodiversity Hotspot
Water 2020, 12(9), 2506; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12092506 - 08 Sep 2020
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 1279
Abstract
Mekong River Basin is one of the world’s fish biodiversity hotspots. Fisheries of the Cambodian Mekong are characterized by high diversity and productivity. However, few studies have focused on broad scale patterns and fish assemblage structure of this important system at a national [...] Read more.
Mekong River Basin is one of the world’s fish biodiversity hotspots. Fisheries of the Cambodian Mekong are characterized by high diversity and productivity. However, few studies have focused on broad scale patterns and fish assemblage structure of this important system at a national level. Here, we describe spatial and seasonal variation in fish assemblages by analyzing one year of daily fish catch data sampled at 32 sites covering Cambodia’s main inland water bodies. We recorded 125 fish species. Four clusters were distinguished based on assemblage composition similarity, and 95 indicator species were identified to characterize each of the identified assemblage clusters. High diversity fish assemblages were associated with the upper Mekong system and Mekong/Bassac/Tonle Sap Rivers in Kandal Province and southern Tonle Sap Lake while lower diversity assemblages were observed in the Mekong River in Kratie and the northern area of the Tonle Sap Lake. We find significant variation in the assemblage composition between wet and dry seasons, indicating strong seasonal species turnover within clusters. Length–weight relationship analysis indicated a negative allometric growth among a majority of indicator species, reflecting suboptimal conditions for growth. Our study establishes contemporary structure and diversity patterns in the Lower Mekong River system of Cambodia, which can be used to map fish biodiversity hotspots and assess key indicative fish stocks’ statuses for conservation and management. Full article
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Article
Rapidly Accelerating Deforestation in Cambodia’s Mekong River Basin: A Comparative Analysis of Spatial Patterns and Drivers
Water 2020, 12(8), 2191; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12082191 - 04 Aug 2020
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 4878
Abstract
The Mekong River is a globally important river system, known for its unique flood pulse hydrology, ecological productivity, and biodiversity. Flooded forests provide critical terrestrial nutrient inputs and habitat to support aquatic species. However, the Mekong River is under threat from anthropogenic stressors, [...] Read more.
The Mekong River is a globally important river system, known for its unique flood pulse hydrology, ecological productivity, and biodiversity. Flooded forests provide critical terrestrial nutrient inputs and habitat to support aquatic species. However, the Mekong River is under threat from anthropogenic stressors, including deforestation from land cultivation and urbanization, and dam construction that inundates forests and encourages road development. This study investigated spatio-temporal patterns of deforestation in Cambodia and portions of neighboring Laos and Vietnam that form the Srepok–Sesan–Sekong watershed. A random forest model predicted tree cover change over a 25-year period (1993–2017) using the Landsat satellite archive. Then, a statistical predictive deforestation model was developed using annual-resolution predictors such as land-cover change, hydropower development, forest fragmentation, and socio-economic, topo-edaphic and climatic predictors. The results show that almost 19% of primary forest (nearly 24,000 km2) was lost, with more deforestation in floodplain (31%) than upland (18%) areas. Our results corroborate studies showing extremely high rates of deforestation in Cambodia. Given the rapidly accelerating deforestation rates, even in protected areas and community forests, influenced by a growing population and economy and extreme poverty, our study highlights landscape features indicating an increased risk of future deforestation, supporting a spatial framework for future conservation and mitigation efforts. Full article
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Article
Conserving Mekong Megafishes: Current Status and Critical Threats in Cambodia
Water 2020, 12(6), 1820; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12061820 - 25 Jun 2020
Cited by 11 | Viewed by 2316
Abstract
Megafishes are important to people and ecosystems worldwide. These fishes attain a maximum body weight of ≥30 kg. Global population declines highlight the need for more information about megafishes’ conservation status to inform management and conservation. The northern Cambodian Mekong River and its [...] Read more.
Megafishes are important to people and ecosystems worldwide. These fishes attain a maximum body weight of ≥30 kg. Global population declines highlight the need for more information about megafishes’ conservation status to inform management and conservation. The northern Cambodian Mekong River and its major tributaries are considered one of the last refugia for Mekong megafishes. We collected data on population abundance and body size trends for eight megafishes in this region to better understand their conservation statuses. Data were collected in June 2018 using a local ecological knowledge survey of 96 fishers in 12 villages. Fishers reported that, over 20 years, most megafishes changed from common to uncommon, rare, or locally extirpated. The most common and rarest species had mean last capture dates of 4.5 and 95 months before the survey, respectively. All species had declined greatly in body size. Maximum body weights reported by fishers ranged from 11–88% of their recorded maxima. Fishers identified 10 threats to megafishes, seven of which were types of illegal fishing. Electrofishing was the most prevalent. Results confirm that Mekong megafishes are severely endangered. Species Conservation Strategies should be developed and must address pervasive illegal fishing activities, alongside habitat degradation and blocked migrations, to recover declining populations. Full article
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Article
Using the Freshwater Health Index to Assess Hydropower Development Scenarios in the Sesan, Srepok and Sekong River Basin
Water 2020, 12(3), 788; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12030788 - 12 Mar 2020
Cited by 7 | Viewed by 4131
Abstract
Sustainable water resource management is a wicked problem, fraught with uncertainties, an indeterminate scope, and divergent social values and interests among stakeholders. To facilitate better management of Southeast Asia’s transboundary Sesan, Sekong and Srepok (3S) River basin, we used the Freshwater Health Index [...] Read more.
Sustainable water resource management is a wicked problem, fraught with uncertainties, an indeterminate scope, and divergent social values and interests among stakeholders. To facilitate better management of Southeast Asia’s transboundary Sesan, Sekong and Srepok (3S) River basin, we used the Freshwater Health Index (FHI) to diagnose the basin’s current and likely future level of freshwater health. We used the conditions for December 2016 as a baseline, where Ecosystem Vitality and Ecosystem Services scored 66 and 80, respectively, out of a possible 100, whilst Governance & Stakeholders scored 43. Thus, the 3S provided a range of desired ecosystem services, but there were signs of environmental stress as well as undeveloped water governance systems and limited stakeholder engagement. We also modelled four hydropower development scenarios and found that increasing development reduced the scores of a subset of indicators. This compromised the future ability of the 3S basin’s ecosystem to provide its current range of services. The FHI helped identify data deficiencies, illuminated important social dynamics, made ecosystem–human–water dynamics more understandable to stakeholders, and examined the long-term dynamics of the basin. Full article
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Article
Influence of Local Habitat and Climatic Factors on the Distribution of Fish Species in the Tonle Sap Lake
Water 2020, 12(3), 786; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12030786 - 12 Mar 2020
Cited by 10 | Viewed by 2822
Abstract
Tonle Sap Lake (TSL) is a highly productive system and hosts a high fish diversity and is of paramount importance for sustaining protein supply for over 15 million Cambodians. Nevertheless, the ecology and factors influencing the spatial distribution of many fishes within the [...] Read more.
Tonle Sap Lake (TSL) is a highly productive system and hosts a high fish diversity and is of paramount importance for sustaining protein supply for over 15 million Cambodians. Nevertheless, the ecology and factors influencing the spatial distribution of many fishes within the lake remain poorly understood. Using commercial fishing lot catch data from 1994/1995 to 1999/2000, fishing seasons and environmental data (land cover and bioclimatic variables), we describe spatial distribution of the eight most commercially important fish species, and investigate the effects of environmental factors on their distributions in the TSL. We found a strong variability in fish biomass across areas and between species. Specifically, Channa micropeltes was most abundant in the southern and northern sections of the TSL. Channa striata and Trichopodus microlepis were more common in the northern part of the TSL. Cyclocheilos enoplos, Barbonymus gonionotus, Pangasianodon hypophthalmus, and Gymnostomus spp. were abundant in the southern areas of the TSL while Phalacronotus spp. were abundant in few areas in both the north and the south. Flooded forest positively explained the variation in the biomass of P. hypophthalmus, C. striata, C. enopolos, and Phalacronotus spp. Likewise, the lake’s open water positively affects the biomass of P. hypophthalmus, C. enopolos, and Phalacronotus spp., while the agricultural field negatively impacts Gymnostomus spp. biomass distribution. We also found that some areas consistently hosted high fish biomass (e.g., lot 2, Kampong Thom; lot 6, Pursat; lot 2, Battambang, etc.). We, therefore, suggest that fisheries management and conservation planning focus on those areas, considering those areas significance as core fish habitat and important for catching fish. Full article
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Review

Jump to: Research

Review
Communicating for Aquatic Conservation in Cambodia and Beyond: Lessons Learned from In-Person and Media-Based Environmental Education and Outreach Strategies
Water 2021, 13(13), 1853; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13131853 - 02 Jul 2021
Viewed by 1548
Abstract
Communication and outreach efforts are essential for raising awareness about conservation issues among the general public. This paper reviews three in-person approaches (environmental education, outreach events, and field trips), as well as four types of media (print products, news media, visual media, and [...] Read more.
Communication and outreach efforts are essential for raising awareness about conservation issues among the general public. This paper reviews three in-person approaches (environmental education, outreach events, and field trips), as well as four types of media (print products, news media, visual media, and social media) for communicating about environmental topics, with a focus on highlighting conservation issues in Cambodia. Strengths and weaknesses are considered for each communication tool, along with lessons from a case study example of the Wonders of the Mekong, an interdisciplinary project based in Cambodia that aims to study, protect, and raise awareness about the Mekong River system. We also describe a cross-cutting initiative to share inspiring stories of local conservation practitioners that incorporates both in-person and media-based approaches. In terms of required resources and effort, there is an inherent tradeoff between the depth of in-person engagement and overall reach. While media-based approaches are valuable for reaching large numbers of people with a moderate amount of effort, in-person approaches may create a deeper connection and longer-term impact on an individual level. Ultimately, a diverse communication strategy that utilizes multiple tools to reach different audiences will be most effective. The interdisciplinary Wonders of the Mekong project has successfully communicated the values of the Mekong ecosystem to a broad audience in Cambodia using a variety of strategies, and further evaluation could help illuminate whether and how these communication approaches are shifting attitudes or promoting conservation behaviors. Full article
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Review
The Impacts of Hydropower Dams in the Mekong River Basin: A Review
Water 2021, 13(3), 265; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13030265 - 22 Jan 2021
Cited by 28 | Viewed by 5913
Abstract
The Mekong River, well known for its aquatic biodiversity, is important to the social, physical, and economic health of millions living in China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This paper explores the social and environmental impacts of several Mekong basin hydropower dams [...] Read more.
The Mekong River, well known for its aquatic biodiversity, is important to the social, physical, and economic health of millions living in China, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam. This paper explores the social and environmental impacts of several Mekong basin hydropower dams and groupings of dams and the geographies of their impacts. Specifically, we examined the 3S (Sesan, Sekong Srepok) river system in northeastern Cambodia, the Central Highlands of Vietnam, and southern Laos; the Khone Falls area in southern Laos; the lower Mun River Basin in northeastern Thailand; and the upper Mekong River in Yunnan Province, China, northeastern Myanmar, northern Laos, and northern Thailand. Evidence shows that these dams and groupings of dams are affecting fish migrations, river hydrology, and sediment transfers. Such changes are negatively impacting riparian communities up to 1000 km away. Because many communities depend on the river and its resources for their food and livelihood, changes to the river have impacted, and will continue to negatively impact, food and economic security. While social and environmental impact assessments have been carried out for these projects, greater consideration of the scale and cumulative impacts of dams is necessary. Full article
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Review
A Meta-Analysis of Environmental Tradeoffs of Hydropower Dams in the Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok (3S) Rivers of the Lower Mekong Basin
Water 2021, 13(1), 63; https://doi.org/10.3390/w13010063 - 30 Dec 2020
Cited by 6 | Viewed by 2773
Abstract
In Mekong riparian countries, hydropower development provides energy, but also threatens biodiversity, ecosystems, food security, and an unparalleled freshwater fishery. The Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok Rivers (3S Basin) are major tributaries to the Lower Mekong River (LMB), making up 10% of the Mekong [...] Read more.
In Mekong riparian countries, hydropower development provides energy, but also threatens biodiversity, ecosystems, food security, and an unparalleled freshwater fishery. The Sekong, Sesan, and Srepok Rivers (3S Basin) are major tributaries to the Lower Mekong River (LMB), making up 10% of the Mekong watershed but supporting nearly 40% of the fish species of the LMB. Forty-five dams have been built, are under construction, or are planned in the 3S Basin. We completed a meta-analysis of aquatic and riparian environmental losses from current, planned, and proposed hydropower dams in the 3S and LMB using 46 papers and reports from the past three decades. Proposed mainstem Stung Treng and Sambor dams were not included in our analysis because Cambodia recently announced a moratorium on mainstem Mekong River dams. More than 50% of studies evaluated hydrologic change from dam development, 33% quantified sediment alteration, and 30% estimated fish production changes. Freshwater fish diversity, non-fish species, primary production, trophic ecology, and nutrient loading objectives were less commonly studied. We visualized human and environmental tradeoffs of 3S dams from the reviewed papers. Overall, Lower Sesan 2, the proposed Sekong Dam, and planned Lower Srepok 3A and Lower Sesan 3 have considerable environmental impacts. Tradeoff analyses should include environmental objectives by representing organisms, habitats, and ecosystems to quantify environmental costs of dam development and maintain the biodiversity and extraordinary freshwater fishery of the LMB. Full article
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Review
Identifying Indicators to Evaluate Community-Managed Freshwater Protected Areas in the Lower Mekong Basin: A Review of Marine and Freshwater Examples
Water 2020, 12(12), 3530; https://doi.org/10.3390/w12123530 - 16 Dec 2020
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 1190
Abstract
Protected areas are frequently established as a management tool to conserve terrestrial and aquatic habitats and species. Monitoring and evaluation are a necessary part of adaptive management to determine whether such protected areas are effectively meeting their objectives. While numerous initiatives have developed [...] Read more.
Protected areas are frequently established as a management tool to conserve terrestrial and aquatic habitats and species. Monitoring and evaluation are a necessary part of adaptive management to determine whether such protected areas are effectively meeting their objectives. While numerous initiatives have developed methods to evaluate terrestrial and marine protected areas (MPAs), similar efforts and resources are lacking for freshwater protected areas (FPAs), which have become widespread as a community-based fisheries management approach in the Lower Mekong Basin (LMB). This review summarizes published literature on the evaluation of marine and freshwater protected areas to provide guidance on the evaluation of community-managed FPAs in the LMB. Specifically, the review examines several indicators related to common objectives of aquatic protected areas and provides considerations for measuring these indicators in the context of community-managed freshwater protected areas in the LMB. Key conclusions include that first, FPAs should be established with clearly defined objectives, and these objectives should inform the selection of indicators for evaluation. Second, indicators identified for MPAs are highly relevant to FPAs, although methods may require adaptation to a freshwater environment. Finally, socioeconomic and governance indicators are overlooked in both MPA and FPA evaluations compared to biophysical indicators, and interdisciplinary assessment teams could ensure these indicators receive adequate consideration. Full article
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