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Catastrophic loss of Cambodia's tropical flooded grasslands

Traditional, low-intensity use of grasslands help to maintain the grasslands (© Charlotte Packman)
Traditional, low-intensity use of grasslands help to maintain the grasslands
© Charlotte Packman

About half of Cambodia's tropical flooded grasslands around the Tonle Sap Lake have been lost in just under ten years, research from the University of East Anglia (UEA) has revealed. "The area around the Tonle Sap Lake is among the largest remaining tropical flooded grasslands in Southeast Asia," explains Dr Charlotte Packman from UEA's School of Environmental Sciences. "It is hugely important to both biodiversity and the livelihoods of some of the world's poorest communities." Over 1 million people depend on the grasslands for fishing, grazing and traditional rice farming.

Traditional, low-intensity use of grasslands - such as burning and cattle grazing - help to maintain the grasslands and prevent scrubland from invading. Since 2005, however, intensive rice cultivation by private companies has become the most serious threat to these grasslands, destroying large areas at an alarming rate. "Intensive commercial rice production by private companies, involving the construction of huge channels and reservoirs for irrigation, is denying local communities access to the grasslands on which their livelihoods depend and destroying a very important habitat for threatened wildlife," Packman adds. "This high-speed conversion and land-grabbing has intensified pressure on already threatened species and on the marginalised rural communities that depend on the grassland ecosystem."

"Tropical and flooded grasslands are among the most threatened ecosystems globally," Packman reveals. She adds that flooded grasslands in Thailand and Vietnam have already been almost completely lost and says that only a strong political commitment to protection and restoration can prevent the impending loss of the last major flooded grassland in Southeast Asia. "The loss of this entire ecosystem from Southeast Asia is imminent without immediate intervention. In 2009, only 173 km² of grassland were under some form of protection, but by 2011 even these protected areas were shrinking - with 28 per cent lost to intensive cultivation."

* Rapid Loss of Cambodia's Grasslands, by Dr Charlotte Packman, Dr Thomas Gray, Prof Andrew Lovett, Dr Paul Dolman, Prof Nigel Collar, Dr Tom Evans, Robert Van Zalinge and Son Virak, was published by Conservation Biology on March 18, 2013

Date published: March 2013

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