OOS 16-5 - CANCELLED - Blending ecological science with development of the Mekong River: how ecologists can make a difference

Tuesday, August 9, 2011: 2:50 PM
17B, Austin Convention Center
Patrick Dugan, WorldFish Center

With continuing global demand for hydropower there is increasing pressure on many of the world’s tropical rivers and the ecosystem services they provide.  This has led to growing concern for the future of biodiversity and the well-being of people who live along these rivers.  Recognizing these concerns this paper considers the question of whether ecological science has a useful role to play in shaping the future of these riverine ecosystems, or whether it is in practice largely limited to documenting ecological processes and ecosystem services that will soon be lost.


The Mekong river system of South East Asia provides an important laboratory for considering this question.  There are currently no main stem dams in the lower basin, yet many are planned and there is strong regional interest in pursuing these in order to harness the hydropower potential of the basin.  The Mekong also supports the world’s largest river fishery, yielding 2.1 million tonnes per year at a first sale value of over US$ 2.1 billion, and providing the main source of animal protein and micronutrients for 22 million people in Cambodia and Laos.

In this context a substantial volume of ecological and economic research has been conducted to quantify the ecosystem value of the river and assess the impact of future dams upon these.  It is however currently unclear what impact this science will have on the future of dams in the Mekong.  Recognizing this uncertainty the paper concludes with a discussion of three options for future research on dams and river fisheries on the Mekong: (i) documenting potential impacts; (ii) identifying priority habitats and processes; (iii) building adaptive capacity amongst the fishing communities of the basin.

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