Preventing cardiac arrest for Cambodia’s heart

CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems
22 May, 2013

Today, May 22, is the International Day of Biodiversity, which this year, coincides with the 2013 Year of Water Cooperation. It’s the ideal day to spend the coffee break mulling over the relationship between water, biodiversity, and agriculture in some of the world’s most critical life raft ecosystems – regions where poverty is high, populations are dense and highly dependent upon nature (agriculture, fisheries, logging) for livelihoods, and where ecosystem services are severely degraded.

The notion of Life Raft Ecosystems was put forth by The Nature Conservancy’s controversial Chief Scientist, Peter Kareiva, as a call to ecologists and conservation biologists to shift their focus from conserving pristine wilderness areas to critical regions where both nature and human populations are threatened. The CGIAR research programs on Aquatic Agricultural System (AAS), and Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE) are taking up this call by redefining agricultural research with a greater focus on the contribution of ecosystem service based approaches that integrate aquatic systems, irrigated production systems, and interactions from field to basin scales. Cambodia’s Tonle Sap provides a critical example of one of our major challenges.

The lake’s unique ecosystem has been likened to the heart of the Mekong due to its annual flood pulses. During half the year (November to May) the lake drains into the Mekong, shrinking to 2500 km2, whereas during the monsoon, the flood waters from the Mekong backup in the river’s delta reversing the flow of the Tonle Sap river into the lake, which expands up to 15,800 km2 in size absorbing the excess water from the monsoon and slowly releasing it as flood waters recede. Some would liken this ecosystem function to the role of a bladder rather than a heart, a more functional definition, but granted less romantic.

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