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Biodiversity overlays

Example: Irrigation schemes in the Lower Mekong Basin

The proposed biodiversity overlays aim to provide a tool to assist with the development and planning within the basin. It is also proposed that the biodiversity overlays be linked to datasets on economic importance of natural resources, and manmade and natural wetland habitat within the Mekong. This will be developed further during the process of developing the database and GIS structure.

Information on biodiversity in the Mekong Basin seems to be scattered within various departments and NGOs within and outside the region. The process of developing these biodiversity overlays will initially require compilation of the existing information and develop a clearing house under the Mekong Wetlands Biodiversity Programme (MWBP). The next stage will involve translating this valuable information into standardised GIS dataset as a tool to support the development planning process in the Mekong.

Developing these biodiversity overlays will involve effective partnership with other organisations working in the region. The concept of biodiversity overlays is introduced and some key questions are addressed below.

What are biodiversity overlays?

1. What would the proposed biodiversity overlays be?
A biodiversity overlay is a database with a GIS interface containing information on the following aspects of biodiversity in the Mekong River basin.
Key habitats that possess significant biodiversity and conservation value
Distribution and abundance of species of conservation concern (assessment and Species Conservation Action Plans).
Distribution of unique habitats and ecosystems
Spatial and temporal information on important biodiversity areas
Information on the contribution of biodiversity to the local livelihoods and economy
Key areas or habitats where there are information gaps on biodiversity
Information on genetic diversity and stock structure of populations and sub-populations of species (if known e.g. for catfish based on project)
An information base on the migration patterns of key taxa of migratory species and life cycle habitat requirements
Information on trends in biodiversity (pending availability of data) in representative areas in the Mekong basin – with possible linkages to trends in threats – link to wise use wetland resources.

2. Why do we need biodiversity overlays and what is its function?
The biodiversity overlay is proposed as a planning, management and decision making tool that would have the following aims:
To provide a resource base on biodiversity in the Mekong at all levels – habitat, species and genetic.
To identify critical areas of ecological importance – this information can therefore be taken into consideration during the development planning phases.
To provide baseline information on the importance of natural resources and its biodiversity to local communities.
To portray the vital linkages between habitats within the Mekong Basin that may seem totally independent of each other.
To identify areas that face potential ecological threat – e.g. from invasive species etc.

3. How do we do a biodiversity overlay?

1.Conduct a literature review and assessment of all past biodiversity surveys conducted in the Mekong Basin
2.Acquire all available GIS datasets available on biodiversity in the Mekong Basin and digitise necessary data
3.Develop a structure for the proposed database and identify other databases that could be linked to provide supporting information
4.Develop protocols for information collation and identify host institution
5.Plan and conduct necessary surveys and biodiversity assessments to fill in the vital gaps
6.Identify all other initiatives and processes addressing biodiversity issues that can be incorporated into the overlays
7.Prepare the output and develop a monitoring system to ensure the sustainability of this tool

4. Is the biodiversity overlay a one off thing or do we need the information to continually feed into the planning process?
At the onset, the process of maintaining and ensuring the sustainability of this effort should be thought through. This important tool proposed will not only be an important information base but aims to serve as a tool for project planning and to monitor the trends of one of the greatest assets of the Mekong Wetlands – its immense biodiversity.