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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Documenting freshwater life in Bhutan

In an attempt to document the varieties of lives in the fresh waters in the country, a preliminary study on fresh water biodiversity was conducted at the Wangchuck Centennial Park in Bumthang

In what can be described as the first ever study of its kind in Bhutan, a study was conducted to access and analyze the variety of life existing in fresh waters around the country.
The study which was conducted by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Wangchuck Centennial Park (WCP), and the University of Calcutta studied specimens of some 1,107 insects from 18 sampling sites in four rivers and their tributaries of Nikka Chu, Mangde Chu, Chamkhar Chu and Kuri Chu.
Most of the insect specimens are aquatic larval forms along with accidental occurrence of some semi-aquatic adults.
The Conservation Director of the World Wild life Fund (WWF) Bhutan, Vijay Moktan, said there was very less study conducted on the freshwater biodiversity in the country.
The study follows a similar 2010 study conducted in the Eastern Himalayas by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature on freshwater biodiversity which claimed that Bhutan is a severely data deficient area with respect to freshwater biodiversity.
According to Vijay Moktan, the current study will help better understand and document the freshwater biodiversity in the country.
The study found out that the overall ecosystem health was sustainable as evident by the rich and diverse community of aquatic insects.
“The aquatic insects’ form the most important links in the aquatic food chain by maintaining a balanced nutrient recycle within the aquatic system,” says the study.
The long term regular monitoring of the diversity and the environmental parameter will ensure to maintain the pristine ecosystem habitat within the park and can be idealized for future monitoring programs in other protected areas of Bhutan.
“We will be monitoring the aquatic system for a few years and by doing so we will know whether the aquatic system has deteriorated or improved,” said Vijay Moktan.
The Project Co-Manager of WCD, NetraBinod Sharma, said one more study will be conducted to get a better picture.
“The study was conducted before the monsoon season. We will again have to conduct a study after the monsoon season too,” he said, adding that change in season is bound to bring changes.
NetraBinod Sharma said there were no major threats to the aquatic ecosystem at the WCD. He said a threat analysis was done through direction observation at the site in consultation with the park staff and also with the local communities.
Although the aquatic ecosystem is relatively intact with the change in life style and more ongoing and planned developmental activities the threats are likely to increase.
To improve agriculture productivity, people residing in and around WCD use chemical fertilizers, pesticides and weedicides in their farm which may have an impact on the aquatic ecosystem.
“These chemical substances get drained into the water and finally to the main river which is toxic for many aquatic species,” states the study.
There are also many small hydropower projects which intersect the rivers of WCP and these projects can cause significant and irreversible loss of many species changing the overall ecosystem for the native species.
Another threat is the invasion of exotic species. Many rivers in Bhutan were introduced with Brown trout including the Chamkhar Chu in WCP.
“During the sampling the team failed to spot any native fish in Chamkhar Chu which may have been caused by predation by Brown trout,” says the study.
The Biodiversity Action Plan of Bhutan 2009 states that there are 50 freshwater fish species including eight introduced species.
The current study will serve to protect habitats that conserve species diversity and control degradation of water quality in order to manage, identify, map and sustainable use of resources.

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