Using local ecological knowledge to monitor threatened Mekong megafauna in Lao PDR
by Thomas N. E. Gray, Amphone Phommachak, Kongseng Vannachomchan, Francois GueganPressures on freshwater biodiversity in Southeast Asia are accelerating yet the status and conservation needs of many of the region’s threatened fish species are unclear. This impacts the ability to implement conservation activities and to understand the effects of infrastructure developments and other hydrological changes. We used Local Ecological Knowledge from fishing communities on the Mekong River in the Siphandone waterscape, Lao PDR to estimate mean and mode last capture dates of eight rare or culturally significant fish species in order to provide conservation monitoring baselines. One hundred and twenty fishermen, from six villages, were interviewed. All eight species had been captured, by at least one of the interviewees, within the waterscape within the past year. However the mean and mode last capture dates varied between the species. Larger species, and those with higher Red List threat status, were caught less recently than smaller species of less conservation concern. The status of the Critically Endangered Pangasius sanitwongsei (mean last capture date 116.4 months) is particularly worrying suggesting severe population decline although cultural issues may have caused this species to have been under-reported. This highlights that studies making use of Local Ecological Knowledge need to understand the cultural background and context from which data is collected. Nevertheless we recommend our approach, of stratified random interviews to establish mean last capture dates, may be an effective methodology for monitoring freshwater fish species of conservation concern within artisanal fisheries. If fishing effort remains relatively constant, or if changes in fishing effort are accounted for, differences over time in mean last capture dates are likely to represent changes in the status of species. We plan to repeat our interview surveys within the waterscape as part of a long-term fish-monitoring program.
Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article
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