The Mekong River and its watershed are facing unprecedented changes from land cover conversion, hydropower development, and climate change. This uncertain future threatens the livelihoods of over 60 million people living in the basin. Since the early 2000’s, faculty, students, and staff from the University of Washington have partnered with local scientists to conduct multi-disciplinary science research that has led to a much better understanding of river hydrology, sediment dynamics, and carbon cycling.
The lab of Freshwater Initiative faculty Gordon Holtgrieve (SAFS) continues this tradition with a focus on food webs and fisheries in the Tonle Sap Lake and Cambodian Mekong. The long-term goal of this research is to quantify the social and ecological links within the Mekong-Tonle Sap ecosystem to understand the combination of factors that maintain this highly productive fishery. Initially this means firmly establishing what drives the energetic base of the Mekong-Tonle Sap food web through a combination of stable isotope analysis of consumers and their prey with data-driven ecosystem models of primary productivity. New research is investigating patterns of fish migration using geochemical markers in fish otoliths (ear bones) to understand how mainstem dams might disconnect spawning and rearing habitats. With this information they will be able to better understand which fish species and aquatic communities are most likely to be negatively affected by current and future hydropower development.