ENDANGERED DRY DECIDUOUS FORESTS OF UPPER MYANMAR (BURMA): A MULTI-SCALE APPROACH FOR RESEARCH AND CONSERVATION
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Tropical dry forests are critically endangered and largely unprotected ecosystem. I used a multi-scale research approach to study Upper Myanmar's dry deciduous forests. At the broad scale I assessed how well existing land cover data can be used to map and monitor dry forests, and estimated the extent, distribution, and level of protection of these forests. At the landscape level I assessed spatial and temporal dynamics of deforestation in and around a dry forest protected area, Chatthin Wildlife Sanctuary (CWS), investigated land use pressures driving these changes, and evaluated effectiveness of protection efforts within the sanctuary. At the local scale I studied the degree to which people rely on dry forests for subsistence and the socioeconomic variables correlated with dependence on forest products.
Using MODerate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to delineate remaining dry deciduous forests, I found that only 24,000 km2 of this forest type remain in Upper Myanmar--only 4% inside protected areas. At 81% accuracy, this map scored higher than existing global and regional land cover classifications for predicting dry forest.
Employing satellite images covering the landscape in and around CWS (Landsat MSS, TM, ETM+ and ASTER) between the years 1973-2005 , I found that 62% of forest was lost (1.93% annual rate) primarily from agricultural conversion and hydroelectric development. Sanctuary protection has been effective in slowing decline: loss rates inside CWS were 0.49% annually (16% total). However, forest inside the sanctuary is still declining at a rate above the global average and shows evidence of impact from forest product extraction around the boundaries.
Based on interviews with 784 people living in 28 subsistence-based agricultural communities located in and around CWS, I found virtually all survey respondents depended on CWS for food, medicine, housing materials, and, above all, fuelwood. Poverty and socioeconomic limitations drive extractive activities. While CWS has been effective in slowing deforestation rates, alternative use strategies that benefit people will improve prospects for long-term conservation in the area. My results demonstrate that a multi-scaled research approach is essential for understanding the drivers impacting the rapidly-declining dry forests of Upper Myanmar.