Monitoring the impacts on biodiversity, forest and habitat loss and poverty

Biodiversity and forest cover monitoring is central to managing protected areas effectively. Monitoring programs should provide protected area managers with up-to-date information on deforestation threats, as well as provide longer term trends in wildlife populations and forest cover. Through monitoring of changes to the forest, land use, key species and people’s well-being, the WCS Mekong Drivers Partnership analyses whether it is having a positive impact.

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Download the report on different approaches taken for monitoring forest cover and biodiversity in Nam Et-Phou Louey.





Photo Credit: © WCS

Above: Map of the progress of the survey of 2,622 spatial replicates in Bolikhamxay Province, Lao PDR

  • Monitoring systems should provide information to protected area managers in real time and allow for action to be taken quickly in response to threats.
  • Approaches to monitoring depend on available resources. Programs should be designed so that during times of limited funding, the protected area can still get critical information about wildlife populations and the intensity and spatial distribution of threats.
  • A comprehensive forest cover and deforestation assessment program should involve both short- and long-term timeframes and approaches.

Biodiversity monitoring

WCS’s approach to biodiversity monitoring is to identify species of conservation concern in a protected area whose presence reflects threatened biodiversity more generally in an area. Those species are then monitored in a manner that suits the behavior of the species and site accessibility, such as occupancy surveys, index counts (such as roost counts), and where circumstances allow, absolute population estimates (e.g. line transects and nest mapping).

In 2015, WCS surveyed ungulates in Bolikhamxay Province, Lao PDR. These animals are ideal for estimating the status of wildlife populations across a landscape because they range across large distances, are heavily hunted, and are important for top-end predators that are costly and difficult to monitor. During five months of field work, researchers surveyed 2,622 spatial replicates for signs of ungulates and threats. The baseline study found that population numbers were very low compared with the carrying capacity of the landscape – this result was not unexpected given intense hunting pressure across Lao PDR.

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Download the Baseline Survey of Ungulate Distribution and Abundance in the Bolikhamxay Landscape, Lao PDR

© Thet Zaw Naing
Photo Credit: © Thet Zaw Naing

Above: Sarus Cranes in a rice field of the Ayeyarwady Delta.


Photo Credit: © WCS

Above (clockwise from top left): Camera trap image of a Leopard in Lao PDR; Spot-billed Pelican in Cambodia; possibly Asia’s rarest bird, the Black-bellied Tern; camera trap image of a Southern Serow in Dawei, Myanmar; camera trap in situ. 

In the Tonle Sap, Bengal Floricans Conservation Areas and Northern Plains landscapes in Cambodia, WCS monitors key bird species on an annual basis. Long term population data show that the status of many of these vulnerable species is being held steady.

The biodiversity monitoring and research program at Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary in the Eastern Plains of Cambodia is one of the largest and longest-running in Cambodia. Biennial surveys estimate population sizes of key species, detecting changes over time. Line transect monitoring in 2016 covered 13 species: six primates, six ungulates, and one bird. The field work consisted of six teams of four walking 40 four-kilometer-long transects up to ten times over five months. In total the teams walked 1,268 km, observing 1,800 individual animals in 700 groups. Preliminary results show population stability for the Black-shanked Douc Langur, and declines in the Red Muntjac.

As a first step towards rigorous monitoring of bird populations in and around the Ayeyarwady River, Myanmar, WCS undertook intensive bird surveys across nine sites in 2016, recording 275 species, of which 21 are globally threatened and two were seen in Myanmar for the first time. A further survey was conducted in 2017 of the nearby grassland habitat. The information will inform government authorities of the nature conservation value of the area and conservation priorities. The results of the baseline surveys have fed into the establishment of a community-supported, nest protection scheme. (Read more on avifauna conservation in Myanmar.)

SMART data, collected during ranger patrols, supplement these large-scale surveys. Ranger sightings of wildlife and threats – such as the map of gibbon sightings below – are used to estimate the status of wildlife populations.

In Phou Sithone Endangered Species Conservation Area in Lao PDR, ranger patrol teams recorded direct visual observations for 13 species (macaque, wild pig, gibbon, Grey-shanked Douc Langur, Black Giant Squirrel, Red-shanked Douc Langur, Great Hornbill, Grey Peacock Pheasant, Hog Badger, Large Brown Flying Squirrel, Red Jungle Fowl, Brown Hornbill, and Red Muntjac) in 2017 and indirect observations for another five species (Southern Serow, cat species, Saola, civet, and Silver Pheasant).

At Myanmar’s Taninthayi Nature Reserve, rangers monitor 35 species, including nine mammals, 15 birds and 11 turtles.

In the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar, WCS conducts annual dolphin and turtle surveys. Survey data are then supplemented in the case of dolphins through monthly patrol visits, as well as data on the spatial extent of illegal fishing and other key threats, and for turtles through community monitoring.


Above: Map of gibbon sightings from the protected areas of Cambodia’s Northern Plains.


Above: Species encounter rates in Keo Seima, Cambodia.

Above: Population data from annual bird species monitoring in protected areas of Cambodia’s Northern Plains. 


Photo Credit: © WCS



After WCS trained local communities in the Taninthayi Region in Myanmar to monitor their wildlife populations using camera-trapping, communities set up the Ban Chaung Community Conservation Group. Since then the group has recorded 39 species of mammal, including numerous predators and prey species. These include five cat species: Leopard, Clouded Leopard, Asiatic Golden Cat, Marbled Cat and Leopard Cat, in addition to Dhole, and two bear species: Asiatic Black Bear and Malayan Sun Bear. Other species include Asian Elephant, Gaur, Malayan Tapir and Sunda Pangolin.

Photo Credit: © WCS

Above: WCS Staff carry out a line transect in Myanmar.

Photo Credit: © WCS

Above left: Heat map of species encountered rate in Keo Seima. Above right: Camera trap equipment in Myanmar.

© Ben Swanepoel/WCS
Photo Credit: © Ben Swanepoel/WCS


Above: Muang Hiem outside Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area in Lao PDR has seen visible well-being improvements through income generated through WCS-led conservation enterprises.


Well-being and poverty alleviation

The WCS Mekong Drivers Partnership measures its impact on the household income and well-being of families in and around the protected areas of Cambodia’s Northern Plains and Keo Seima landscapes using Basic Necessities Surveys (BNS) to track overall change. In other areas, WCS measures the income generated through conservation enterprises at the household and community levels.

A gold standard longitudinal panel study shows that households in the Ibis Rice program in the Northern Plains improved their economic status faster than non-participants between 2008 and 2014.

WCS in partnership with a PhD Student at Imperial College London conducted surveys between July and December 2015 of 1,130 households in 20 villages to compare poverty status at the household level between participants and non-participants in the payment for ecosystems services program. These data were compared for results from 2008, 2011 and 2014/15 across the four core Ibis Rice villages.

The first five-yearly social impact assessment of the Seima REDD+ project showed that, on average, livelihoods are improving throughout Seima. A 2017 assessment compared the situation of households in the 20 REDD villages with the 2012 baseline. Indigenous households, which were slightly poorer on average in 2012, have reversed this disadvantage. Other vulnerable groups, such as landless-, female-headed- and labour-selling households, are still disadvantaged, but are becoming better off at the same rate as other households. Households living in remoter villages, which were previously found to be poorer on average, are now improving their situation at a greater rate than households in less remote villages. The Basic Needs Survey (BNS) investigates people’s possession of ‘basic necessities’, as defined by them. The overall improvement in livelihoods in Seima is reflected in the projected mean scores across the landscape for the BNS, which were 14.0 in 2012 and 16.5 in 2017.

Above: Household Basic Needs Survey scores for 20 REDD+ villages in Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary, Cambodia, showing an increasing score between 2012 and 2017.


Forest monitoring and land use change

WCS-generated forest maps have provided the data that national and subnational governments have used to protect areas of high conservation value when reclassifying forest areas and allocating concessions, as well as to constrain unlawful deforestation by agro-industrial concessions. WCS applies a mix of techniques for monitoring habitat loss across its landscapes, with monthly deforestation assessments based on Landsat imagery and hotspot monitoring that uses Fire Information for Resource Management System (FIRMS) active data to identify areas of fire as an indication of forest clearance. These areas are then pinpointed on a map and provided to the protected area manager to plan a response. Based on need and resource availability, WCS conducts intensive forest classifications every five years.

Baseline studies undertaken in Lao PDR for Bolikhamxay and Houaphan Provinces measure rates of deforestation between 2003-2014, in the case of Bolikhamxay, and identify the drivers of deforestation and forest degradation for Houaphan Province. The Bolikhamxay study revealed overall high rates of deforestation for the province at 0.67%. But for the most part there were comparably lower rates of forest loss at WCS sites.

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WCS also conducted a countrywide analysis of deforestation for Lao PDR by province and district from 2000 to 2013 to identify national baseline trends of deforestation. These studies form a baseline to compare future surveys against.

Measuring forest loss is a central aspect of a REDD+ project. Any changes to the forest must be recorded and accounted for. In developing the Seima REDD+ project, WCS undertook a full quantitative baseline forest assessment. Twice a year WCS conducts a quantitative remote sensing detection analysis for the project area, to measure deforestation rates and compare the results to the baseline. Results from the 2016 analysis revealed that, based on pre-project rates of deforestation, 5,967 ha of forest would have been lost in the time period. The actual loss was only 1,058 ha, meaning that three million tonnes of CO2 emissions had been avoided for that year.

Photo Credit: © WCS

Above and below: Each country program produces monthly deforestation assessments and annual forest cover maps based on a standardised, qualitative forest monitoring system. The example here is from Phou Sithone Endandered Species Conservation Area in Lao PDR’s Bolikhamxay Province, showing that there was eight hectares of land cleared in 2016 and only two hectares in 2017. The land clearing was mostly on the boundary of the protected area, and there was none within it. This can be attributed to the successful involvement of communities in protection efforts and a new, co-management model.





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