Laos would be an almost entirely forested area if not for human clearance of trees with tropical and subtropical climates. Laos is situated in Southeast Asia, and it borders Vietnam, China, Thailand, Cambodia and Burma. Mountains characterize the country’s northern region, and dense forests cover the eastern and northern areas.
Ecological Regions Of Laos
The Annamite Range Moist Forests
The Annamite Range moist forests ecoregion is classified in the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests Biome. This ecoregion covers the Annamite Mountain Range and is home to one of the last relatively intact moist forests found in Indochina. The region has distinctive limestone karst topography. The climate in this region is subject to abrupt changes mainly along the mountain crest, and yearly precipitation is between 1,500 to 2,500 mm. The pine and conifer forests are home to mammals such as the Asian elephant, tiger, douc langur, gibbons, leaf monkey and muntjak alongside abundant bird species. The region is vulnerable to several threats including deforestation, rampant poaching, hydropower projects, and agricultural expansion. Some protected areas have been established in the region such as Nam Kading National Protected Area and Phou Xang He National Protected Area.
Central Indochina Dry Forests
The Central Indochina Dry Forests ecoregion is classified in the tropical and subtropical dry broadleaf forests Biome. The ecoregion covers the broad valley of the Mekong river system in Laos. Rainfall is recorded between 1,000-1,500 mm with 5 to 7 months of drought. Deciduous trees of mainly dipterocarpaceae form canopies and support an undergrowth of grasses. About 167 mammal species have been recorded in the region including the wild dog, clouded leopard, tiger, Asian elephant, leopard, gibbon, leaf monkey and kouprey deer. These animals are continuously threatened by poaching. Other threats to the ecoregion include human and agricultural encroachment, fires, extensive deforestation and infrastructure development. The government of Laos has attempted conservation through areas such as the Xe Pian National Protected Area.
Mekong River System
The Mekong River System is a freshwater ecoregion in Laos. At the heart of this ecoregion is the longest river in Southeast Asia, the Mekong River. The river supports a network of tributaries which drain into the Mekong basin. The river supports an exceptionally rich biodiversity including 1,200 fish species, 430 mammal species, 800 amphibian and reptile species and about 20,000 plant species. Notable fish species include the endemic Mekong giant catfish, Laotian shad, thick slip barb, the endangered Irrawaddy dolphin, giant freshwater stingray and the giant barb. The Siamese crocodile, fishing cat, and the smooth-coated otter also inhabit the region.
The river and its tributaries are a source of livelihood for the neighboring communities through fishing and irrigation. The ecoregion is increasingly threatened by deforestation which causes sedimentation, hydropower development, excessive fishing, water pollution, poaching and climate change.
Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests
The Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests ecoregion is classified in the tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests Biome. This ecoregion stretches through hills and valleys in northern Laos. The climate experienced in the region is summer monsoonal with a yearly rainfall averaging between 1,200 and 2,500 mm. Montane evergreen forests and tropical forests support more than 180 mammal species including the Asian elephant, clouded leopard, gaur, Malayan sun bear, tiger, rep panda, banteng, Tonkin snub-nosed monkey, and pygmy loris. Notable bird species include the great hornbill, Siamese Fireback, Alexandrine parakeet and green dragon tail butterfly. The major threats to this ecoregion include deforestation, tourism activities, poaching and land transformation for agriculture. The ecoregion is protected by several conservation areas in Laos.
Environmental Problems In Laos
Widespread deforestation is the chief environmental threat to the ecological regions of Laos. The clearance of trees facilitates soil erosion which in turn causes sedimentation in the country’s wetlands. Destruction of the wildlife’s habitats makes the animals susceptible to the widespread poaching. Industrial and domestic pollution and dam construction have taken a toll on Laos’ water bodies.