, Volume 259, Issue 2, pp 91–113 | Cite as

Rice field ecology and fish culture — an overview

  • C. H. Fernando


Rice fields are an integral part of the landscape throughout most of the tropics. Rice is also grown widely in higher latitudes. Most rice cultivation is done in flooded fields where a temporary aquatic fauna is generated. Rice cultivation has sustained some of the oldest civilizations but the use of the aquatic phase for raising a crop of fish has not been practiced widely although fragmentary records indicate that rice and fish have been cultivated concurrently but rarely over 2 or 3 millennia. We have more reliable records of rice and fish culture in rice fields during the past 150 years.

Rice cultivation is now very highly mechanized and uses high fertilizer and pesticide inputs and extensive irrigation facilities have been constructed to increase the area of rice cultivation and enhance yields. Rice cultivation also provides a suitable habitat for the breeding of mosquitoes, some of which are vectors for diseases. It appears that in regions outside the tropics aquatic pests of rice are also encountered. In the tropics indigenous fishes and other organisms including copepods act as biological control agents for mosquitoes and aquatic rice pests.

The rice field is usually a successor of shallow marshes or a lowland area which can be supplied with adequate water. In addition deep water rice is grown in permanent marshes and rice is also grown in terraced hillsides, not to mention relatively dry localities where dry-land rice is cultivated. The marsh habitat is usually rich in plant and animal species. Some of these survive in rice fields. The water supplied to rice fields come via irrigation systems which bring a complement of plants, animals, and other organisms seasonally to colonize the rice field. The rice field is thus a new habitat, like a reservoir, with some similarities to a marsh but manipulated for cultivation of rice. This creates a unique, temporary and rapidly changing habitat which is often very productive and can be used to raise fish on an artisanal or intensive scale.

Fish culture in rice fields has had a checkered history during the past 150 years when records are available. Its earlier history is obscure. Long-term records of fish culture activities are not available from any part of the world although apparently thriving enterprises seem to have existed in Japan, Italy, USSR and China. Attempts to culture fish in rice fields have been made on all continents except Australasia and Antarctica of course. At the present time the focus of rice-cultivation seems to have shifted to China, Indonesia, and Thailand. Whether this enterprise will endure even in these countries cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty.

Key words

Rice fields ecology fish culture 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • C. H. Fernando
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of BiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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