Impacts of river regulation and other anthropogenic activities on floodplain vegetation: A case study from Sri Lanka
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Since the initiation of large-scale development in late 1970s, the Mahaweli River basin in Sri Lanka has experienced significant changes. However, no comprehensive study has been undertaken so far to evaluate the impacts of river regulation on associated ecosystems including floodplains in the downstream. The present study was aimed at identifying the impacts due to both river regulation and other anthropogenic activities on inland floodplain habitats (locally known as villus) located along the final stretch of the River Mahaweli before reaching the Indian Ocean. Four villus, Handapana (HAN), Bendiya (BEN), Karapola (KAR) and Gengala (GEN), were selected for the study. HAN and BEN can be considered as highly influenced (HI) by river regulation while KAR and GEN as less influenced (LI) due to their respective locations. Due to the absence of pre- regulation vegetation data, HI villus were compared with LI villus in order to explore any potential impacts of river regulation. Vegetation was enumerated using belt transect method. To find out other on-going anthropogenic impacts on these villu ecosystems, a survey was conducted using 100 individuals living in two villages located nearby. The results revealed some significant modification in the composition and the diversity of the vegetation, most possibly due to river regulation and other on-going anthropogenic activities. However, the most notable changes were recorded in the herbaceous layer. Some native aquatic herbaceous species have been completely absent over the period of two decades since the developmental activities begun, while some exotic invasive aquatic species (Eichhornia crassipes) dominated the herbaceous layer in HI villus threatening the survival of the remaining native species. Density and richness of lianas too diminished significantly in HI villus perhaps due to changes of micro-habitat conditions as a result of river regulation and also due to over-harvesting for commercial purposes. The results suggest that these ecosystems have been altered over the years due to culmination of factors including altered flow regimes following river regulation and some on-going human influences. The present study highlights the importance of regulating such human influences on villus including fishing and extracting cane and reed in order to protect these vulnerable ecosystems for future generations. The potential of these ecosystems to develop ecotourism has also been emphasized.
KeywordsLivelihoods River Mahaweli River regulation Tropical wetland Villus
Mahaweli Floodplain National Park
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