In the last two decades, Mekong economies have grown much faster than before. Large infrastructure development has caused, and will continue to cause, dramatic changes in forest cover, land-use patterns and regional ecosystem services. These changes will bring profound and widespread changes to both the physical and social environment. Recent debates among regional countries continue to focus on the commercial exploitation of natural resources, not the sustainable protection and provision of ecosystem services. These reasons indicate that sentinel landscape research is critical to the future of the Mekong region.
The Mekong is home to almost 100 distinct ethnic groups. The political and economic marginalization of these groups is a longstanding problem. Additionally, local indigenous communities face increasing uncertainties as they strive to use and sustain the landscapes on which they depend. Among the most powerful contemporary forces that influence both local cultures and land use are various government policies with their emphasis on rapid expansion of regional, national and international markets.
Nation building and increased regional integration of ethnic minority areas has led to increased incomes and created poverty. The challenges facing Mekong region ethnic groups are new and old, social and cultural, political and economic, national and regional.
The reduction of forest cover and simplification of formerly multiuse landscapes has led to an erosion of ecosystem services.
Externalities are often borne by segments of society that have benefited little from rubber income, causing increased disparities in wealth and social unrest.
Menglanxiang, Xishuangbanna, China
Rubber entered this site about 15 years ago, as well as rice and tea; approximately 40% natural forest, mostly in protected areas.
Oudomxay, Oudomxay, Laos
Rubber in small lowland patches, hill paddies, fruit orchards; approximately 60% natural forest mostly in uplands.
Chiangrai, northern Thailand
Rubber new on site but now a major form of land use; approximately 60% natural forest including protected area.