A team led by WCS and Myanmar’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environmental Conservation, along with James Cook University, University of New South Wales and IUCN have completed the first IUCN Red List assessment for ecosystems in Southeast Asia, identifying 64 individual ecosystems types for Myanmar.

The assessment found that Myanmar’s ecosystems are exceptional, and include extensive shoreline and tidal systems, tropical and subtropical forests, savannas, seasonally inundated wetlands, and high-altitude alpine ecosystems. These ecosystems support impressive diversity, with more than 16,000 plant, 314 mammal, 1150 bird, 293 reptile, and 139 amphibian species.

These results reveal a unique and outstanding opportunity for ensuring the sustainability of Myanmar’s ecosystems into the future. More than 63 percent of Myanmar’s land mass is mapped as a natural ecosystem type, defined by shared ecological traits and key ecological processes and functions. These remaining intact ecosystems support an exceptional confluence of globally significant environmental values: high biodiversity, carbon sequestration and storage, water provision, and indigenous culture.

However, the report says that despite containing some of the largest intact natural ecosystems in Southeast Asia, accelerating environmental destruction is quickly threatening Myanmar’s remaining natural areas and their biota. This has so far resulted in three of Myanmar’s ecosystems close to collapse including Southern Rakhine evergreen rainforest, which, according to historical descriptions, once occurred in consistently high rainfall areas of the southern Rakhine range in Ayeyarwady Region. During the assessment, scientists could not confirm its occurrence in the field, but a remote sensing classification model trained from nearby evergreen rainforests in Tanintharyi Region suggested that some very small patches of evergreen forest may remain within its reported range. Further field work is needed if these tiny fragments can be conserved.

In addition, the report found that eight other ecosystems are Critically Endangered, nine Endangered, and twelve Vulnerable. Almost half of the Endangered ecosystems occur in the heavily cropped central dry zone and southern Ayeyarwady floodplain.

Only a small proportion of threatened ecosystem (1.9 percent) currently intersect protected areas, underscoring the need to support a nationwide effort to improve the protected area network and to retain the integrity of intact ecosystems. Ecosystems should be a central component of proactive global and national environmental strategies, alongside current efforts aimed at halting deforestation and promoting reforestation.

With more than one in four ecosystems assessed as data deficient in the report, the authors hope it will spark a new effort to understand Myanmar’s extraordinary ecosystems.

Said Rob Tizard, Senior Technical Advisor of WCS Myanmar and co-author of the report: “With more than 60 percent of Myanmar’s land mass covered in natural ecosystems, our report highlights an urgent conservation opportunity to improve knowledge, protection and management of Myanmar’s natural ecosystems.”

Said Hedley Grantham, WCS Director of Conservation Planning and another co-author of the report: “Our study suggests that nearly half of Myanmar’s ecosystems qualify as Threatened. Alarmingly, we found that only 1.9 percent of the extent of Myanmar’s threatened ecosystems occurs within designated protected areas.”

The report is a partnership between the Wildlife Conservation Society and technical support from the University of New South Wales and James Cook University. Financial support from Global Environment Facility, UNDP and AFD.