Biodiversity and Development in Northern Thailand

By Dearden, Philip | Journal of Business Administration, Annual 1994 | Go to article overview

Biodiversity and Development in Northern Thailand


Dearden, Philip, Journal of Business Administration


"If the number of people increases, but the forest diminishes, then the good life and happiness can be expected to fade away..." (Phothiart, 1989, p. 374)

Introduction

Biodiversity, after decades of obscurity, is finally making its way into the lexicon of the development community. An agreement towards the protection of global diversity was one of the highlights of the otherwise disappointing United Nations' Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992. There is a global biodiversity strategy prepared by the major international conservation organisations (WRI, IUCN, and UNEP 1992) and various countries have prepared action plans to preserve their own biodiversity (Government of Indonesia, 1991).

There are basically two reasons for this sudden rush of interest. First, there is a growing realisation of the fundamental role that biodiversity plays in underwriting the human enterprise. Ultimately we, and all our activities, are dependent upon ecosystem processes and components. Science is only just starting to reveal many of these dependencies. Second, there appears to be an unprecedented human-induced erosion of gene, species and ecosystem diversity taking place (Reid and Miller, 1989). This situation is most critical in the tropical forests. Of the approximately 10 million species on earth, between 50 and 90% are estimated to be in the tropical forests. Unfortunately these areas are also sustaining the most rapid rates of destruction, with some scientists estimating that up to 10% of tropical forest species will face extinction in the next 30 years (Ehrlich and Wilson, 1991; Reid, 1992).

Given the foregoing, increased emphasis is being put on research aimed at understanding the various roles that biodiversity plays in sustaining society and on factors that contribute to the erosion of biodiversity. This paper seeks to contribute to this literature primarily by providing a brief synopsis of a theoretical framework that is being used to help understand the interactions between society and biodiversity in the Highlands of Northern Thailand.

Biodiversity in Thailand

As noted above, tropical forests are particularly important in terms of their contributions to biodiversity. Thailand, a country of some 513,115 sq. km, and stretching from the wet tropics through to the dry subtropical regions over 1620 km further north, is no exception. The aquatic and terrestrial environments of Thailand contain about 7% of the world's species (Science Society of Thailand and Scientific Research Society of Thailand, 1991). This includes more than 10% of the world's animal species (see Table 1), over 15,000 species of vascular plants, more than 500 tree species, 1,000 orchids and 2,000 mushrooms. There is little knowledge of the insect species, but already 10,000 species of beetles, 1,200 species of butterflies and 200 species of hawkmoths have been recorded (Government of Thailand, 1992). Some 143 endemic species have been recorded (Table 2), and several are among the 111 species currently on the endangered list in the country (Table 3).

Table 1: The Number of Animal Species Found in Thailand and the World

Type                              Thailand              World

Fish - Freshwater                    650               20,000[a]
Fish- Saltwater                    2,000
Amphibians                           107                2,500
Reptiles                             298                6,000
Birds                                916                8,600
Mammals                              282                4,500

Total                              4,253               41,600

[a] fresh and saltwater combined

Source: Science Society of Thailand
Table 2: Endemic Species in Thailand

Type                                     Number

Fresh Water Fish                           70
Salt Water Fish                            50
Amphibians                                 13
Reptiles                                   31
Birds                                       2
Mammals                                     8

Total                                     174

Source: Science Society of Thailand
Table 3: Endangered Species in Thailand

Type                                    Number

Fish                                      12
Amphibians and Reptiles                   12
Birds                                     41
Mammals                                   40
Insects                                    3
Plants                                     3

Total                                    111

There is a critical lack of ecological information in Thailand ranging all the way from basic inventory work on documenting species and their distributions and numbers through to understanding of ecosystem processes and functional interactions between species. …

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