Lake Alaotra wetlands: how long can Madagascar's most important rice and fish production region withstand the anthropogenic pressure?
The Alaotra wetlands represent the biggest lake and wetland complex in Madagascar and are home of several endemic species. The region constitutes the largest rice production area and inland fishery of Madagascar. Rice and fish are the main local sources of income. While the population has increased fivefold during the last 40 years, the growing need for resources is continuously increasing the pressure on the wetland system. In this study, vegetation and water parameters were collected within three sites differing by level of degradation in order to evaluate the current ecological state of the wetland. The results show that high levels of ongoing anthropogenic disturbance are favoring the formation of a new plant community in the fringe area of the marsh belt. This area is now dominated by invasive species such as the water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) which shows a mean coverage up to 53% and water ferns (Salvinia spp.) with a mean coverage up to 31 .4%. Lake water levels were very low and decreased during the dry season to a mean level of only 3 cm in the littoral zone. Signs of eutrophication like hypoxia (mean saturation of only 22%), increased phosphate concentrations (1 .1 8 mg L-1 ) and black colored, foul smelling water were observed. Under a likely scenario of growing anthropogenic pressures, it remains unclear what the current trends will bring for the wetland’s future.