Restoration Ecology: Mesopotamia's marshlands are recovering rapidly

Table of contents:

Restoration Ecology: Mesopotamia's marshlands are recovering rapidly
Restoration Ecology: Mesopotamia's marshlands are recovering rapidly

Mesopotamia's marshlands are recovering quickly

Nearly three years after the end of the last Iraq war, the swamps and reedlands between the Euphrates and Tigris - often referred to as the former "Garden of Eden" - continue to recover rapidly and are now even expanding again after years of forced decline.

After the embankments of the most important tributaries and drainage in 2000, only about ten percent of the original marsh area was left the typical vegetation and stagnant water are already almost forty percent of their original extent. Between 2003 and 2005 alone, the areas occupied by sedges grew by 800 square kilometers annually. Numerous animal species in the region also benefit from the recovery of the ecosystem, as spot checks on site have shown.

For the first time, the researchers rediscovered the highly endangered reed thrush (Turdoides altirostris), a songbird that only lives in the swamps of Iraq and that ornithologists have not been able to record in Mesopotamia for more than a decade. Two other endangered bird species, the endemic reed warbler (Acrocephalus griseldis) and marmot (Marmaronetta angustirostris), also increased in numbers. Insect, fish, mollusc, and plant communities have also returned to near-priority composition in the recovering swamps, although numbers are far from previous levels.

The rapid recovery of the ecosystem was favored by above-average snowfall in the Turkish and Iranian mountains, whose meltwater feeds the region via various rivers, including the Euphrates and Tigris. Because of the high rainfall, but also because Iraqi industry has not yet got back on its feet after the war, the pollutant concentrations in the marshes are far below the expected values.

Richardson and Hussain fear, however, that the positive development trends could be stopped in the future if industry and agriculture want to divert more water from the tributaries - especially in dry seasons, the amount of water could not be sufficient to supply the swamps with sufficient water. Iran is also building a large dam on the border with its neighbor that will divide one of the last remaining pristine wetlands and stop its water circulation.

The future of the human inhabitants of the wetland is just as unclear: the so-called Marsh Arabs lived there for centuries by raising fish and buffalo. They were also the reason for Saddam Hussein's attempted destruction of the area, because after the end of the penultimate Iraq war, the predominantly Shiite population in the south of the country rebelled against the dictator. To put down the uprising, the swamps were to be drained and the livelihoods of the people there taken away; as a result, the region dried up and many soils became saline. In 2003, however, local residents tore down many of the dikes that had been erected in an uncontrolled manner, thus starting the rewetting of the region. Nevertheless, it is uncertain whether the displaced people can and want to resume their previous lifestyle.

Popular topic