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Partnerships for enhanced engagement in research (PEER) SCIENCE
Cycle 1 (2011 Deadline)

Impacts of climate change on freshwater and fisheries resources of the Lake Hovsgol watershed  

PI: Mendsaikhan Bud, Mongol Ecology Center
US Partner: Olaf Jensen, Rutgers University
Project Dates: May 2012 - April 2014

Project Overview 

  Mongolia Partnership Photo C
PI Dr. Mendsaikhan Bud and U.S. partner Dr. Olaf Jensen with Mongolian students and USAID, NSF, and NAS staff during the team’s visit to Washington DC.
Climate change in Northern Mongolia presents extremely serious ecological and economic risks. Air temperatures have already risen by 1.7°C over the past 40 years. In recent years, hot dry summers followed by harsh winters have resulted in massive  livestock die-offs called zuds. In the zud of 2009-2010, an estimated 8 million head of livestock died, pushing many of their owners into poverty and driving migration from rural areas into the city. Mongolia’s aquatic ecosystems and growing freshwater fisheries may also be at risk from climate change. Lake Hovsgol is an ancient rift lake that contains nearly 70 percent of Mongolia’s fresh water. The “Blue Pearl” is also a premier destination within Mongolia, both for Mongolians and for foreign tourists. Despite Lake Hovsgol’s importance and designation as a national park, it is threatened by climate change, rapid unplanned development, and poorly enforced conservation laws. Given the lack of adequate monitoring, it is difficult to determine the extent to which these stressors have already altered the lake’s ecology.
Over the last decade, the recreational fishery for taimen (Hucho taimen, the world’s largest salmonid) has been growing rapidly, bringing much needed income to rural areas. An illegal commercial fishery for the endemic Hovsgol grayling (Thymallus nigrescens) also appears to be growing, although data are scarce. Taimen and Hovsgol grayling are endangered species, and the combined impacts of fishing and climate change on their populations are poorly understood. Salmonids like taimen and grayling are extremely sensitive to warm water and associated low oxygen levels, and both species in Mongolia are at the southern edge of their range where climate change impacts are likely to be most strongly felt. This project aims to improve the understanding of links between climate and the ability of Lake Hovsgol and its major outflow, the Eg River, to support important and endangered fish species. A strong understanding of Mongolia’s lakes and rivers, by well-trained Mongolian aquatic scientists, will be crucial if mining, tourist development, and fisheries are to be sustainable in a changing world.
Summary of Recent Activities
During October-December 2013, the research team continued their field work and ecology techniques training. In October 2013, Dr. B. Mendsaikhan and her students conducted a seven-day expedition to Eg-Ur watershed where the Taimen Conservation Fund ranger, M. Amarra joined them for field ecology techniques training. The team took July 2013 temperature loggers from the three sites of the Eg and Uur rivers, and new temperature loggers in David’s island of the Eg River were deployed. The team also took morphological measurements of the lenok and grayling fish which was caught by angling. Their food and feeding relations were identified by analyzing their food composition at the laboratory. Field ecology techniques training during this field trip included not only deployment of temperature loggers but also measurement of Uur River discharge using the area-velocity method. The research team is planning to further their research training in the ecology of aquatic ecosystems by visiting the Institute of Marine & Coastal Sciences (IMCS) at Rutgers University early January 2014, and gain experience in hydroacoustics, in the use of electronic temperature and dissolved oxygen loggers for monitoring water quality, the analysis of stable isotopes and lipids in fish tissues, and statistical data analysis and mapping techniques.
  Mongolia Partnership Photo A  Mongolia Partnership Photo B
Dr. Mendsaikhan Bud with U.S. partner Dr. Olaf Jensen.Dr. Bud and her students retrieving the deployed fish nets.

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