Southeast Asian Ecosystems




Plate tectonics play a big role in Southeast Asia’s ecosystems today.  The Sunda Shelf once connected the main part of Southeast Asia to Indonesia.  Thousands of years ago species migrated to Asia across this shelf.  These species included tigers, elephants, and orangutans.  The ecosystems have changed greatly over the tens of thousands of years.  The change that influences our ecosystems to day are human involvement.




The climate of Southeast Asia greatly effects the forest ecosystems.  The wet tropical climate influences the dense rainforests that cover the majority of the area.   The two main forest types are evergreen tropical rainforest (these have leaves year-round) and the deciduous or monsoon rainforests (these loose their leaves during the dry season).  Deforestation occurs because of human involvement as it threatens the living habitat of the surrounding area.  For an example, Thailand’s forests decreased by 28% since 1961.  Only a quarter of Thailand is now under forest cover. The main reason humans clear out the forests is to provide an area to grow rice.  To do this they must use a certain grass that the forest contains and breed the grass with an edible seed.  In order to manage a good soil to grow rice, Asians use an agricultural system called Swidden or Slash and Burn where they cut trees and burn them to allow the nutrients from the ash to compost into the ground.  Humans are growing throughout Southeast Asia, so the rice areas are growing and the forests are diminishing. As many animals are being threatened, new animals are still being discovered.  In most recent years, the Vu Quang ox and the giant Muntjac deer have been discovered among the Asian forests. Other animals that can be found are the Asian elephant, the Douc Monkey, the Hairy-nosed Otter, the Buff-cheeked Gibbon, and the Malayan Tapir. Some of the benefits of the forests to humans include shelter, food, medicines, and marketable goods. Examples of the forest ecosystems of Asia are the Annamite Range Moist Forests, Northern Indochina Subtropical Moist Forests, and the Tenasserim Moist Forests.


Coral Reefs and Mangroves:


 The seas of Southeast Asia retain 9 million kilometers squared, which is equivalent to 2.5% of the earth’s ocean surface.  About 25-30% of the world’s Coral Reefs are concentrated in Southeast Asia.  Some of these areas throughout Asia are the Andaman Sea, Malacca Strait, Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, and the Flores Sea.  These seas are characterized by the Sunda and Sahul shelf, deep sea basins, troughs, trenches, and continental slopes. Large river deltas such as the Mekong and the Chao Phraya are two of the most popluar areas that are high in tropical conditions with a high rainfall and warm temperature inviting the tropical habitual animals to live.  Coral Reefs are popular for their four species of turtles: Green, Olive Ridley, Loggerhead, Flatback, and the Dugong dugon., The region’s mangroves represent nearly 30% of the world’s mangroves.  These marshes are found along the mainland and on island coastlines.  An example of  a mangrove is Thailand’s Ranong and Vietnam’s Can Gio Biosphere Reserve.  Some of the animals living in mangroves are: 545 species of fish, 2 species of amphibians, 24 species of reptiles, and 60 species of mammals.  They are connected with the marine ecosystems as they intersect with the coral reefs around the region.  Some of the coastal features are cliffs, coves, beaches (sandy, rocky, or muddy), deltas, splits, dunes, and lagoons. The rich array of marine animals, plants, and the abundance of coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass beds support the most diverse marine life in the world.  The marine environment is also dependent on the growing population as a significant amount of people use the area as a fishery and for employment (boat use).  An estimated 80% of the coral reefs have been destroyed in the past 20 years. Although a significant amount of these areas have been destroyed, the beauty of these ecosystems still exist and draw in attention of many tourists throughout the year.