Environmental Impacts of Infrastructure Development on Macro-Invertebrate Biodiversity in Freshwater Ecosystems in Kyrgyzstan's Mountains

Amadeus DeKastle

Our absolute dependence on freshwater cannot be overstated. It is integral for our immediate physical health, but also for agriculture, industry, recreation, etc. If you ask any person, they will certainly tell you that it is important to have clean water, but does the “real world” uphold that belief?

For the next few years, my team and I will be studying the impact of large-scale road development on freshwater systems in the Issyk Kul basin of Kyrgyzstan which is the second largest alpine lake worldwide and the main draw of both regional and international tourism in the country. It is also an endorheic lake that doesn’t have a drainage system, therefore, any pollution or excessive sedimentation brought in by the rivers (either through human intervention or through natural disasters like landslides) has no outlet and so simply collects in the lake. This large ecosystem is dependent on the crystal clean water it is known for, but with impending road development in the region by both national and international companies, will we see a decline in ecosystem health and water quality? With the livelihoods of so many people dependent on clean water for tourism, fishing, agriculture, and regular water use, it is imperative to have a system in place to monitor the quality of the rivers that flow into the lake.

Our team will be collecting data on macroinvertebrate community assemblages, water turbidity, water velocity, as well as testing for various chemicals. This data will be used to produce a public webpage that can be accessed by NGOs, government policy makers, and educational institutions. But more than that, a systematic monitoring strategy will be put together to allow other groups, especially schools, to collect their own data to be added to the website, growing it to other regions of the country as well.

The team is made up of university students and recent graduates from throughout Central Asia (currently from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Afghanistan). This capacity building will enable them to learn basic research methodologies, but more specifically and importantly, to give them direct field experience which is often not available to students here.

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