Myanmar is rich in biodiversity due to its diverse ecosystems from the ocean to the south, through drylands in the central areas, and rising to mountains in the west and north. A new ecosystem classification indicates that Myanmar supports 64 ecosystem types. Among these, the forest types are considered to be integral to the stability of the environment, covering about 42% of Myanmar’s land base, but the country also supports a large diversity of freshwater ecosystems, ranging from fast-flowing mountain streams to wide, slow-flowing lowland rivers, as well as lakes and wetlands. Myanmar is also endowed with extensive coastal and marine ecosystems, with half a million hectares of brackish and freshwater swampland that supports essential
ecological functions and habitats such as spawning, nursery and feeding grounds for fish, prawns and other aquatic biodiversity of economic importance. Overall, the country sustains more than 18,000 species including 11,800 species of vascular plants of gymnosperms and angiosperms, 1200 butterfly species, 251 mammals, 1,056 bird species, 282 reptiles, 82 amphibians, 1540 medicinal plants, 96 bamboos, and many
crop species, including endemic rice species. The Central Dry Zone is well known for the production of oil seeds and cotton, especially under developed irrigation systems. To the far south, the Taninthayi region is well-suited for rubber and fruit crops.
Myanmar is also rich with inland water and freshwater diversity, supporting over 350 freshwater fish species (a significant portion of which may be endemic), over 800 marine fish species, 9 species of seagrass, 51 coral species, and 5 of the world’s marine turtles are found in Myanmar’s waters. Myanmar’s genetic diversity is eroding, however, due to the introduction of modern varieties and technology to feed an ever expanding population. The country has listed 128 globally endangered and critically endangered species, including 25 mammals, 25 birds, 2 amphibians, 10 fish and 10 reptiles among vertebrates and 32 endangered plant species. Three new gecko species were recently discovered in Taninthayi and these may be listed under IUCN as well.
Myanmar relies largely on ecosystem services and biodiversity for the livelihood of its population and economic growth. A particularly important example of this dependency is the agricultural sector that, in 2017, represented 38% of the GDP, provided 23% of the country’s export earnings, and employed 50% of the total labor force (of which 48% were women). With 18 million ha of total arable land and a population growth rate of 0.91% (in 2017), the agriculture sector plays a highly significant role for the future, in terms of employment, economic growth and food security. The National Seed Bank is important in sustaining the genetic diversity of key crop species, such as rice and beans, through research, collections, and long-term cold storage. Forests are fundamental to the socio-economic well-being of the people of Myanmar, providing
local villagers not only numerous forest products to fulfill their basic needs, including wood fuel, but also contributing substantial foreign exchange earnings to the State economy. Teak and other hardwoods, including rosewoods, are the major export timber species of interest. Mangrove forests are important as well, for the shoreline protection that they provide, but also for shrimp aquaculture and as marine species’ nursery habitats. A growing industry in Myanmar that relies on ecosystem services is ecotourism, and with new policies, training programs for practitioners, and certification all now in place, Myanmar aims to protect its biodiversity while enhancing this industry, especially in protected areas.