ASSESSMENT OF BIODIVERSITY IN THE MUTHURAJAWELA WETLAND SANCTUARY
Muthurajawela wetland. located as the west coast of Sri Lanka is the largestcoastal peal bag of the island. At present. the biodiversity of Muthurajawela isthreatened by unplanned development activities and growing human population.Therefore, an ecological survey was carried out in order to assess the presentstatus of biodiversity in Muthurajawela, and also to identify critical habitats forthe conservation and sustence of biodiversity. Field monitoring of fauna and florawas carried out at fortnightly intervals, using scientifically accepted rapidbiodiversity assessment techniques (fauna - line transects; flora - plots, Braun-Blanquet cover), The data was analysed using ecological indices(diversity/species richness), and critical habitats were identified using avifauna asa correlate of biodiversity. Ground truthing of vegetation maps was carried out todocument changes of major vegetation communities.
The study enabled to identify 192 species of flora, distributed over seven majorvegetation communities at Muthurajawela; marsh, lentic flora, reed swamp, shortgrassland, scrubland, stream bank flora and mangrove swamp. The vertebratefauna documented included 40 species of fish, 14 species of amphibians, 31species of reptiles, 102 species of birds and 22 species of mammals. Among thetotal vertebrate species documented, 17 are endemic, 26 are considered asnationally threatened, while 36 are new records to Muthurajawela. The selectedinvertebrate species documented consisted of 48 species of butterflies and 22species odonates, the latter which turned out to be a useful indicator of habitatquality. The threats documented included direct exploitation (poaching, cutting oftrees), habitat degradation/modification (land reclamation, dumping of garbage,clearing of natural vegetation, pollution and eutrophication) and the spread ofseveral alien invasive species (including unmanaged domestic animals). Thenorthern part of the marsh serve as an ecotone, with a mixture of the above plantcommunities/habitat types which were relatively undisturbed. Analysis carriedout using ecological indices highlighted the northern region as a high biodiversityzone, which is critical for the conservation and future sustenance of biodiversity atMuthurajawela. Ground truthing of vegetation maps, supported with results of thevegetation survey showed that the composition of dominant flora has changedover a period of 10 years, in most places in the Muthurajawela Wetland, as aresult of human disturbances. Data on the avifauna also highlighted aconsiderable decrease in migrant birds at Muthurajawela, possibly due to habitatdeterioration.The findings have important conservation and managementimplications, in particular greater emphasis need to be placed on the more ciritcalareas of the marsh. An important policy implication would be the need