Biology students to study rice paddies in Cambodia

Story by Sara Nemec

If you had asked him one year ago, senior Andrew Ludvik would not have told you he would ever spend time in Cambodia.

Ludvik said that after studying abroad in Australia and visiting the Galapagos Islands and Ecuador for biology classes, he thought he would graduate before having the opportunity to travel outside of the U.S. again. Instead, the biology major is booking another flight: this time to southeast Asia.

Ludvik and four other UW-Eau Claire students and a biology faculty member will spend this summer in Cambodia studying how the use of agrochemicals in rice paddies is affecting the country’s ecosystem. The team will leave the U.S. on July 9 and return on Aug. 14.

Deb Freund, an associate lecturer of biology who will lead the research team, said the researchers will examine up to 21 rice paddies while in Cambodia. During their five-week stay, researchers will sample populations of fish, invertebrates and amphibians, all of which live in the paddies and are important to the ecosystem. She said they will take samples from paddies that are managed using traditional methods as well as paddies that are treated with chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.

Freund said outside sources are now pressuring Cambodia to use chemicals to increase their rice yields and export more of the crop. She said she is concerned with this trend and what it may do to native species that live in the paddies, which are important protein sources for many of the farmers.

“You take this really concentrated fertilizer, and you just toss it out in granules,” she said. “What’s that going to do to those crickets and frogs and fish?”

After the fieldwork, Freund said the data will be analyzed back in the U.S. She said she hoped to have the results of the study published and would like to see other scientists continuing off of their research in the future.

Ludvik said he also hopes this trip would influence future scientific endeavors in Cambodia.

“I think it’s really big that it might stem future studies,” he said. “It might be really awesome to see this grow.”

He said he was also interested in seeing the effects of new agricultural methods on the rice.

Freund said rice is an important crop in Cambodia.

“Of agricultural stuff, rice is huge,” she said. “It’s what feeds their whole country. The main thing they eat day in and day out is rice.

“They’re very dependent on it.”

In Cambodia, rice cultivation occupies about 90 percent of the total agricultural area and is the major source of farm income. In 2003, rice production was estimated at 4.3 million tons, according to a United Nations sponsored Web site.