Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Christine Padoch

Committee Members

Amy Berkov

Gregory Cheplick

Charles M. Peters

Kevin Coffey

Subject Categories



Driven by the annual flood pulse of the Tonle Sap Lake, the Tonle Sap floodplain in central Cambodia is a landscape characterized by dynamism, both ecological and social. Annual floods and rainfall vary in timing, duration and intensity from year to year. Patterns of burning, grazing, and agricultural expansion and contraction all leave their imprint on the landscape. While in the social domain, the region is likewise as complex. The genocidal, Maoist regime of Pol Pot darkened the 1970s. However, this was both preceded by, and followed by, years of civil war and social unrest. In recent years, Cambodia has shifted from a centrally-planned economy to a free-market economy, and experienced rapid economic growth followed by a dramatic slowdown. In the wake of such flux, the floodplains remain among the most productive rice-growing regions in the country, and are home to one of the most productive inland fisheries in the world. Even so, the region also remains one of the poorest. This project weaves analytical strands from ecology, geography and anthropology to delve into the ways in which people make a living in such a complex, challenging environment by focusing on the relationships between people, the landscape and plants. Results are presented from an analysis of 47 years of land use/land cover change depicted in aerial photography; an analysis of the structure and composition of floodplain plant communities through the use of descriptive ecological inventory; and an analysis of household-level natural resource-based livelihood activities, detailing how plant communities are utilized by village residents. A case study in floodplain land use is also presented, focusing on the Hillock-Depression Complex, a landscape element newly described herein. This case study illustrates the pitfalls of top-down land use planning in the context of a landscape rich in resources important to local residents but illegible to policy-makers. The results of these diverse analytical streams suggest that people do not live on the floodplain in spite of tremendous dynamism. Rather, the opposite is true. They live on the floodplain because of such dynamism, not as passive subjects but as active agents in generating diversity.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.

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