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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Indigenous Forest Use as an Agent of Change in Plant and Animal Communities of the Temperate Sikkim-East Nepal Himalaya

  • Author(s): Bland, James Dean
  • Advisor(s): Walter, Hartmut S
  • Gillespie, Thomas W
  • et al.

With this study, I advance our knowledge of the effects of indigenous forest resource use on plant and animal communities in the Temperate Sikkim-East Nepal Himalaya. In Chapter 1, I describe the region’s rich biodiversity, when and by whom it was discovered, how seriously it is threatened, and how institutions of rural development and nature conservation are responding. I also describe the theoretical and methodological approaches I take, and the geographic, biotic, and cultural scope of the work, which was conducted at Chitre Village in northeastern Nepal. In Chapter 2, I assess household collection and consumption of woody plant resources, including fuelwood, timber, tree fodder, bamboo, pollarded stems, and leaf litter, and I investigate how these harvests impact resource supplies and natural habitats around the village. In Chapter 3, I analyze plant species assemblages along a gradient of anthropogenic disturbance extending out from the village. I hypothesize the non-random distributions of woody plant species are more influenced by anthropogenic disturbance than by environmental heterogeneity. In Chapter 4, I study habitat associations of animal species and species assemblages in order to establish baseline quantitative knowledge of species-habitat associations for the Temperate Sikkim-East Nepal Himalaya, and to better understand how forest use practices impact the composition and structure of the region’s wildlife habitats. In Chapter 5, I investigate changes in woody plant and small animal communities that result from the harvest of woody plant resources, using distance from the village center as a surrogate for period and degree of anthropogenic disturbance. I estimate the intensity of resource harvests across three progressively disturbed habitat zones, then assess the effects of resource harvest on wildlife habitats and the abundance, diversity, and composition of plant and small animal communities. In Chapter 6, I use data from Chitre Village to create a graphic model of generalized changes in plant and animal communities at successive stages of rural development, at both landscape and patch scales. The model’s four stages depict landscape-scale changes in vegetation and village development as an area transitions from seasonal pasture to commercial outpost. Six patch-scale models depict habitat conditions associated with the changing landscapes. Corresponding changes in animal communities are presented in narrative, and referenced to supporting evidence from the preceding chapters. Results of this study can be instrumental in identifying needs, priorities, and methodological approaches for future research, but much more baseline ecological knowledge is needed. Additional research is also needed to determine how best to encourage local forest users to trade off traditional forest use liberties for environmental conservation, and how best to train local people to implement science-based environmental monitoring.

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