Impact of climate change on human-wildlife-ecosystem interactions in the Trans-Himalaya region of Nepal
The Trans-Himalaya region boasts an immense biodiversity which includes several threatened species and supports the livelihood of local human populations. Our aim in this study was to evaluate the impact of recent climate change on the biodiversity and human inhabitants of the upper Mustang region of the Trans-Himalaya, Nepal. We found that the average annual temperature in the upper Mustang region has increased by 0.13 °C per year over the last 23 years; a higher annual temperature increase than experienced in other parts of Himalaya. A predictive model suggested that the mean annual temperature will double by 2161 to reach 20 °C in the upper Mustang region. The combined effects of increased temperature and diminished snowfall have resulted in a reduction in the area of land suitable for agriculture. Most seriously affected are Samjung village (at 4,100 m altitude) and Dhey village (at 3,800 m) in upper Mustang, where villagers have been forced to relocate to an area with better water availability. Concurrent with the recent change in climate, there have been substantial changes in vegetation communities. Between 1979 and 2009, grasslands and forests in the Mustang district have diminished by 11 and 42 %, respectively, with the tree line having shifted towards higher elevation. Further, grasses and many shrub species are no longer found in abundance at higher elevations and consequently blue sheep ( Pseduois nayaur) move to forage at lower elevations where they encounter and raid human crops. The movement of blue sheep attracts snow leopard ( Panthera uncia) from their higher-elevation habitats to lower sites, where they encounter and depredate livestock. Increased crop raiding by blue sheep and depredations of livestock by snow leopard have impacted adversely on the livelihoods of local people.