Himalayan warming increases extinction threat
The Himalayas are warming at a rate three times greater than the global average (see article here and summary by UMass and GEGP). As Uttam Babu Shrestha, the principal author of the paper and a graduate student at University of Massachusett Boston has described “Our study reaffirmed that the Himalayas region is indeed experiencing rapid climate and associated changes in the various ecoregions.” He further added that “local people have been noticing changes in the growing patterns of plants and our study confirms such changes.”
“Much of the recent discussion about climate change in the Himalayas has been dominated by the extent of glacial melting. However, changes in two most critical parameters of climate, temperature and precipitation have not been yet fully analyzed.” Added Kamaljit S Bawa, Distinguished Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston, President of ATREE, and co-author of the study, “Our study fulfills a critical knowledge gap”.
The change in temperature and precipitation have had specific impacts in the region as demonstrated in another study by Shrestha released earlier in the year in Nature (regrettably behind a paywall). This Scientific American article and piece in New York Daily News describe Shrestha’s work studying Yarsagumba (Cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis), what is know as the “Himalayan viagra”.
With an estimated global market value for Yarsagumba of $5 to $11 billion, the benefit to the Nepalese economy is considerable. Shrestha, however, has documented Yarsagumba yields declining considerably. The average harvest in Dolpa, a Nepalese district which borders Tibet and accounts for more than 50 percent of the trade with China, had decreased from 267 pieces per harvester in 2006 to 125 pieces in 2010. Shrestha attributes the decline to over-harvesting and climate change. A local forager by the name of Narendra Thekare is quoted as saying that the area had seen no rain for two months while winter snowfall, which is needed for the fungus to thrive, had been minimal.
The increasingly likely extinction of Yarsagumba, accelerated by climate change, will have devastating social, environmental, and economic impacts for the Himalayan people who fear that their will be no harvest within as soon as 10 years. These studies on climate change in the Himalayas, and the Yarasgumba, offer crucial tools to describe and explain the threats to the ecosystem, and provide solutions to protect locals feeling the brunt of the impacts.