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Linking sustainable land management with biodiversity conservation in Nepal

Prof Lindsay Stringer (SEE), Dr Martin Dallimer (SEE)

Project partner(s): Dr Moti Rijal (Tribhuvan University, Nepal)

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Land degradation and biodiversity loss are important environmental challenges that directly affect human livelihoods and development. Despite both being mentioned in the Sustainable Development Goals under goal 15 ‘Life on Land’, in practice they are often dealt with separately. Countries around the world are currently identifying land degradation hotspots in which they aim to avoid, reduce and reverse degradation. Yet, whether these areas align with high biodiversity areas is not known, and whether the kinds of agronomic, vegetative, structural and management measures being used to tackle degradation can deliver co-benefits for biodiversity conservation has not been assessed. The reverse is also in need of research attention: in-situ methods of biodiversity conservation that tackle specific threats such as e.g. invasive species, species loss and habitat loss may present routes to improve land quality. Such assumed co-benefits need rigorous scientific assessment. 

This project focuses on Nepal, where land degradation and biodiversity loss are driven by changing land use patterns, land cover changes, and inappropriate human behaviours (e.g. poaching and illegal trade of species). The country has a wide range of climatic conditions across its physiographic zones and presents extreme variations in altitude within a very short lateral distance. Forests have been converted for inappropriate agricultural use leading to fragmentation and encroachment; rangelands are experiencing excessive livestock grazing, reducing the abundance of palatable species; and biomass is being lost leaving soils open to erosion. Impacts of this degradation and subsequent changes to biodiversity are experienced both in the degradation sites themselves and more widely. Such challenges further endanger globally threatened wildlife species including mammals such as the Bengal tiger and greater one-horned rhinoceros.  As human populations grow, understanding how the problems of land degradation and biodiversity loss can be tackled in ways that are synergistic and support livelihoods and development becomes paramount.

Measures to tackle some of these pressures are being taken and include e.g. establishment of local forest user groups to strengthen local governance of natural resource management; revival of traditional rangeland management systems; establishment of biological corridors and refugia to link protected areas; enhanced anti-poaching operations; and livelihood improvement interventions. The co-benefits of these interventions are nevertheless poorly understood.  

This project takes a systems approach and aims to deepen understanding of the ways in which efforts to tackle land degradation and biodiversity loss can be mutually supportive. The student will explore the trade-offs between biodiversity conservation and sustainable land management/restoration, considering the on- and off-site implications for livelihoods. 

The project could contribute to debates around resilience/vulnerability, specific conservation approaches such as land sharing/sparing or sustainable use, and could inform understanding of conservation and development relationships. Taxonomic groups of focus can match the student’s interests. 

According to the interests and expertise of the student the project could combine approaches such as:

1. Integrated land-use change assessment over time using satellite imagery. 

2. Mapping and analysing livelihoods and ecosystem service relations and vulnerabilities in areas of different degradation and biodiversity status, with different kinds of interventions;

3. Establishing links between sustainable land management practices, the provision of food, water and energy, the abundance and resilience of those ecosystem services and the role of biodiversity therein;

4. Ecosystem service valuation (including biodiversity values), potentially using both monetary and non-monetary approaches both for the present day, and through time;

5. Quantifying and modelling feedbacks between land management and conservation decision making in different agro-ecological zones;

6. Participatory scenario development and environmental management decision-making exercises identifying what affects the adoption and disadoption of particular land management practices that can contribute positively towards biodiversity conservation.

We anticipate that the student would spend 6-9 months undertaking primary data collection in Nepal following a successful transfer viva.

Click here for a full project description. 

Related undergraduate subjects:

  • Agriculture
  • Biodiversity
  • Biodiversity conservation
  • Botany
  • Conservation
  • Conservation biology
  • Ecology
  • Environmental conservation
  • Environmental management
  • Environmental policy
  • Environmental science
  • Geography
  • Natural resource management
  • Physical geography
  • Plant science
  • Remote sensing
  • Soil science
  • Spatial ecology
  • Sustainability
  • Sustainability and environmental management
  • Zoology