Ph.D Project Abstract

Ensure the resilience of local communities and biodiversity in the high mountains of Central Asia

Overview


Background

Mountains provide both diverse ecological niches for a wide variety of species and numerous essential ecosystem services which support the economy and society‚Äôs well-being. In Central Asia, mountain ecosystems are the home of many threatened and emblematic species including snow leopard (Panthera uncia), Siberian ibex (Capra sibirica) and argali (Ovis ammon), and is a global hotspot for plant biodiversity (FAO 2015). Mountain species form complex interactions across trophic levels, including local communities. The management and conservation of wildlife and native plants, high mountains landscapes and the resilience of local communities requires a detailed understanding their spatial and temporal variability and patterns, and interactions across different trophic levels. 

Aims and Objectives

  • Document the current distribution and abundance of snow leopard and their mammalian prey.
  • Monitor and assess changes in the timing of vegetation phenology to assess potential changes in forage 

    availability for livestock and wild prey.
  • Conduct a socio-economic valuation of provisional ecosystem services.
  • Develop scenarios based on various climatic projections and use historic trends to predict impacts on land-use by wildlife and humans 

Methods 

I will assess the impacts of climate change on ecological and socio-economic conditions in the Naryn State Reserve (NSR) in Kyrgyzstan, which may also serve as a model of a Central Asian pastoral system undergoing transition. In areas where human livelihoods are still wholly dependent on the natural world, climate change has already impacted communities which do not have yet the capacity to adapt to these changes (Kulikov et al. 2020; Xenarios et al. 2019). From 2021 to 2025, field work will take place during the period of June-September in the NSR. 

The strength of this proposed study lies in the combination of methods which include both traditional knowledge and new technologies, from the plot scale to the landscape scale, and assessment of past and present changes to develop a framework for predicting future changes under a variety of scenarios. The protocols put in place respect the recommendations of the Global Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Protection Project (GSLEP) and the Herbivory Network.

Anticipated Significance

The study will provide an understanding of the impacts of temperature, precipitation and hazard frequency shifts on vegetation, wildlife, livestock and human land-use across the Naryn State Reserve through the publication of several research papers (e.g. meta-analysis on past habitat changes; past, present and predicted shifts in trophic interactions and biodiversity spatial distribution). Also, these outputs will help local organizations and local communities in management and conservation-decision-making. 

The goal behind following the protocol recommendations from GSLEP and the Herbivory Network is to allow the results of this study to be used in global conservation programs such as the First Population Assessment of the World's Snow Leopards (PAWS).

Furthermore, this project will be used as a training platform for the future generation of Kyrgyz scientists The partnership with the University of Central Asia (UCA) is meant to give the opportunity to local students to be trained on climate change, land-use and biodiversity conservation related issues. We want the research to go beyond this PhD project and to equally give the opportunity to young men and women to get trained on such topics.

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