Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative Regional Meeting: Vegetation Type Scheme Validation and Endorsement

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Background:

Recent studies on the patterns of environmental change around the globe suggest that ecosystems in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region are more vulnerable to climate change than ecosystems from other high altitude areas in the world. Owing to similarities in socioeconomic and ecological conditions, countries in the HKH region are increasingly realising the need for stronger scientific collaboration, the sharing of information, and effective communication to address the emerging environment and development challenges. Despite this realisation, there have been no significant attempts at bringing ecologists, forestry professionals, and conservation agencies together in a common platform to harmonise terminology, especially when it comes to various classes of vegetation. 

In the absence of standard classification of Himalayan vegetation, ecologists and foresters use ad hoc names, resulting in confusion and miscommunication. Thus, there is an urgent need for standard criteria for the classification and harmonisation of vegetation classes across the region. As forest management requires an ecosystem approach, Himalayan forests need to be characterised for their ecosystem-level attributes in a hierarchic manner from biome to physiognomic, and to local floristic types. 

Rational 

The Kailash landscape stretches across China, India, and Nepal and exhibits diverse vegetation types. The national partners have local-based knowledge, historical data, and maps depicting vegetation distribution prepared during recent years. Seamless data on vegetation types which adheres to consistent classification methods is important to understanding the context both at landscape and transboundary context. 

Kailash sacred landscape harbours diverse climatic, physiognomic, and locale-specific critical forest vegetation types, altitudinal controlled shrub lands, and grasslands apart from agriculture, snow, and barren lands. The spatial distribution mapping and analysis of these vegetation types, in conjunction with associated climate, topographic, and field information will be critical in understanding factors regulating: vegetation distribution and its associated diversity; identification of critical habitats for conservation; basic stratification for carbon assessment; exploring for abundance analysis of economic and ecological important species; and understanding the landscape matrix in relation to habitat contiguity and change. In view of this, a database on vegetation distribution is largely realised as an important need across all the components of Kailash Sacred Landscape Conservation and Development Initiative (KSLCDI).

The vastness, inaccessibility, and short optimal seasons for field visits curtail detailed field surveys to understand the distribution patterns. In this context, the advantage of multi-spectral and multi-temporal remote sensing data, in conjunction with limited field surveys representing vegetation distribution, would be a useful tool to analyse the entire landscape and develop a detailed vegetation map depicting the distribution patterns of dominant vegetation classes. The comprehensive field-based vegetation distribution studies provide a sound scientific basis to develop a suitable classification scheme suiting ecological context of the landscape.

In the International Symposium on Transforming Mountain Forestry held in Dehradun, India during 18-22 January 2015 it was suggested that a regional meeting involving key partners currently engaged in KSLCDI be organised under the aegis of ICIMOD to refine and harmonise the classification scheme and the vegetation map of HKH with beginning from Kailash landscape.

In this context ICIMOD is conducting a regional meeting from 9-10 December, 2015 in Dehradun, India for Vegetation Type Scheme Validation and Endorsement for Kailash Sacred landscape in association with Wildlife Institute of India. The meeting will see participation from regional partners, focal persons from ministries, representatives from other transboundary landscape initiatives, subject matter experts, and ICIMOD members. 

Expected Results

The main outcome of the event would be:

  • agreed classification system for vegetation nomenclature applicable to Kailash Landscape
  • harmonised vegetation type map 
  • pathways for mainstreaming vegetation classification system developed and future plans for other transboundary landscape initiatives.