Ecosystem Services

The HKH houses one of the most diverse ecosystems on the earth, featuring a rich biodiversity of species and genetic levels, supplemented by ethnic and cultural diversity, and manifested in a myriad of habitats and vertical heterogeneities in soil, water, climate, and topography. As the source of ten major river basins and home to numerous glaciers, the HKH is often referred to as the “Third Pole.” 

These factors contribute to the high degree of genetic diversity in terms of crops and livestock species in the Himalaya, which require equally diverse management systems for negotiating the interface between human systems with natural systems. The flow of services (e.g., supporting, provisioning, regulating, and cultural) provided by these mountain ecosystems contributes to the wellbeing of the mountain populations throughout the HKH, the downstream areas, and the global community. 

However, despite international recognition, mountains, in general, and the HKH, in particular, continue to face enormous pressures due to anthropogenic change on regional and global scales. These pressures have disrupted of the region’s mountain ecosystems and threaten the HKH in various ways: rising poverty, biodiversity loss, ecological degradation, and diminished ecosystem service provisions. 

Climate change has emerged as the most widely discussed driver of global change. As a driver, climate change is embedded in a matrix of other drivers such as globalization, population growth, and local land-use and land cover change. All of these, in combination, have significant ramifications for ecosystem resilience, which can lead to greater vulnerability of natural and human populations. Thus, action at the local, regional, and global levels is required to ensure that ecosystem health is maintained to sustain the flow of ecosystem services, so that people in the HKH have the tools they need for mitigation, adaptation, and enhanced resilience. 

In this spirit, the Ecosystem Services Theme will pursue the following objectives in the next five years: 

  • To enhance the professional capacity of human resources for ICIMOD and partners on contemporary science; 
  • To enhance multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research and approaches for understanding the social, economic, cultural, and environmental nexus, and proactively managing ecosystems at the watershed or landscape level; and 
  • To strengthen our knowledge base for the region with state-of-the-art science products, policy briefs, and open access databases. 

We will develop methodologies and/or approaches in the following areas: 

  • A more comprehensive plan for establishing long-term monitoring systems that consider environmental, social, and ecological frameworks with a series of permanent plots covering representative mountain ecosystems. We will promote sustenance of such monitoring sites for continuous flow of data; 
  • A more integrated biodiversity database covering all identified transboundary landscapes and critical areas in the HKH; 
  • An integrated framework including relevant methods for the assessing ecosystem health including soils; 
  • Observing and monitoring biophysical and climatic variables for biomass assessment and vegetation dynamics mapping using earth observation data and field survey technologies; 
  • A methods framework for monitoring greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and carbon sequestration in a few critical ecosystems including soils; and 
  • Promote pilots (including transboundary) at the local level and landscape scale within regional frameworks on ecosystem management. We will document the data from these pilots, and present our findings in national and sub national fora for influencing policy. 


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