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How do ecosystem services flow from three protected areas in the far-eastern Himalaya?

Syed Muhammad Abubakar & Bandana Shakya

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Study areas in the three far-eastern Himalayan landscape countries. The landscape (top-right map) is one of the six transboundary landscapes identified in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region (top-left map) to facilitate integrated conservation and development interventions. It has seven protected areas. We studied the three major protected areas.

Study areas in the three far-eastern Himalayan landscape
Study areas in the three far-eastern Himalayan landscape countries. The landscape (top-right map) is one of the six transboundary landscapes identified in the Hindu Kush Himalayan region (top-left map) to facilitate integrated conservation and development interventions. It has seven protected areas. We studied the three major protected areas.


The protected areas in the far-eastern Himalayan landscape provide a diverse range of ecosystem services that benefit people beyond protected areas and political boundaries. This is abundantly clear from our research on the inter-regional flow of ecosystem services from protected areas in the biodiversity-rich landscape. We explored where the ecosystem services originate and are used, what factors deteriorate the services, and how trade-offs among ecosystem services happen under different protected area management regimes. Our findings can help develop a shared understanding among decision makers, protected area managers, and other stakeholders in the landscape – a collective approach to conservation beyond boundaries.

Ecosystem services are nature’s contribution to peoples’ well-being and are related to the various goods and services that people derive from biodiversity to fulfill their requirements. The concept of ecosystem services transcends borders and promotes inter-regional conservation and development. However, the areas providing ecosystem services are scattered, which makes it difficult to measure an ecosystem’s capacity to produce services, the various pressures on an ecosystem, and the societal demand for these services. So just how do ecosystem services flow among protected areas in the far-eastern Himalayan landscape?

Mapping ecosystem services flow

The process of participatory understanding of the flow of ecosystem services has been crucial in developing a shared understanding among partners in the landscape, and to prompt collective actions. We studied the ecosystem services flow among China, India, and Myanmar, which share the landscape. We used participatory GIS mapping to visualize the flow from three protected areas in the landscape: Gaoligongshan National Nature Reserve in Yunnan, China; Namdapha National Park and Tiger Reserve in northeast India; and Hkakaborazi National Park in north Kachin, Myanmar. These three protected areas, along with the Hponkanrazi Wildlife Sanctuary in Kachin, Myanmar, form a contiguous ecological landscape in the north-western part of the far-eastern Himalayan Landscape. This landscape is a biodiversity hotspot that has been accorded high priority in terms of conservation.

We mapped the service provisioning hotspots (SPHs), service beneficiary areas (SBAs), and degraded service provisioning hotspots (dSPHs) for four important ecosystem services: medicinal plants, water provisioning and regulation, cultural and aesthetic services, and habitat services. We analysed the trade-offs among the ecosystem services, weighing how the four services behaved under three scenarios for protected area management: nature-at-work, nature-people harmony, and people-at-work. A participatory GIS mapping tool brought in diverse stakeholders to pinpoint areas that are the source and sinks for the four services. We digitized the collective data and developed a map showing the extent of SPHs, SBAs, and dSPHs, helping highlight the importance of inter-regional flow of services.

Regional implications of the flow of services
Regional implications of the flow of services, showing the extent of beneficiaries, the usefulness of the four services in each protected area, and the types of cooperation pathways that address the different drivers affecting ecosystem services.


Regional cooperation – an imperative

The performance of ecosystem services under different scenarios indicates that the future management of protected areas must widen conservation constituencies and capitalize on multiple benefits from protected areas, essentially to maximize livelihoods benefits to communities who live in and around protected areas. We recommend intra-/inter-country and regional cooperation pathways for the future sustenance of ecosystem services from protected areas in the landscape.

Enhanced regional cooperation among China, India, and Myanmar is vital for the long-term sustenance of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the landscape. We adopted the transdisciplinary knowledge co-production approach to sensitize stakeholders on ecosystem services, and to incorporate the perspectives of locals and experts alike. We suggest that conservation actions in the far-eastern Himalayan landscape must prioritize protected area networks, facilitate the use of diverse ecosystem services, and engage a larger segment of the population to share the cost of management of the protected areas network and balance conservation and development benefits.

As the service provisioning hotspots are located both within and outside the protected areas, the future governance of the protected areas needs to integrate land use outside the protected areas as conservation corridors, buffer zones, community forestry areas, and community-conserved areas. This can contribute towards the active engagement of local communities for the sustainable use and management of natural resources.

We recommend a landscape-scale valuation of ecosystem services with an analysis of the cost of transfer of services to regional and global beneficiaries, and the development of a wider range of user payment mechanisms to enable China, India, and Myanmar to collectively define regional environmental and biodiversity management policies. We also urge the three countries to safeguard the landscape’s Outstanding Universal Value in terms of natural, geological, and cultural features through the designation of protected areas as World Heritage Sites. This would go a long way in strengthening the sustainability of ecosystem services in the far-eastern Himalayan landscape.


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