Highlights: Biodiversity | Climate Change | Conservation | Tool for the future
Problem and Context
Nepal boasts an astonishing variety of floral and faunal species due to the diversity of its topography and habitat types. Within its area of a mere 1,47,181 sq. km (0.1 percent of the total global land area), Nepal is home to 8.5 percent of all bird species, 4.2 percent of all mammalian species, and 2.2 percent of all flowering plant species that exist in the world (Jnawali, et al 2011). However, Nepal’s biodiversity is declining due to anthropological stressors, including rapid growth in human population and settlements, and human-wildlife conflict. One of the biggest risks to Nepal’s biodiversity lies in a lack of spatially and temporally-sensitive data which reflect potential future changes in habitat composition and distribution due to climate change, to which Nepal is recognized as being the 14th most vulnerable worldwide (USAID, 2015).
While current knowledge of Nepal’s 208 known mammal species, compiled during the IUCN-protocol driven “Status of Nepal’s Mammals: The National Red List Series” (Jnawali et al. 2011), is known statistically, the study lacks means of maximizing loss prevention of biodiversity due to climate change – both in terms of geographic/habit factors (along diverse, albeit vanishing, Life Zones) and over time. The same is true for endemic plant species, as well as the little-known phenological patterns of Nepal. This leaves decisions to be made blind to future challenges causing planning to be reactive rather than proactive. This problem will be addressed by filling the gap in national-level impacts of climate change on forest cover, and then answering specific questions of habitat shifts for key mammal and endemic plant species.
Barriers to collecting, analyzing and sharing information has led to uninformed development, impacting livelihoods. Limitations in natural resource governance are in part due to a lack of transparency and inaccessibility of data available to stakeholders. Additionally, undemocratic methods of biodiversity assessments fail to engage lay people whose knowledge of local ecosystems and incentives for conserving them is unmatched.
Looking forward, a broader challenge lies in Nepal’s current state of data acquisition, sharing and interpretation capacity which must also be addressed. Past studies are kept in hard copy, often inaccessible to disparate groups (academics, government workers, etc.); data is also not sourced democratically, leading to gaps in information at the central, decision-making level, yet un-harnessed at the local level. To make species distribution modelling a reality, it is necessary to both create a tool for data visualization and interpretation as well as to capacitate key stakeholders in its use. The JaibikMap, addresses these dual challenges – answering a clear research challenge that has immediate conservation implications while also creating a tool for future challenges to be solved.
To fill existing and future gaps in knowledge, we propose the development of JaibikMap, an interactive, open data, free web-based mapping tool that contains detailed data for addressing conservation and development challenges. The tool will be built on a scalable platform to accommodate additional data layers (e.g. other species classes) in the future. Addressing research gaps, project partners will conduct a nation-wide study of forest change under different climate change scenarios and then apply these findings to species distribution models predicting shifts in habitats. Furthermore, a mobile application will be developed allowing anyone to upload photos and GPS coordinates to the JaibikMap repository taken during opportune sightings of mammal species.
Due to the interdisciplinary requirements of the project, the project is being jointly implemented by 4 institutions/organizations. IUCN-Nepal is the lead organization implementing this project with Kathmandu Living Labs, Department of National Parks and Wildlife, Department of Botany at Tribhuvan University Conservation and Jetz Lab at Yale University as key partner organizations. This is a 2 year project (2016-2018) funded by USAID.
The project kicked off in November 2016. The inception workshop was held on May 2016 which brought major stakeholders and key partners at one place. Currently work on mammalian data collection and species distribution modelling is undergoing at IUCN-Nepal while work on vegetation modelling is being done at Department of Botany at Tribhuvan University. A wireframe of the JabikMap website is also in place which was prepared by Kathmandu Living Labs and presented at the inception workshop to communicate the general idea of the project and to gather feedback.
Currently KLL is involved in understanding key system requirements and collecting information from stakeholders with the aim of meeting the objectives of the project as the well as the demands of the potential users of the JaibikMap tool. Furthermore, research outputs generated by the project have also been presented in couple of international conferences (International Snow Leopard & Ecosystem Forum in Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic held on August 23, 2017 and First South Asian Conference on Small Mammals at Hotel Park Village, Kathmandu held on August 27-29, 2017).
The JaibikMap will provide aggregated, geospatial data that will be instantly accessible to all and will be monitored in part by citizen scientists. JabikMap tool will be a one of a kind open data repository in the biodiversity domain of Nepal. Moreover, an interactive map will aid to disseminate information on current as well as future distribution of key mammal species, ecological zones and vegetation distribution which will aid in raising awareness regarding the threats of climate change to biodiversity. Moreover, the supplementary mobile app will empower the locals, the citizen scientists and people working in the conservation sector to fill the data deficiencies that has been a major hindrance in biodiversity research.
Furthermore, the JabikMap project will enhance Nepali institutions’ ability to implement conservation programs. Junior researchers (aided by principal investigators), relevant policy-makers, and other stakeholders will be trained to conduct and analyze models and future distributions of data that, for the first time in Nepal, will systematically shed light on the impacts of climate change on species. The groundwork will allow trainees to adapt and refine these methods to answer other questions in the future.