Human Community Dynamics and Socioecological Vulnerability in a Biodiversity Hotspot

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The subtropical forested buffer zone surrounding Chitwan National Park, Nepal, is a biodiversity hotspot that is home to the endangered Bengal tiger, one-horned rhinoceros, and more than 200,000 people who live and farm nearby. One of the world's most invasive plants, Mikania micrantha (also called "mile-a-minute weed”), is rapidly spreading through collectively managed community forests in this region and is degrading critical ecosystem services that support wildlife and people’s livelihoods. Mikania Photo

Some communities are able to adaptively manage their natural resources much better than others under conditions of rapid change and uncertainty. In this project, we are investigating:

  • What social and ecological factors enable the rapid spread or control of this fast-moving invasive species?
  • How do collectively governed and market-based, non-family organizations facilitate or mitigate the responses of community forest groups to rapid environmental change?

To explore the links between Mikania invasion, ecosystem properties, and activities of households and communities, our team will collect social and ecological data in over 20 heterogeneous community forests that border Chitwan National Park. These data will be used to develop a model and maps of local vulnerability, and they will help to enhance the resilience of communities and ecosystems to rapid environmental changes such as Mikania invasion.