Feed the Future
This project is part of the U.S. Government's global hunger and food security initiative.

Mapping Climate Change, Invasive Species, and Semblances of Hope

Written by Sara Hendery

The buttery yellow blossoms of a khair tree peek through the openings of a forest.

Rhododendron flowers bloom their fuchsia smiles.

Juniper seeds hang on the branch moon-ish and blue.

Nepal embodies a rich and biodiverse environment unlike any other country in the world. With silky fertile plains and the highest mountain point on Earth, the country is unique in that it is home to beautiful, bold coniferous forests as well as high elevations of sharp rock and ice. 

Due to the effects of climate change, however, that rich and biodiverse environment is being threatened by creeping, crawling culprits: invasive weeds.

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management is currently working on a project studying the effect of global warming on the spread of invasive species, with an emphasis on weeds, in the Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape (CHAL) region of Nepal. It is the hill and valley-filled area of central Nepal outlined by lowland and lofty Himalaya; topographic extremes in Nepal make it that much more vulnerable to threats like global warming.

“Some people are skeptical about global warming,” Muni Muniappan, Director of the IPM Innovation Lab, said.

What causes it? Who causes it? Does it even exist? The debate is ongoing.

“Himalayan geography represents a climatic diversity resembling anywhere from the Florida Keys to the Arctic,” he said. “This provides an ideal situation to measure climate impact, especially global warming, on the spread of invasive species.”

The IPM Innovation Lab has studied the spread of pests, among other crop-related issues, for a quarter of a century, and has been working in Nepal for over a decade, where shifts in land matter in more ways than one.

Most of the country’s citizens are employed by agriculture. Eighty-three percent of employed Nepali women, for example, work in this industry. Further, in 1992, the International Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) reported that the biological invasion of alien species is the second worst threat after habitat destruction.

With the help of Virginia Tech’s Biocomplexity Institute and Nepal’s Tribhuvan University, the IPM Innovation Lab will map the dominant invasive alien species occurring in CHAL from 1990 to 2017, plot the locations with the highest potential for invasion, and measure trends between the distribution of invasive species and the distribution of climate change.

This mapping will be fluid enough that other countries could easily utilize the system as well.

New homes for invasive species have popped up all over the world due to longer seasons, variations in rainfall, and the warming of temperature, to name a few. Invasive species grow tolerant to threats, outcompete native species for land, easily modify ecosystems, and develop at alarming rates.

In Nepal, white bursts of Crofton Weed, for example, which is native to Mexico, are parachuting open along forest floors. It is extending its range to more temperate regions, depleting soil nutrients, and clogging irrigation channels. Chromolaena, native to the Americas, is moving into subtropics, causing fire hazards and depleting other plant life along the way. 

In fragile ecosystems that are constantly changing, every moment counts. Every farmer, every market sale. With the help of scientists and collaborators like the ones at the IPM Innovation Lab, we’ll see that so does every map.