Climate change in mountain ecosystems has a particularly high potential to cause severe declines in provisioning of ecosystem services. Combined with their location in a region forming a tipping element in the Earth’s climate system and having low economic resilience, the Himalayan region is particularly prone to severe consequences of climate change. This is true for Bhutan, one of the least developed land-locked mountainous countries.
Climate change results in plant species range shifts with concomitant changes in ecosystem services, occurring through catastrophic regime shifts or altered disturbance regimes. Such altered disturbance regimes like increased fire frequencies and intensities, increased storm frequencies, altered population dynamics of biotic disturbance agents and novel stressors like invasive species put strong threats to the resilience to Himalayan forests. Warming trends in the Himalayas are reported to be stronger than for other regions and show a consistent trend for the last century. Isotope chronologies in Nepal suggest an increasing aridity over the past two centuries in the Himalayas. Annual or supra-annual monsoon failures pose risks to livelihoods in this region. Drought stress is likely to synergistically increase the risk of biotic disturbances as well as the frequency and intensity of forest fires.
Developing and adopting a strategy for increasing the resilience against climate change risks is a major determinant for the future consequences of climate change on livelihoods. Particularly for countries like Bhutan with very steep, erodible terrain and low economic resilience, this holds also true for forests. Knowledge of how to increase resilience of the different forest ecosystems is critically important. This includes better understanding of stress tolerances, including belowground functional biodiversity associated with the main tree species. With the proposed project, the potential for climate adaptation and mitigation measures in forests will be determined and concrete activities will be initiated to increase
the resilience of forests to future changes. With changes in climate and related stress responses, susceptibility to disturbances such as fire, pathogens, and insects is also likely to increase. Interactions among these are likely to create feedback relationships by which both rates of ecosystem change are accelerated and novel (or unprecedented) trajectories of change are created. Understanding these synergistic interactions, future potential susceptibilities, and the likelihood of alternate pathways of change is therefore central to this project. Forest restoration strategies and activities for increasing carbon stocks as well as combating species losses, particularly on degraded lands, will be developed using participative tools. A strong focus on capacity building, e.g. through in-country courses and workshops as well as through formal academic education through the mountain forestry master course and doctoral studies at BOKU will guarantee long term sustainability of inputs and ownership of knowledge and activities.