Harvesters’ perceptions of population status and conservation of Chinese caterpillar fungus in the Dolpa region of Nepal

Abstract

Chinese caterpillar fungus is in spotlight because of its high market value, unusual life history, and numerous medicinal uses. One of the most expensive biological resources of the world, Chinese caterpillar fungus is harvested by the most impoverished communities of the Himalaya to sustain their livelihoods. Skyrocketing international trade and intensive local collections from the wild have raised concerns about the status of natural populations and their conservation. We assessed harvesters’ perceptions of the population status of Chinese caterpillar fungus, causes of decline, and sustainable harvesting in Dolpa, Nepal. Most harvesters (95.1 %) believe that the abundance of Chinese caterpillar fungus has decreased during the last 5 years. This belief is supported by trends in average annual per capita harvest. Climate change, over harvesting, premature harvesting, and reduced number of the larvae are the cited causes of decline in harvests. To validate the harvester’s perceptions of climate change, we analyzed temperature and precipitation data. Pearson’s Chi-square tests between the perceptions of abundance of Chinese caterpillar fungus and demographic variables such as harvesting experience, age, place of origin and education are not significant, indicating that the perceptions are independent of demographic characteristics of harvesters. A large proportion of harvesters (79.31 %) believe that the population might recover if collection is periodically banned for 1–2 years. Other protection measures suggested by the harvesters include changes in the harvesting time, regulation of prices, protection of habitat including solid waste management and control of cattle grazing, and development of local capacity for harvesting on a sustainable basis. A systematic management plan that incorporates trans-national efforts to sustain populations that occur across several countries facing similar human and physical pressures and ecological impacts is needed.

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Acknowledgments

This work is supported by Rufford Small Grants for Nature Conservation (RSGs) and National Geographic Society. We are grateful to Bharat Babu Shrestha, Sujata Shrestha, Shivaraj Ghimire, Kamal Nepali, Puspa Shahi, and all the people of Dolpa for their support in the field.

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Correspondence to Uttam Babu Shrestha.

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Editor: by Ülo Mander.

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Shrestha, U.B., Bawa, K.S. Harvesters’ perceptions of population status and conservation of Chinese caterpillar fungus in the Dolpa region of Nepal. Reg Environ Change 15, 1731–1741 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0732-7

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Keywords

  • Medicinal plants
  • Harvesting
  • Conservation
  • Dolpa
  • Nepal