Weeds in the land of Gross National Happiness: Knowing what to manage by creating a baseline alien plant inventory for Bhutan

Abstract

Biological invasions are a serious threat globally, but particularly in developing countries. Bhutan is unique among South Asian countries in that it has a rich biodiversity, and its people have a ‘sacred’ responsibility to protect the environment and native biodiversity; conversely it is also considered a ‘crisis ecoregion’ because of significant threats to biodiversity from anthropocentric activities. Managing biological invasions is difficult without a comprehensive baseline of the alien species present. An alien plant inventory for Bhutan was created by examining an extensive array of information and data sources such as herbaria records, published floras, unpublished documents, and from personal communications. The alien plant flora including cultivated taxa in Bhutan comprises 139 families, 545 genera and 964 species. Of these, 626 species occur only in cultivation, whilst the other 338 species occur in the wild (spontaneous); 131 (39%) casuals, 103 (31%) naturalised and 101 (30%) invasive. The major of naturalised alien plants were introduced as pasture species (32%), ornamentals (24%) and from unintentional sources (22%). Whilst, the major of invasive species were introduced unintentionally (76%), as ornamentals (15%) and pasture species (3%). Because a large proportion of alien plants have been deliberately introduced, implementation of both pre-border weed risk assessment and post-border weed risk management approaches can be effective in Bhutan, despite the country’s open and porous borders. Such a biosecurity approach could also be implemented on a plant import sector basis, as only four sectors account for 86% of alien plant introductions, largely through one entry point. The baseline inventory and analysis will shape future management and policy directions for alien plants in Bhutan.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank those who helped in the collation of the inventory, including staff from the Bhutan National Biodiversity Centre, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority, Department of Forest and Park Services, and those who provided access to unpublished data Walter Roder, Ngawang, Tshering, Choki Wangmo, Kinley Wangdi, Mel Schroeder and Trevor Gibson. The authors thank the two anonymous reviewers for their comments and those of Petr Pyšek which improved the final manuscript.

Funding

Dorjee received funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in the form of a John Allwright Fellowship to undertake a PhD at the University of Canberra as well as travel to Bhutan to access and collate a range of unpublished or difficult to access data sources as well as meet with researchers (OASIS ID: ST000BF10). Dorjee also received supplementary funding from the Institute for Applied Ecology, University of Canberra.

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All authors contributed to the study conception and design. Data collection, compilation, and data checking of the inventory and subsequent analysis were performed by Dorjee with guidance from POD, SBJ and AJB. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Dorjee and POD, SBJ and AJB provided comments and inputs on previous versions of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

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Correspondence to Dorjee.

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Dorjee, Johnson, S.B., Buckmaster, A.J. et al. Weeds in the land of Gross National Happiness: Knowing what to manage by creating a baseline alien plant inventory for Bhutan. Biol Invasions 22, 2899–2914 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10530-020-02306-5

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Keywords

  • Alien plant species
  • Baseline inventory
  • Bhutan
  • Uncertainty
  • Weed risk assessment
  • Weed risk management