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Kanchenjunga 2017

I'm really happy to be back from a successful and intense collaborative research trip in the Himalayas. This year, the GLORIA resurvey schedule called for us to revisit Kanchenjunga. This is a remote and high range (long believed to be the highest in the world, now ranked #3) in northeastern Nepal. Jan and Dr. Suresh Ghimire of Tribhuvan University (a longtime WLBC collaborator) set up the plots originally in 2010. Our goal was to relocate the plots, find the temperature monitors Jan had buried, and resurvey the vegetation to see how it had changed.  

This is the second Nepal resurvey, following the Langtang work I told you about last year – both have been funded by research grants from National Geographic. Next year, we hope to resurvey the final Nepal site and begin the Bhutan resurveys.

For the Kanchenjunga work this year, I was joined by James Lucas, a PhD student at Washington University in St. Louis, who was new to the work, but eager, and by my wife Elsa, who’s now worked on 5 Himalayan GLORIA resurveys. From Kathmandu, Suresh brought 7 Nepali Masters students, some who Suresh and I had previously trained in GLORIA methodology, and others who were new to it.

Suresh shares his ethnobotanical knowledge with the Nepali MS students

This is a difficult, distant place to get into, but this also made it an exciting opportunity to understand the plants and people of a little-studied region. With plane, bus, jeep, and (a lot of) foot travel, we made it to the sites, relocated the markers where Jan and her team had left them, recovered the temperature monitors, resurveyed the vegetation data, and collected ~660 voucher numbers of ~315 species.

We're now working to identify and curate the plants we collected and analyze the changes to their elevational ranges and abundance. These plants, along with the temperature readings our hardy little data-loggers collected, can help us to understand how climate change is affecting the vegetation of this remote landscape. In combination with ethnobotanical data from our interviews, we can start to actually get a picture of how these changes affect the plants most valuable to people's livelihoods.

Elsa, Yeggye, Pravin, James and Pasang take one of the 56 measurements that survey each summit, defining the elevation-aspect sections so that we can make comparable plant lists after seven years.

Elsa, Yeggye, Pravin, James and Pasang take one of the 56 measurements that survey each summit, defining the elevation-aspect sections so that we can make comparable plant lists after seven years.