Detecting the influence of climate and humans on pine forests across the dry valleys of eastern Nepal's Koshi River basin

Uday Kunwar Thapa, Scott St. George

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations

Abstract

Pine forests provide goods and services crucial to more than ten million people living in the middle-mountains (600–4000 m) of Nepal. These critically important forests are already often overexploited and could be at risk from future climate change. In order to investigate the combined effects of climate and human disturbances on the growth of pine forests, we established a new network of tree-ring sites in six Pinus wallichiana and four P. roxburghii forests across the dry inner valleys of eastern Nepal's Koshi River watershed. We produced measurements of total annual ring widths, and detrended individual tree-ring series with 67% cubic splines to produce site-level chronologies. The Koshi tree-ring chronologies were compared against local records of mean monthly temperature and total monthly rainfall to identify the main climatic factor(s) limiting pine growth. We also employed a relative growth change method to estimate growth releases and suppressions in ring-width series as indicators of disturbances. At all sites, trees are relatively young (median age was 102 years) and variations in ring-width provide estimates of tree growth over only the past century. Ring-width chronologies from the Koshi have a weak common signal strength in comparison to trees from the same species obtained from sites in the central Himalaya, and the climate-growth response of Koshi pines appears to be governed primarily by moisture balance during winter. Disturbance events evident in pine ring-width data are largely asynchronous, which suggests these forest have been historically perturbed by human influences rather than large-scale climatic or ecological influences. The sacred forest at Sikri contained the oldest living trees (118 years), had the lowest number of disturbance events, and preserved a stronger common signal, which provided additional evidence of the effects of humans on other pine forests in the Koshi basin. Based on our findings, we suggest that modeling the future growth and distribution of pine trees in eastern Nepal should consider winter moisture. Furthermore, management strategies to better conserve pine forests in eastern Nepal should incorporate the two competing influences of climate and human activities on tree growth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-22
Number of pages11
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Volume440
DOIs
StatePublished - May 15 2019

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We express our gratitude to the Nepal Government’s Department of Forests, District Forest Offices and the local community forestry user groups for granting permission to collect samples from pine forests across the Koshi basin. UK Thapa received support from the Department of Geography, Environment and Society and Dr. St. George received a Talle Family Research Award from the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota to support field work in Nepal. This work would not have been possible without untiring assistance from several graduate and undergraduate students as well as local assistants during field collections. At last, we thank Mr. Paul Krusic (University of Cambridge) and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive feedback that helped improve the quality of this paper substantially.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 Elsevier B.V.

Keywords

  • Human disturbances
  • Koshi River watershed
  • Pine forests
  • Winter moisture

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