Biodiversity

Ministry of Agriculture Landcover 1993-1994

Fauna, Flora, and Ecosystem dynamics

The biodiversity component
The Royal Government of Bhutan has demonstrated a clear interest in assessing and sustainably managing the country’s biodiversity. While Bhutan is recognized internationally as one of the world’s regional biodiversity ‘Hotspots’, as with other areas within the region, there remains is a clear need to document biodiversity that provides a comprehensive knowledge baseline for management. Mountainous terrain and extreme environments present considerable barriers to biodiversity survey using traditional ecological approaches. Through assistance from international donor agencies and support from within the MoA, NSSC, SLMP, development of the biodiversity component of the DrukDIF is implementing cutting-edge, environmental gradient-based methodology that enables a rapid cost:effective means of biodiversity assessment and monitoring.

Methodology
Unlike purely species-based biodiversity surveys, the methodology used here integrates both biotic and abiotic elements. Apart from biological species, functional types and vegetation structure, the biodiversity layer of the DDIF includes co-located, spatially referenced data relating to landform, landcover, land use and soils. Data integrated in this way facilitate identification of dynamic linkages between species and key ecosystem drivers such as available soil nutrients and water and thus potential connectivities between biodiversity and agricultural productivity. The recording of different vegetation elements such as structure (mean canopy height, basal area of all woody plants, tree rooting depth is expected to enhance the connection with hydrology in the way vegetation intercepts precipitation and overland flow. In this way the database provides a more comprehensive knowledge baseline than is usual for policy planning and management within and between institutional sectors.

Capacity enhancement
Where expertise is lacking, successful implementation of technological advances requires capacity enhancement. In this respect the current project included an intensive, certificated training course in aboveground biodiversity assessment for specialist of biodiversity organisations. The course included theory and practice in survey design and implementation, the use of software for data collation storage and analysis and basic elements of geospatial mapping. At the time of writing, in order to consolidate theory with practice, groups of participants from the training course are being progressively included in a current and ongoing biodiversity survey of the WangChhu watershed that represents one the key drainage systems in Bhutan. The course report is available for download (to the left).

Survey of the WangChhu watershed
For operational reasons the WangChhu survey is in three elevational sections, upper (2500-4500m), mid (1500-2500m) and lower (150-1500m). Surveys of both upper and mid sections have been completed. Apart from important baseline data, preliminary analyses have identified a number of potentially useful indicators of biodiversity and related agricultural productivity. It is anticipated that, when complete, results from the survey will contribute significantly to the natural resource knowledge base in Bhutan as well as providing new ecological insights into the dynamics of biodiversity and related land management. Survey reports of the Upper and Mid sections of the Wang Chhu are available for download as well as preliminary datasets. 

Demonstrations of spatial models of the Wang Chhu watershed
As an indication of how spatial models can be implemented in DrukDIF three examples are attached (to the left). These include 1) A documented image of Bhutan showing 44 transects outlined in the mind- and upper- sections of the Wang Chhu. The transect layout also highlights gaps that require sampling in the final survey to be undertaken in May 2010. As an indication of the potential for extrapolating results across Bhutan as a whole, a DOMAIN spatial mapping exercise indicates various similarity levels between the elevational ranges encompassed in the Wang Chhu survey thus far, compared with Bhutan as a whole. 2) The Wang Chhu watershed in its entirety is examined with respect to the coverage of the 44 transects thus far and a similarity mapping exercise is also displayed for the watershed based on elevation. We expect to be able to add key climate data variables (precipitation, temperature, solar radiation...) to the basic Digital Elevation Model (DEM) that will greatly improve the value of spatial modelling of biodiversity elements. 3). At a finer scale a subset of sites from the Chelela-Haa area of the Wang Chhu has been selected and a similar set of spatial models applied.