Background and Goals
The mountains of southern Tibet form the eastern extent of the Himalayan range. Across this rugged landscape, high ridges uplifted from the collision of India with Asia shift from an east-west orientation to run primarily north-south; to the northwest, they give way to the highest plateau on Earth. It is a region of extreme elevational ranges compressed in short distances, with a corresponding diversity of habitats ranging from nearly untouched lowland subtropical forests (with tree ferns) in the Yarlongtsangpo River Valley, to montane tree Rhododendron cloud forests, to areas of alpine and cold desert vegetation at the highest elevations. The flora of southern Tibet is rich and contains many endemic species. However, biodiversity in this region has in general been little studied and poorly documented, and historically this politically sensitive, geographically remote region has received few non-Chinese biologists. Few botanical collections exist in western herbaria, and those tend to be over sixty years old, made primarily by Griffith, Rock, and Kingdon-Ward in the early part of last century. New opportunities for exploration and research in Tibet have arisen in recent years as a result of relaxed restrictions on travel and scientific collecting, as well as infrastructure improvements (roads, communications, settlement, etc). But concomitant with these improvements is greater urgency in the need to protect the region's natural resources in the face of increased pressures from human habitation and development, particularly with the emerging importance of ecotourism to the regional economy.
We will develop an integrated biodiversity information program that will provide intensive training to Tibetan park personnel and biologists, with the following educational goals: 1) methods for conducting field assessments of biological diversity, 2) collection and preservation of herbarium specimens, including techniques for recording data on their natural history and ecology, 3) basic taxonomy and specimen identification, including the use and production of keys, field guides and other educational materials; 4) the writing and publishing of assessment and research reports; and 5) the development and care of biological research collections. We will also provide training in the development of educational displays and other material about biodiversity suitable for national park visitor centers. Training will take place during field sessions in several locations in southern Tibet and at the Field Museum in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution, where a smaller number of participants will visit for an extended period to learn more advanced techniques.