Focus on Science: High Himalaya Plant Diversity and Elevation

PI: Eric DeChaine, Western Washington University

The mountains of Nepal provide an unparalleled opportunity to investigate the

impact of elevation on plant diversity. Not only are flowering plants vital members of

biological communities, but they are also excellent organisms for studying the impact of

environmental changes. At present, the flora of Nepal is inadequately documented and

thus the processes governing the past and potential future of plant distributions

throughout the region remain uncertain. We will investigate the diversity of the flora to

answer three questions. 1) How does plant diversity change with elevation? To address

this, we will perform botanical surveys along an elevational transect. Documenting the

diversity is a critical, first step for for any management efforts and future monitoring. 2)

How have environmental changes impacted the diversity of plants in the region? Our

transect will include previously sampled locations from 2009/2010 so that we can test for

recent changes in diversity over the past decade. By doing so, we will be able to catch the

community shifts as they occur. An understanding of the relationship between plant

diversity and elevation will provide a strong foundation for conservation efforts across

the region, with important practical implications for agriculture.