Nepal ranges from 60–8850 meters above sea level, along its short north-south axis. As such, most of Nepal’s land area is on the Himalayan slopes, creating tremendous environmental heterogeneity. The country is a biogeographic crossroads, linking tropical communities in the lowland south with temperate communities in the montane north. The steepness of its slopes leads to rapid species turnover from lowland flora and fauna in the south to alpine biota in the north, making the country one of the world’s most unique biodiversity hotspots.
Global surface temperature in the first two decades of the 21st century (2001-2020) was 0.99 [0.84 to 1.10]°C higher than 1850-1900. It has increased faster since 1970 than in any other 50-year period over at least the last 2000 years.
Climate change is recognized as one of the biggest challenges to biodiversity worldwide. According to a study (by Xu and team), impacts have been seen in glaciers, hydrology, agriculture, biodiversity, ecosystems, human health, and livelihoods.
Although limited and localized, studies have shown that climate change has shifted the altitudinal ranges of plants and changed the distribution and breeding behaviors of birds, reptiles, amphibians, and butterflies in the Himalayan region (Acharya and Chettri, 2012).
Evidence shows the effect of climate change on wildlife habitat. It is predicted that the distribution of snow leopards will reduce by 14.57 percent in 2030 and by 21.57 percent in 2050 when the predicted distribution of blue sheep is included as compared to a 1.98 percent reduction in 2030 and a 3.80 percent reduction in 2050 based on the climate-only model. It is predicted that future climate may alter the spatial interaction of predator–prey, inducing a lower degree of overlap and a higher degree of mismatch between snow leopard and blue sheep niches.
Likewise, according to Baral (2023), elevation, mean temperature of the driest quarter, annual precipitation, and precipitation seasonality were the variables influencing habitat suitability for the common leopard. A significant increase in marginally suitable habitat was observed in the high mountain region, indicating a shift of habitat in upper-elevation areas due to the effects of climate change (Baral et al 2023).
A tiger has been spotted at an elevation of 2,500 meters in the Mahabharat range in the first-ever sighting of a big cat at such a high altitude which has never happened before in Nepal.
Also with the recent climate change, vegetation communities have substantially changed. Between 1979 and 2009, grasslands and forests in the Mustang district have diminished by 11 and 42 percent, respectively, with the tree line having shifted toward higher elevation (Aryal et al 2016). According to studies by (Durant et al 2007 and Broitman et al 2008), the timing of food requirements and availability can have a major impact on predator behavior.
Wildlife habitats will probably increase in the high Himalayas and other high mountain regions as a result of the changing climate. Both opportunities and challenges for the conservation of fragile species are presented by this circumstance. Opportunities in the sense that, with correct management, the creation of new climatically appropriate habitats will aid in expanding species’ ranges and lowering the risk of extinction. The possibility of conflict between humans and wildlife could increase in the future, nevertheless, if potential sites for climatically suited species are not properly maintained.
Furthermore, a thorough study incorporating anthropogenic variables, such as potential future land use scenarios, is highly recommended because the distribution of species is not only influenced by climatic and topographic factors. The federal and provincial governments of Nepal should prioritize the expansion of protected areas in mid-hill regions and create effective policies and initiatives to combat the consequences of climate change. The management of growing habitats, long-term conservation of the species, and conflict resolution all depend heavily on studies examining the effects of climate change on animals.
Susma Gosai is a student at College of Natural Resource Management, Agriculture and Forestry University.