New Research Papers on Himalayan Caterpillar Fungus Collection

Two new papers on Ophiocordyceps sinensis collection in the Himalayas were just recently published, one by C.P. Kuniyal and R.C. Sundriyal on the role of caterpillar fungus in the context of rural livelihood in selected villages in Uttarakhand, the other by U.B. Shrestha & K.S. Bawa on Yartsa gunbu trade harvest and conservation in Nepal's Dolpa region. Both studies offer detailed data on local level shedding light on the situation of the caterpillar fungus industry. Not surprisingly both studies raise the issue of sustainability, an issue looming large after several poor years of harvest. The Dolpa study reports based on over 200 interviews with collectors and traders that 2/3 of the stakeholders are concerned about the sustainability. It offers lots of insight and discusses a whole range of possibilities that could have caused the decline in recorded harvest in the last decade, such as increased collection pressure especially caused by more collectors and increasing value, potential reduction of ghost moth population, climate change etc. Unfortunately there are no answers to what forces are the major factors in harvest reduction, but this a very complex questions and so far there are no studies that would be able to answer this  crucial question. Shresta and Bawa do not offer suggestions how to approach this challenge, whereas the authors of the Uttarakhand study Kuniyal and Sundriyal suggest rotational harvest to diminish negative impact by rotating collection. Though this is no new idea, I have my doubts about feasibility for two reason: firstly, enforcement is very difficult. Keeping collectors off designated areas for 3 out of 4 years seems impossible to me. Secondly, since Yartsa gunbu fruiting is an annual event, host and fungus are dying each year, I am wondering if after three years of fallow, one year of very intense collection might just wipe out the benefits of the fallow. There is still no conclusive empirical research on successful sustainable caterpillar fungus research. In my opinion reducing the continuous collection intensity - be it limiting the collection time to 4 weeks and/or limiting the amount of collectors allowed to enter Yartsa gunbu habitat might be a better match for an organism that infects its hosts each year anew and is distributed in extremely remote areas. However, as Shresta and Bawa point out the build up of functioning local institutions is crucial for creating the capacity of meaningful sustainable management, a process that is in Dolpa underway but far from completed. 

Titles and Abstracts

U.B. Shrestha, K.S. Bawa 2013. Trade, harvest, and conservation of caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis) in the Himalayas.  Biological Conservation 159 (2013) 514–520.

Abstract: Unsustainable trade in wildlife is regarded as a major driver of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
Unregulated wildlife trade propels over-exploitation of species, resulting in population declines, and
often in combination with other factors may ultimately extirpate species from their natural habitats.
Concern about the impacts of trade on biodiversity has largely focused on flagship animal species. Here,
we report on the impact of trade on natural populations of the world’s most expensive biological
resource, a unique caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis). Based on interviews with 203 harvesters
and 28 traders, and focus group discussions in Dolpa, Nepal, we quantify the amount of harvest and trade.
After legalization of trade in Nepal in 2001, trade volume increased persistently, reaching a peak of
2442.4 kg in 2009 and subsequently declining to 1170.8 kg in 2011. The local market price has increased
by up to 2300% over the last 10 years. However, mean annual harvest declined from
260.66 ± 212.21 pieces per person in 2006 to 125.82 ± 96.84 pieces per person in 2010. Our analysis of
harvesters’ perceptions of resource abundance and sustainability shows that virtually all harvesters
(95.1%) believe the availability of the caterpillar fungus in the pastures to be declining, and 67% consider
current harvesting practices to be unsustainable.

Kuniyal, C.P., Sundriyal, R.C. 2013. Conservation salvage of Cordyceps sinensis collection in the Himalayan mountains is neglected.  Ecosystem Services  

Abstract :Traditional agriculture and animal rearing are central in the rural livelihood of Himalayan Mountains.
Economically these activities are inadequate for fulfilling the better livelihood expectation. Therefore rural
people depend on diverse short seasonal activities like collection of medicinal plants, timber trading and
animals poaching etc. for obtaining economic benefits. In past few years, collection of Cordyceps sinensis in
the Himalayan Mountains has been emerged as main short seasonal activity. This practice is more
profitable as compared to the cultivation of key cash crops and some other activities. Because of attractive
economic benefits, nearly 52.08 to 97.98% households of this region are involved in the short seasonal
collection of C. sinensis. Development of C. sinensis in the Himalayan Mountains and economic benefit
earned from its collection is valuable ecosystem service. Uncontrolled collection of C. sinensis will be critical
for its sustainability. Hence rotational pattern for collecting C. sinensis will be useful for its long-term
availability. Because of the shift in short seasonal activities of poor communities, collection of C. sinensis
may be helping in conservation of globally significant medicinal plants (GSMPs), timber yielding trees and
wild animals. However, impacts of this short seasonal activity on the population recovery of GSMPs, timber
trees and wild animals need to be studied at habitat level. Economic benefits earned from short seasonal
collection of C. sinensis and cultivation of key cash crops, suggestion for sustainable collection of C. sinensis,
possible impacts after deviation from this practice and indirect salvage of this short seasonal activity for the
conservation of other resources is discussed in this communication.

 

 

Last edited Thu, 02/21/2013 - 12:33