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Epiphytic orchids in the Himalayas: Distribution pattern, micro-site conditions, host tree characteristics and utilization of epiphytic orchids in the central Himalayas

Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal, is situated at 1336m (4500 feet) above sea level. Our study area covers an area of approx. 170 km2, with more than 2 million inhabitants. Nepal’s biodiversity is extraordinarily rich. Although Nepal occupies only 0.1% of the world’s area, it is within the top 34 countries of the world concerning biodiversity. Due to its unique geographical position and climate, the Kathmandu valley offers excellent growing conditions for orchids. Orchids of this region have not been fully explored to date and need more detailed scientific research.

Nowadays some of the orchid species are being driven to extinction due to many environmental factors such as air pollution, extensive urbanisation, deforestation and over exploitation of the species from their natural habitat. Some orchids such as Dendrobium densiflorum (Nepali name: Sungava), which in former times used to be found commonly around the valley, are very rare now.

The overall goal of this flagship project for biodiversity protection in Nepal is to develop the scientific basis for long term protection of orchids in this region. The project among others is trying to find correlations between orchid distribution in the study area and human impacts in terms of intensity of land use. The information of epiphytic orchid distribution pattern, micro-site conditions, such as host characteristics, in a land use gradient of epiphytic orchids will be the basis to develop strategies for orchid protection in utilised areas.

It is the first study to include all relevant types of habitat (from natural habitats to single tree habitats) transfer at a single study site and developed conservation perspectives. Keystones for sustainable conservation and utilisation of epiphytic orchids are: i) the elements that should be protected, ii) the activities that should be carried out, and iii) the socio-economic background of conservation. While remnants of natural habitats are crucial for the conservation of epiphytic orchid communities, groups of native trees in urban settings can still serve as stepping stones.

The final outcome of this project will be a contribution for developing a concept for sustainable management of biodiversity, here with the focus on orchids, but as an example for developing such a concept for the biodiversity of  tropical and subtropical region in the Himalayan and elsewhere.