Graduate Students in Nepal Uncover the Impacts of Climate Change and Invasive Species Spread
This post is written by Sara Hendery, communications coordinator for the Feed the Future Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Innovation Lab.
Virginia Tech’s Feed the Future IPM Innovation Lab is celebrating the work of 27 students funded by one of its projects.
The IPM Innovation Lab collaborates with Tribhuvan University and the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute to assess the spread of invasive weeds over the last 30 years — based on elevation and under different climate scenarios — in central Nepal. The project has found that as climate change events continue to occur, invasive weeds are spreading faster and higher than ever before.
Over the course of this six-year project, many research findings have been uncovered by graduate students supported by the project’s funding. Post-graduation, those students are now working at high levels within the Nepal government, universities and the private sector. They have also participated in more than 45 international and national conference presentations and published more than three dozen research papers in national and international scientific journals, with more being developed.
“Student research, with the guidance of experts and advisors, has been at the helm of some of the most exciting research to come out of this project,” said Pramod Jha, professor emeritus at Tribhuvan University and the project lead. “Some have uncovered, for example, incredibly valuable biocontrol options for some of Nepal’s most pressing invasive weed issues as well as assessed the shrinking land availability of critical food crops communities depend on. These students are just at the beginning of recognizing the long-term impacts of climate change and this initial research will propel them into future careers where they can actually see their work come to life.”
Take, for example, soon-to-be graduate Seerjana Maharjan. Maharjan is earning her Ph.D. from Tribhuvan University, researching the ecology and management of the invasive weed Parthenium hysterophorus, which causes human, animal and environmental health issues. Her research considers the possibility of winter rust as a biocontrol agent of parthenium and projects the increased suitable habitat of parthenium under future climate scenarios. Post-graduation, Maharjan will serve as a scientific officer in Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources, Ministry of Forests and Environment.
Dol Raj Luitel also works as a senior scientific officer in Nepal’s Department of Plant Resources, Ministry of Forests and Environment. Earning his Ph.D. at Tribhuvan University, Luitel’s research explores the impact of climate change on distribution, production and cropping patterns of finger millet and buckwheat along altitudinal gradients in Nepal. His research assesses the medicinal value of finger millet, the declining habitat of buckwheat under future climate scenarios and the important nutrients that can be found in finger millet and soil at varying elevations.
Ghanshyam Bhandari earned his Ph.D. from the Agriculture and Forestry University, researching insect diversity of maize and eco-friendly management practices of maize stemborers. Bhandari’s research also assesses the performance of traps for capturing maize insects and farmer perception of climate change in relation to maize cultivation. As a current research officer at the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), Bhandari is assisting the IPM Innovation Lab in developing biological control efforts of the invasive fall armyworm in Nepal.
Hom Nath Giri earned a Ph.D. from the Agriculture and Forestry University and currently serves as an assistant professor of horticulture at his alma mater. His research explores the growth of cauliflower at different ecological zones in Nepal, the effect of nitrogen on the post-harvest quality of cauliflower, and efficacy testing of pesticides against the cabbage butterfly in Nepal.
Anju Sharma Paudel earned a Ph.D. from Tribhuvan University, her research focusing on the management of the invasive weed Ageratina adenophora. Post-graduation, Paudel is continuing to develop her research, predicting the current and future distribution of Ageratina adenophora in Nepal and whether stem-galling of the invasive weed by the biocontrol agent Procecidochares utilis is elevation dependent.
The IPM Innovation Lab supported Ram Asheswar Mandal, a postdoctoral student at Tribhuvan University, over the course of the program. Mandal’s research assesses the impacts of climate change and biological invasion on livelihoods.
The IPM Innovation Lab has also supported 21 master’s-level students in the same project, many of whom now work as agricultural officers for the Nepal government or as lecturers at local universities.
Muni Muniappan, director of the IPM Innovation Lab, said the involvement of students in this project is a win-win for both students and research.
“Students are eager to address the biggest problems of our time,” he said, “whether it be food insecurity, resource limitations, climate change impacts or other constraints. Students bring to these global challenges new perspectives and out-of-the-box thinking that is exactly what is needed to help move the science forward. In return, they receive real-life, hands-on experience in their own country as well as other countries, which further nurtures their problem-solving abilities.”
Graduating master’s students funded by the project include:
- Sagar Khadka, Tribhuvan University: Decomposition of Eichhornia crassipes of different fungi in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Bidya Shrestha, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of climate change on biodiversity utilization by smallholder farmers.
- Pristi Dangol, Tribhuvan University: Changes in the life history traits of the invasive weed Lantana camara in central Nepal.
- Yashoda Panthi, Tribhuvan University: Diversity of invasive alien plant species and their impacts on provisioning services in a village of Lamjung district.
- Ganga Shah, Tribhuvan University: Distribution of vulture species and its nest site from lowland to highland in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Vishubha Thapa, Tribhuvan University: Food access and threats to vultures in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Vivekanand Mahat, Agriculture and Forestry University: Hygiene behavior of the honey bee (Apis cerana. F. and Apis mellifera L.) and diversity of flower visitors in rapeseed (Brassica campestris var. toria).
- Sarita Sapkota, Agriculture and Forestry University: Relative abundance of dung beetles and their role in nutrient cycling in Terai and mid hills of Nepal.
- Ramesh Upreti, Agriculture and Forestry University: Fruit thinning and defoliation effects on the quality and yield of papaya (Carica papaya) cv. Red Lady under net house conditions at Chitwan.
- Madhu Sudan Ghimire, Agriculture and Forestry University: Evaluation of indigenous cultivation of potato against late blight (Phytopthora infestance L.) in Okhaldhunga, Nepal.
- Pratiksha Sharma, Agriculture and Forestry University: Climate resilient maize production among Chepang and non-Chepang communities in Chitwan, Nepal.
- Srijana Paudel, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Mikania micrantha in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Abhisek Singh, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Ipomea carnea ssp fistulosa and spatio-temporal distribution of Lantana camara in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Sita Gyawali, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Chromolaena odorata in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Sandeep Dhakal, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Lantana camara in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Sanjeev Bhandari, Tribhuvan University: Climate change and its impacts on fodder availability in Puranchaur, Kaski district.
- Himal Yonjon, Tribhuvan University: Spatio-temporal distribution of Eichhornea crassipes in Chitwan Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
- Chandra Paudel, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Lantana camara on associated species.
- Binod Malla, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Mikania micrantha on associated species.
- Aarati Chand, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Parthenium hysterophorus on associated species.
- Nitu Joshi, Tribhuvan University: Impacts of Chromolaena odorata on associated species.
This invasive weed modeling project is one of nine projects the IPM Innovation Lab currently manages. Since the program’s inception in 1993, it has funded the research of more than 600 students worldwide.