Study predicts massive habitat decline for the Himalayan brown bear by 2050 due to climate change

Himalayan Brown Bear   | Photo Credit: Ishwari Datt Rai

A recent study on the Himalayan brown bear (Ursus arctos isabellinus) has predicted a significant reduction in suitable habitat and biological corridors of the species in the climate change scenario, prompting scientists to suggest an adaptive spatial planning of protected area network in the western Himalayas for conserving the species.

The Himalayan brown bear is one of the largest carnivores in the highlands of Himalayas. It occupies the higher reaches of the Himalayas in remote, mountainous areas of Pakistan and India, in small and isolated populations, and is extremely rare in many of its ranges.

The study carried out in the western Himalayas by scientists of Zoological Survey of India, predicted a massive decline of about 73% of the bear’s habitat by the year 2050.

A publication titled Adaptive spatial planning of protected area network for conserving the Himalayan brown bear’ with the details of the study has recently been published in an international science journal.

“These losses in habitat will also result in loss of habitat from 13 protected areas (PAs), and eight of them will become completely uninhabitable by the year 2050, followed by loss of connectivity in the majority of PAs. Furthermore, simulation suggests a significant qualitative decline in remaining habitats of the species within the protected areas of the landscape,” Lalit Sharma, head of wildlife section of ZSI and the lead author of the study, said.

Dr. Sharma said that in such a situation when the protected areas in the Himalayan region lose their effectiveness and representativeness, there is a need to adopt “preemptive spatial planning of PAs in the Himalayan region for the long-term viability of the species”.

“The suitable habitats were mapped outside the PAs and are closely placed to PAs; such areas may be prioritized to bring them into the PA network or enhanced protection,” the paper recommended.

Dr. Sharma explained that adaptive spatial planning of PAs is aimed at minimising the risks and uncertainty of climate change.

“We have taken the Himalayan brown bear as an example because it is a top carnivore of the high-altitude Himalayan region. The elevation gradient in which the brown bear is distributed is most vulnerable to global warming as this elevation belt is getting warmer faster than other elevation zones of Himalayas,” he added.

“For species like Himalayan brown bear, which are found in the western Himalayas, such studies are very crucial as the habitat of such species is highly vulnerable to climate and unless we plan in advance, we cannot sustain its population in future,” Kailash Chandra, director of ZSI, said.

Dr. Chandra added that adaptive spatial planning broadly refers to conserving the existing landscape and augmenting the fragmented areas of the habitat of the species.

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Printable version | Nov 27, 2021 11:34:45 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/study-predicts-massive-habitat-decline-for-the-himalayan-brown-bear-by-2050-due-to-climate-change/article32935974.ece

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