Assessing climate change vulnerability of arid ecosystems using satellite information: the Khar Us protected area as a case study

This project is available from the academic year 2024/25 onwards.

Theme: Environmental Physics & Mathematical Modelling

Primary Supervisor:

Nathalie Pettorelli

Biodiversity and Macroecology Theme, IOZ

Nathalie Pettorelli's Profile Picture

Secondary Supervisor:

Mathias Disney

Geography, UCL

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Project Description:

This project will demonstrate how remote sensing information can be successfully used to inform climate change vulnerability assessments of arid ecosystems, focusing on the Khovd province in Mongolia, a region expected to be highly susceptible to future changes in climatic conditions. Khovd is an agricultural province that has a cold desert climate with long, dry, frigid winters and short warm summers; precipitation is minimal and very heavily concentrated in summer. The province is home to a key protected area for Mongolia (the Khar Us), which provides a safe haven for many bird species and for charismatic wildlife such as snow leopards.

Using remote sensing information, the project will (1) quantify the current impacts of climate change on ecosystem structure and functions in Khar Us; (2) explore how human-induced land use change inside and outside the protected area can exacerbate the impacts of climate change on biodiversity; and (3) assess the current and future vulnerability of this key protected area to changes in climatic conditions. While doing so, the project will provide a concrete example of how remote sensing information can be effectively combined to monitor key aspects of biodiversity and inform management on the ground.

Policy Impact of Research:

The Khar-Us protected area holds critically important biodiversity for Mongolia and is surrounded by rapidly changing communities, adapting to sedentary life after a history of nomadic pastoralism. Many worry that climate change could impact pasture quality, livestock mortality as well as cashmere quality and quantity. These impacts could exacerbate human wildlife conflicts, adding to the direct pressures of climate change on biodiversity. The research will be used to advise local people, government and conservation organisations working in and around Khar-Us on the possible opportunities for current and future climate change impacts on biodiversity to be mitigated.

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