Dissertation title: "Understanding the Dynamics of Changing Land-use and Land-cover, Population, and Climate in the Chitwan Valley, Nepal"
This dissertation addresses connections among climate variability and change, land use and land cover, and population at a rural case study site in the Chitwan Valley in south-central Nepal experiencing rapid population growth and change. Subsistence farmers drawn to the area since the beginning of settlement in the 1960’s are the primary residents, many of whom in-migrated to Chitwan for the increased agricultural opportunities available in the valley compared to more rural areas of Nepal. However, the dependence of the population on rainfed and seasonally irrigated agriculture leads to a vulnerability to environmental change. This study begins with an analysis of climate trends in the area, finding increasing interannual precipitation variability, increasing minimum temperatures, and reduced dry season streamflow, all likely to have adverse effects on agricultural yields in the region. Using satellite and social survey data from the Chitwan Valley Family Study, a regression model reveals links between agricultural productivity and short-distance temporary migration in the valley. Finally, to integrate findings from multilevel studies of social and environmental change in the region, an agent-based model is developed, and used to examine the effect of reciprocal connections (feedbacks) between demographic change and land use. The model reveals that feedbacks between environmental change and individual-level demographic decisions can lead to significant differences in rates of population growth and land-use change. The study reveals the strong couplings between environmental change, individual-level decisions, and livelihoods in Chitwan, and suggests that managers must take a holistic, landscape-level view when setting conservation policy.