Jan Salick, Elizabeth Arnold
Plant research discussion.
NPR/NGS Radio Expeditions
12 Oct 2005
- Tibet; Deqin County
- 28.20123 98.9962
- 46:51 - 49:00
- SONY TCD-D8
- Sennheiser MKH 40
- Sennheiser MKH 30
Decoded MS stereo. Sonosax pre-amps used.
Reporter: Elizabeth Arnold
Engineer: Leo delAguila
Interviews With: Jan Salick, and Wayne Law [sp?]
Logged By: ESN
LdA: OK, rolling.
Car door opening
Car door slam
EA, JS, informal talking.
EA: tells wayne he needs a mountain bike.
JS: talking about biking in Europe.
EA: Informal talking.
LdA: ok, dat 6. where are we?
LdA: makes everyone say hi to me¿
EA: can you ever get a watch that has an altimeter(?) that does it in feet?
EA: still not nearly has high as we were the other day.
JS: no, and we're about uh¿.several thousand meters below our base camp. We camp up in that valley that we're facing there. So we hike up to that valley with a whole caravan of of yaks carrying all our gear and everything so we don't have bring everything. And then we set up a fairly luxury¿well, not luxurious but we're in herders huts and we've got a cook with us and so we've got a base to work from
EA: End what's the work you're doing there? The same kind of thing?
JS: This is yeah. These are the Gloria summits again, the same that we were doing in Daxueshan. These are our what we call our Gonka sites. Gonka was that lake down there. That lake region. So we're above Gonka and above [long pause] above the city of Dequin which by the way for those of your listeners who are old Rin Tin fans, is the city that used to be known as Adunza the traditional Tibetan name for the city is Adunza. So pull out Tin Tin in Tibet. And look on the map and you'll find it.
EA: Is there a standard elevation that the Gloria sites begin at?
JS: well yeah were trying to get our lowest sites are always just above treeline which is variable at different sites depending on the um on the particular . But in this sites we were about 3400 our second site was 36 our third site was 38 And then our highest site is about where the plants dwindle out and that's getting toward 5000 meters so we're in that range.
EA: it's pretty amazing that plants are that high.
JS: Oh absolutely. Plants go higher in the Himalayas than anywhere else in the world. And uh those those the adaptation to that highest elevation is Is it's been studied elsewhere in the world but very little here. So we're beginning those studies and wayne will tell you about his work there on the plant that ultimately adapted to the highest elevation but we hope to continue that and try to figure out the whole Physiological adaptation and everything but we're starting with the community studies in the beginning.
EA: do we have theories about why plants go so high here?
JS: higher here than elsewhere? um the theories range but basically there's such a large area of mountains here compared to elsewhere in the world. That there may be individual peaks elsewhere that go up that high but getting a whole population of plants to adapt when you're only on one peak you don't have as much evolution you don't have as much genetics to work from if it's a small area when you've got a large area then you have a larger population of plants that can interbreed and mix and so on. And you're you know your chance in evolution of gaining an adaptation that might allow you to creep up another few hundred meters is greater just based on population size.
EA: what do you think about the whole Gloria project?
JS: Well, you know it depends on what day I wake up on. [EA laugh] you know, some days I think, my god how are we ever going to make sure that people come back every ten years you know that's a long interval to keep people interested in a project. And and we want it every ten years for the next hundred years. You know, how are we going to keep that sustained for that length of time?
JS: Um but on other days I think this is the most ambitious world wide this is project that I've been involved with. It's really fun to be working with people all over the world that are trying to make a study like this work and to try to see differences in different parts of the world, and similarities in different parts of the world. And trying to get trends in global climate change. How else are we going to get that data? And until we get that data there's a big population out there that we're not going to convince that this is that we're really facing something different with global climate change.
EA: some of the data that you guys are collecting could be useful for any number of things.
JS: well we're trying to make sure that the data we're gathering can be useful now as well. I mean first of all this area hasn't been collected a lot. So we're making sure that we get a good census of plants that are here now in a very systematic way and secondly we're trying to get an east west gradient across this part of the world. So that and we can there's a precipitation gradient that goes with that and very climatic factors that change across that. So we can analyze, this data will still be useful now, and we can analyze it in a meaningful way. So we're you know we're making sure that we're not wasting our time in the short run but at the same time trying to add to the larger -let's be optimistic, we can do this! [laugh]
EA: Is it kind of neat to be working on this project here and know that people are doing it all over the world?
JSL: Well that's what's fun to think that I've got a, the moment that I'm up here
I've got a colleague in Switzerland and one in Mexico and somebody in Africa who's who are out there leaning over these same quadrats and counting these same plants. That's fun.
EA: and it really comes to that, right? Counting.
JS: well, when you've got a big project like this you've got to keep your methodology simple. Because you've got to make sure that everybody's doing the same thing I have worked in remote areas my whole career around the world from the Amazon to here to Indonesia and so on. And that's been one of my philosophies: just keep it as simple as I can.
JS: You can ask complex questions. You can ask theoretical questions but the methodology when you're out so far away in third world countries. You know maybe the electricity won't work, maybe there's no electricity around like here so you can't use real high technology. You know someday maybe in ten years from now we'll be satellite connected among our peaks and we can say how's it going over there, Mexico. At the moment we're keeping it simple and that's my philosophy throughout my career too.
EA: what's the ideal for you out of this project. Think big. Greatest hope?
JS: well I hope that somebody's gonna come back in ten years and re-do this and analyze that whole data set. Well in the short term I guess I hope that this whole Gloria group can get together once we've got peaks from all over the world. We can sit down together and we can agree how we're going to analyze all this data. And work together, I mean wouldn't that be just in the short term just to have a worldwide data set that we can all analyze together.
JS: But then in the longer term of course I want someone to come back in ten years and reanalyze. I chose my Chinese colleagues intentionally to make sure that they were 30-something so that in ten years they'll still be able to climb these mountains and get up here and recensus. There will be a living record of this not just a digital record this and then ten years after that and ten years after that. Those would be the biggest hopes.
EA: I notice you're not talking about coming back in ten years.
JS: I'm, I'm you now knock on wood, but if I can keep in shape like the doctor that we brought up, I'll be back, I'll be back. But yeah this work is getting me in better shape, every year that I'm out here so I can be optimistic.
EA; is there a far reaching goal that the man who started Gloria, that something will come out of this that will say, hey wake up everybody¿
JS: oh absolutely that was his that's it is global climate change that is the central theme here. I think its working behind his expectations. He's a little humbled by how this is taking off on its own. You know he found the funding for the first few sites in Austria and then they got some funding for a few more and then they got EU funding, big funding for all of Europe. And at that point he thought he'd made it. And then all of a sudden it went global on him without his funding the whole thing and so you know we're one of that. He said it took on a life of its own and we're part of that where
We have no direct connection with him and his project he's not funding us but he's our inspiration. And there's still the central network which is keeping the website keeping all the data there, so and he's keeping up with it all I mean he's encouraging it all
He came out and tried to help us where he could to begin the whole process.
EA: you said that china was very receptive to this whole idea.
JS: they seem to be, how much of an impact it has on a greater level we have yet- that I guess would be one of my long term objectives too is that the Chinese would wake up to things that are happening, and the rest of the world would wake up. I mean that's certainly what we're hoping for in the long term. Um the Chinese government is- has been in the past, once they are aware of environmental problems has been very receptive to dealing with it. You know the logging ban, from once they realize that their problems with flooding and so on was directly related to how quickly they were logging their country. You know practically from one day to another, they stopped logging in china. Now that had it's ramifications in burma and other countries because they're importing all their wood at the present time. But they are very responsive to environmental concerns
JS: so, the big push now with the Olympics that's kind of an immediate goal of theirs. But they're really trying to clean up their air and atmosphere around Beijing and they're taking very seriously these environmental concernsSo I have hopes that if we can convince them, yes there is something going on. That they will be equally responsive as they have been in other cases.
EA: it's possible that they might react sooner than the US reacts
JS: well they have that advantage
EA: because they can flip a switch and say OK, from now on, no more cars.
JS: exactly, exactly
EA: you're sort of multitasking
JS: I always have lots of things going on at the same time
EA: I mean you go to these sites and part of it's for Gloria, but you always have other things going on too.
JS: exactly, you know we've got four funding sources, and multiple projects going on at any one site. So you try to keep lots of balls in the air at the same time. And one project feeds off the other so gloria grew out of a project we were doing with the funding of the nature conservancy where we did a gradient analysis From the bottom from the Mekong all the way up to the top of the mountains and found out that the alpine environment was one of the richest and diverse environments around. So we said well lets look at that more intensively what's going on in the alpine and lets think about conservation in the alpine areas so this whole project grew out of that original study.
JS: Um and then we've Wayne's study is tied in to that. He's studying a particular plant that's threatened up in the alpine area and we've got we've got training programs, capacity building programs in china at the same time where we're trying to train students train work with doctors work with villagers get everybody on board with conservation initiatives at the same time. With ethnobotany techniques for conservation at the same time. So we've got a lot of different projects going on simultaneously.
EA: must be hard to keep track of it all
JS: I guess, they say women are good at multitasking
EA JS laugh
EA: can you tell us again where we are right now. We're looking at the most spectacular peaks.
JS: Right, well we're sitting in front of what the Chinese call the snow peaks. What the Tibetans call the sacred peaks of Kowagabo. Actually Kowagabo is a little off the map on the right there, but we see his consort Miensemu [??] which is the most beautiful peak it's not quite as high but it's the most beautiful peak in the region. We see his bishops next to him the the Tibetan monks that are his advisors. We see his uncle which is one of his advisors these are all different peaks that have mythological entities associated with them. So I'm giving you an interpretation of the peaks at the same time as I'm pointing them out.
JS: So we've got in the background we've got the snow peaks. Then we've got the valley coming that leads from dequin or atunza[?] up to this area below us with the oak forests on the south facing slopes and the conifers on the northfacing slopes, the river running down through it as you heard and then going up into the valley where the Gloria peaks are.
EA: and now we're going to head up into this valley.
JS: Wayne follows the main valley, follows the rivers up into the higher areas and the higher elevations. We don't work in that area for Gloria because it's so rugged the plants are less common on the very very rugged peaks. And it's harder to get a good sample here. But for the plants that wayne's working on. They're cliff dwelling plants, so that's what he's looking for are those rugged peaks.
EA: how much higher wayne?
Wayne: about 500 meters.
EA: All right.
JS: piece of cake.
EA, JS: that's 500 m up, right? informal talking about horizontal/vertical. Faint talking about rivers below.
Ambi: far-off rushing water, occasional bird chirps.
LdA: ok, I'm going to record a little longer, record ambi.
Ambi: far-off rushing water, bird chirps.
Start recording again.
EA, LdA, informal talking. We're at 4350, 150 feet more to go.
EA, LdA discuss logistics of how best to record breathing.
Sound of music, except it's china.
EA LdA recording logistics
squeaking of backpacks?
EA, LdA: figuring out who to hold mic. EA for next stretch.
slow walking. Heavy EA breathing.
faster? walking, EA, LdA (fainter) breathing.
Stop walking. Just breathing.
EA, LdA figuring out recording logistics.
More walking. EA breathing. LdA fainter.
Stop walking, just breathing.
LdA: on top of the world. Yelling to Wayne
LdA: waiting for Elizabeth.
EA, Wayne arrive.
EA: [out of breath] What would a flower be doing in a place like this?
Wayne: I don't know. You should ask it.
Footsteps on gravel.
Informal talking. Breathing. Gravel. Plant grows in unstable soil. Kicking rocks.
would like to interview but¿
EA: What's a kid from san Francisco doing in a place like this?
JS: it's the hills right.
Wayne: the hills
EA: everybody ok, here
Checking altitude, 4520 m, in feet¿14,840 ft. cliff edge. EA feels like a paragon falcon.
EA: Ok Wayne why are we here?
Wayne: um we're looking at the beautiful though somewhat old now snow lotus which is there to your left¿to norbu's left¿the White, tuffy, kind of looks like a small bunny¿ cotton plant
JS: informally explaining scientific name.
EA: it's pretty big
WL: it is pretty big, they usually get bigger. Unfortunately this is one of the harvested areas so what we've noticed is that the harvested areas usually have smaller plants
EA: You're jumping ahead here. You pretty much come up here every day and look at these plants? [laugh]
WL: Not every day, not every day, luckily.
EA: How did¿
LdA: needs to put a jacket on.
JS informal talking rocks, avalanche.
EA: a blue poppy?
WL: There are some remnants of a blue poppy down there too.
EA: we're in the land of the blue poppy¿
EA: well, you've picked a magnificent spot to do some work
WL: well, I don't know if I picked the spot or if the plants picked the spot but somehow we're up here.
EA: why do they like to be up here, do you know?
WL: I have no clue, I have no clue.
JS: they've got to be poor competitors, because there could be a thousand more places to grow that would be a lot more¿
WL: Yeah, the habitat is not very suitable for plant life up here
JS: they are at the extremes of plant life in general just in these little crags, and soil accumulates there and they can make do, but it certainly isn't an easy place to grow.
EA: no, we've been climbing for what three, four hours?
WL: six hours¿
EA: is this one of the more accessible sites?
WL: yeah this is probably one of the easiest sites to get to. Or very easy compared to the other sites.
EA: It's called the snow¿
WL: snow lotus
WL: this species in particular in Chinese is named miento shenewa[??] which means, basically, hairy cotton plant. Snow lotus.
EA: so why do we care about this plant?
WL: I care about it it's a medicinal plant the Tibetans use it for medicines and the Chinese use it for medicines and it's becoming more and more rare to find this plant
It's limited habitat it's High harvest rate it's making it rare less common to find.
EA: How'd you guys stumble on this plant anyway?
JS: we started asking Tibetan doctors and and local botanists what plants they thought were threatened and what plants they thought needed work on conservation work as well as just basic biology work. And this was one of the plants that they both agreed on that it was impotant to pay some attention to. We had we started out with, how many, 8 different species?
WL: eight different species
JS: That we were doing population biologies on and this was the one that seemed to us to be the most threatened.
WL: It was useful and it was threatened. So it had like a double-edged sword there. Dual pressures.
EA: and did you first know why it was threatened?
WL: The doctors indicated that it was both limited habitat and it was being harvested and so [pause] And so um that's just some of the indications that it was endangered or on it's way to being threatened
EA: And you didn't think anything about habitat in terms of climate¿
WL: Not initially, I didn't think anything about climate being a factor.
EA: Now what were you telling me about the lists¿
JS: when we were trying to. When we started in the very beginning we were trying to figure out how we would prioritize species, which species we should look at, where we should put our efforts first we were given a list that the local botanists had pulled together of threatened species, but then the two of us are ethnobotanists, and we thought we should ask more than just professional botanists lets go out and ask Tibetan doctors as well because they know so much about plants and they are out in the mountains collecting medicinal plants lets find out what their priorities were.
JS: so wayne did a, that's another study that wayne did. Comparing the conservation priorities and uses of plants from both the perspectives of the doctors and the professional botanists.
EA: blows me away that people climb all the way up here to get these plants. [laughs]
WL: yeah there's a significant amount of harvest pressure. They come and they get these plants. They're worth a good amount of money, or at least a decent amount to them.
EA: what do they use them for?
WL: the medicinal purposes include high blood pressure headaches there's a whole category of things which they call ¿women's diseases' which has to do with ailments associated with pregnancy or menstruation, that sort of thing.
EA: Ibuprofin doesn't do the trick.
Wayne: or it's not accessible.
EA: but it's really high place, I mean look where we are. We're perched in this crows nest. It's amazing to me that people would come up here for a plant..
JS: well that's Tibetan medicine though. They do a lot of collecting of medicinal plants at very high elevations and some of their beliefs they think that the higher up and the more sacred the site the more potent the medicine. [EA: Oh.] So there's kind of a correlated belief there.
EA: What do they do, how do they harvest?
WL: They harvest the whole plant including as much of the root as they can get, and then they dry the plant and then they use it in it's dried form.
EA: all of it.
WL: all of it. The whole plant. Sometimes they'll put it in a soup, sometimes put it in an alcohol. Those are¿
JS: Or they make teas
EA: how have you been able to discern that it's being over harvested?
WL: Well coming to sites where we've talked to harvesters we notice that there's significantly less flowering plants than we find in areas where we know no harvesting is occurring. That's the primary I guess reason or indication
EA: but you've been doing this now for four years.
WL: Yeah four years
EA: and what is it exactly that you do?
WL: every year I come here and I measure plants, and individuals. It's difficult with longterm or long lived species because if you try to do a longterm study on them it would take forever. Especially with plants like these where we're estimating the shortest time it takes for a plant like snow lotus to get from seedling to a flowering plant is at least seven years, so that study would take an immense amount of time. So what we do is measure individuals in different size classes and we try to model what happens between different years and different size classes and then place this into a big matrix model and figure out the population growth rate.
EA: and do you feel pretty confident in saying that they're being over harvested?
WL: Yeah yeah it's pretty clear that in some in the areas we know there's harvesting you can barely find any flowering plants anymore compared to areas where we know that there's no harvesting.
EA: are they getting smaller as well?
WL: yeah we've noticed that, this was a study that we did. We found we noticed that earlier collections we found huge plants that were filling up herbarium specimens um but
EA: what does that mean?
WL: herbarium specimens are past plant collections that have been preserved, dried and placed in an herbarium or type of museum these plants then are put on a piece of cardboard type material non acidic paper and then preserved there. It's a record, it's basically a snapshot of the plant from the past and what we did was we looked at some of these plants trying to find past populations and times of flowering and that kind of thing and we noticed that these plants that we found in the past were a lot bigger than the plants that we found in the harvested areas.
WL: so we did a study and looked at herbarium specimens from as many herbariums -herbaria as we could find, and with compared that with plant in modern populations.
EA: And they were much larger in the¿
WL: they were much larger in the past. And we also compared it to sites we knew were traditionally heavily harvested and sites that there was hardly any harvesting pressure. And we found that plants in the heavily harvested area were significantly smaller.
EA: is that because people are taking the bigger plants?
WL: yeah, they're bigger plants, they're easier to see, they're more valuable they're worth more money, they can sell for more. So they preferentially harvest larger plants. And so therefore the smaller plants are the only ones left to sew their seeds, as it goes.
EA:Is there anything you can do about this?
JS: Well. What we're hoping, what our goal is is to model these populations and find out how much could be harvested without threatening the populations. And from indications all indications in the past, traditional Tibetan medicine has harvested only a bit you know when when a local person will be ill or particularly need this. It's the modern pressure of this commercial, larger market, world market now. That has put put has really started to threaten this species.
JS: So what we're hoping is if we can model a sustainable harvest of this. And if we can allow the local people to continue their traditional harvesting we can decide exactly how much can be harvested without an impact on the conservation of the species. It it it might mean that commercial harvesting will have to be cut back and and that would take a government response here in china to limit the amount of commercial harvesting that's going on because at the moment there's no limit whatsoever and so people are harvesting just all the plants they can get their hands on. Every single plant they can find.
EA: can you explain ¿model a sustainable harvest¿ what does that mean?
WL: Well what we're hoping to find with our models, is since we're monitoring population growth rate. What we're trying to find out is how much of that population you can remove without effecting that population growth rate. And so it maintains a positive growth.
EA: how much can we take without destroying the¿
WL: yeah exactly.
EA: it's really hard for me to imagine commercial harvest, you know, when I think of commercial harvest I think of hundreds of people coming up the same path that we did¿how does that work?!
JS: Its really impressive some of these during the harvest season some of, wayne's got a great picture of one of these herder huts with just hundreds of these plants hanging from it so while they're up here with their animals they're climbing around the rocks and harvesting every single plant they can find. We suffered on the way up, [laugh], if you notice, our Tibetan guide that is with us you know he's taking it pretty easy so for the Tibetans its not nearly as bad. And they do it in a several day process. They set up camp in the herder hut and then they'll spend several weeks up here so it's not as though they have to kill themselves to get up here as we have just made you do.
EA: so they could clean it out.
WL: When I've seen them come down from mountains I've seen them with bushelfuls of snow lotus. It's pretty remarkable the quantities that they can find.
EA: do you ever on your way up here wonder what the heck am I doing?
EA: Chasin after this snow lotus.
JS: especially in the bad weather
WL: in the bad weather and walking around in scree? it's very much, I question my motives sometimes
EA: so a lot of these grow even higher.
WL: yes. They grow this is kind of the lower range of their existence. 44 hundred meters is probably the lowest you'll find them.
EA: do they grow anywhere else in the world, do we know?
JS: In general the genus sousouria grows throughout the Asian and European alpine area it's not an uncommon genus but this particular species is pretty much in this I would say what couple hundred kilometer range of here. So this is a fairly endemic species here.
LdA: need to rearrange.
EA: so how does it work, if I were collecting up here, who would I sell to?
WL: There's markets in town that you can sell to and there's often middlemen that you can sell to. And they'll collect a bunch of different harvesters from a bunch of different areas supplies or snow lotuses and sell them to like jongdien, and even further along the line, kunming and that kind of thing
EA: how much?
WL: its usually for the sousouria and lanicep species, 70 to 8- yen per kilo for the smaller species, soursouria medusa that I'm also studying its usually less like 30 to 40 yen per kilo.
EA: So ten bucks maybe, but that's a lot
WL: yeah But that's a lot
EA: That's a lot to these people
EA: and if they harvest a lot.
WL: yeah if they harvest a lot¿
WL: And usually sometimes for the bigger plants they will sell those on their own and be at least like 20 yen If it's a big plant and it's sold on its own, I've seen it sold for 20 yen a pop so.
EA: jan what do you think about this project.
JS: um I think it's great I think it brings together so many different elements of you know he's doing the ecology of the plant he's doing the conservation of the plant, he's doing the ethnobotany of the plant and it ties it all together in you know it's half applied it's half theoretical. We try to go for a number of different aspects in the study
I think wayne's done a great job of trying to pull it all together and you know he's only looking at one plant or well two plants but it, it has implications. The methodology has
implications way beyond that. It's a conservation tool and a an outlook on conservation with local people that's pretty unique.
EA: it's hardly a cushy assignment either
WL: what're you talking about it's easy. Climbing up 2000 meters, climbing up long cliffs.
JS: wayne's kind of this softspoken tough guy, he just goes out there and he does it, I say well couldn't you do this, and he says I'll try, and then he goes off and does it.
EA: what do you think about the plant?
WL: the plant is amazing. It's beautiful. It's very unique looking, you don't see anything else like it anywhere else. It's really just amazing. Its kind of looks like a big furball. It doesn't even look like a plant it looks like a furry animal.
EA: and yet it's growing in scree. It's always amazing to see things popping out of just rock.
WL: yep., yeah, habitat is not something that you'd think is conducive to plant life.
JS: it's appearance has actually worked in our favor because it's kind of the panda bear of plant life. You know it's this furry, you know people love it, when you go to the airport in jongdian. You'll see boxes and boxes and boxes of this stuff sold. And people bring it back for souveniers this is kind of the symbol of the highalpine area. So that has kind of worked in our favor too. That people relate to the snow lotus is a big deal both here in Tibet and for the Chinese as well. So it's it's symbolic of something larger
WL: yeah, it's not just become a medicinal plant, it's a souvenier item. And many people will say look I'm going to this area and I know that's where snow lotus grows, so I'm going to bring some back to my family because hey that's unique to that area.
EA: and you're like no you don't need to do that.
W; JS: joke about taking a picture of the snow lotus instead
JS: take a picture instead. that's our attitude, by all means take a picture.
EA: what you're doing is a great example for me of what ethnobotany is about. I didn't really know what it was, and this is a perfect example.
JS: we're trying to- ethnobotany in the past was kind of this long list of plants and what they're used for and we're trying to bring modern science into it. So all of wayne's population modeling and trying to figure out sustainable harvests, it's a modern view of what ethnobotany can be. And then tying it to applied aspects in conservation, is is different. Most people looked at ethnobotany as oh we'relooking for We're bioprospecting for medicinal plants and that's not our goal. our goal is is conservation. so we have no intention of you know putting this on the world market as a medicinal plant, or stealing any knowledge from the local people, we're just trying to help conserve this plant for the future.
EA: what do you tell your friends back home when they say, so what do you do anyway?
WL: I tell them that I work on snow lotus, and they often give me strange looks and they often what I'm doing in china for four months or three months at a time. And I tell them what I do, and it it not many people can do it and so they think it's great.
JS: and the Chinese in particular it's nice because the Chinese in particular really relate to what he's doing. And they just think that wayne has got the coolest project that any of the graduates have.
EA: so are they supportive?
JS: because they've heard of snow lotus and they know that this is a very special plant. And so they're very supportive of what he's doing?
EA: do you find that wayne that people are supportive?
WL: yeah most people seem to be pretty supportive. It's a well known plant and the intentions are good. Um and that's the message that we get across and that they receive and so With the intentions being good they know that we're not like trying to mass market this or something like that. We're just trying to preserve a valuable part of this culture. They see it as a good thing
EA; they could be suspicious though. Saying what's that guy doing up there with those snow lotuses.
WL: they could be suspicious
JS: and they are sometimes, you know we have to again and again explain what we're trying to do and but fortunately we've managed- Wayne has managed to do that very successfully and so we do have government support. We get the permission and the backing of- and not only of the government. But also of the government but some of his work is done in the villages and he has to get the local support of the people and they've enthusiastically given it to him It's working pretty well.
EA: how do we know it's decline is due more to overharvest than to climate change?
WL: well that's why we're actually studying two species. The other species is less has less harvest intensity, so it's not harvested as much as the sosouria lanicep species. And so from that we can we're trying to we're making sure that it's a human impact and not just a climate change or environmental.
JS: and by having three sites that are heavily harvested, and three sites that are not heavily harvested, then we can make sure that you know cause there would be climate change i all the sites, we can make sure that it is harvest pressure And that's another difference of this study and several others that have been similar studies where they haven't had control populations so Wayne's been able to nail it better than other scientists who have tried to do this.
EA: wayne what do you think is going to happen to this plant?
WL: well hopefully we can make a change and hopefully this plant will not go extinct and will not be endangered, and hopefully I think people are starting to realize the consequence of their actions, and they notice there are less plants and they notice that the plants are getting smaller and so whether its gonna take an outside force to pound that through their heads and help slow down this process of harvest and so hopefully our efforts will be out there and will make difference.
EA: anecdotally they might know but if you are also able to say we've studied this and what you're seeing is actually happening.
WL: yeah that might be that last little bit that they might need to say hey it's not just what I think I'm seeing, it's actually what's happening
EA: is this happening with other medicinal plants as well?
JS: well we've seen it there have been studies in the US with golden seal and with ginseng right, where they have seen the size of plants decrease over time. But skeptics have questioned those studies because they've said how do we know it's not climate change, how do we know it's not something different. The the people that have done the studies are pretty sure that it is overharvest that has caused this but that's part of the reason that we designed the study the way we did, so that we actually have some control and can say no, it's not climate change, you know this is the harvest pressure that's going on.
EA: but the people here, they pick a lot of plants for medicinal purposes.
JS; well yeah but they pick very few plants for their local traditional medicine but they pick a lot of plants for this larger market for this international world market.
EA: which has been in just the last¿
JS: oh I'd say 20 years at most..
WL: at most.
JS: Tibetan medicines have been popular around the world in the last ten or twenty years so that the increase of harvest -- and there's been a certain promotion of export of medicinal plants around the world only in the very recent past so these pressures are very different than the original use of the plant. And from all indications, the traditional use of the plant is probably sustainable. Um but uh it's that international market that seems to be taking its toll so heavily.
EA: the old way, someone would come to see a doctor, he'd diagnose the problem, and then go and pick the plant,
EA: and the new way is that the plants are all being picked.
WL: right. Um, the old way used to be you know like they might have a couple of these plants lying around. Might be available to them if they needed them and then once they used it they would replenish that, you know go out for a medicinal plant harvesting session. Just a few plants. [clears throat] But now it's like with improved roads, improved transportation they're able to get these plants out of here and put them on a bigger market, larger scale market.
EA: jan what do you think will happen with this plant?
LdA: needs to rearrange.
Norbu's snoring. Where to sit. Jan off the record.
Could have camped if had more time
EA: are you counting plants when you're doing this?
WL: not as much counting plants as measuring different individuals. Trying to find individuals of many different size classes, and trying to find like a good amount of individuals per size class.
JS: I think one thing that we should talk about that we haven't mentioned is that one of the reasons that this plant is so threatened is that it's what's called in botany, mono-carpic. What that means is that it flowers only once in its lifetime. So it grows for years and years and years you know ten years maybe. And then finally it flowers.
EA: and that's it.
JS: and that's it. And then it dies
WL: flowers and dies.
JS: and that's the end of it's life. So it's a very it's a surprisingly common life cycle for alpine plants. But it's a fairly unusual life cycle overall but it makes it that much more threatened. Because it flowers only once. And the problem is that when they harvest it they harvest it just before it seeds. So this plant grows for ten years, and then finally gets to the point where it's going to reseed where it's going to reproduce, and then they harvest it just before it does it. So all of that growth and all of that effort that has gone into into reproduction is for nothing because. And that is one of the reasons that this plant is so much more threatened than other medicinal plants.
EA: why do they do that?
JS: why do the plants do that?
EA: no, why do they harvest¿
JS; oh the doctors say that it's the most potent then. We have tried to do some studies to look at the chemistry of the plant to see if that's actually true, but so far we don't have confirmation of that. But the doctors say no- because we could solve the problem easily, immediately, if we could convince the doctors to harvest it just after it seeded you know and wait until it drops it seeds and then it would have reproduced and then it wouldn't have lost anything because it was going to die anyway.
JS: so that was our first thought about how we could conserve the plant. But the doctors are just convinced that it's not as potent if you wait until after it seeds.
EA: wayne to you see it in the shops
WL: yes, yeah for sure you can see it, usually you can see em hanging in the stores. Laniceps they have bagfuls, sometimes hanging and medusa they have bagfuls, and they're just around. There's a ton of them.
EA: they're pervasive, you see them a lot.
WL: well you see a lot of the harvested
JS: I'm amazed how many you see in the markets compared to see how many you know if I come out here and look for these things its like I have a real hard time.
EA: well it took us 6 hours to find this one right here and this one we knew.
WL: yeah this one i knew
EA: it really would have stunk if it wasn't here, you would have been in real trouble.
W; there's little ones here too¿smaller size classes.
EA: does your study lead you to other studies. Are you thinking of other studies with other plants?
WL: um we are also looking into things like pollenation and how harvesting is effecting pollenation because therefore that could effect how the population is growing because if harvesting is reducing the number of flowering plants you might the pollinators might have a more difficult time finding these plants and therefore decreasing the amount of pollen that get transferred between plants and therefore decreasing seed set.
JS: or if they get smaller and smaller they may be affording the pollinators less and less nectar and pay back from these small plants. You know not only are they these fuzzy balls, but theyre fuzzy balls with holes in them. And so there are these large bumble bees alpine bumble bees that come along and they fit perfectly right in that hole and then they go into the center of the plant and just buzz around and pollenate is that right?
WL: yeah, I've got some great pictures of these little bumble bees where you can just see these little tails, their little butts just hanging out, because their heads in the little hole. And yeah
JS: if these plants are getting smaller and smaller how does this effect their pollenationl potential? And so on.
EA: the bees cant fit in [laugh]
JS: right, the bees cant fit in, there's not as much reason to go to these plants because they're smaller and smaller and there's not so much nectar.
WL: or they're just harder to find if they're smaller too.
EA: so what's the big deal? So this plant goes extinct.
WL: it's part of a culture. I mean the Tibetans value this. If you look in the old Tibetan books you can find this plant in their record books even in Chinese medicine you can find this plant in old record books so its' part of a culture and I think that's one of the most valuable thing about ethnobotanies is that we are trying to preserve cultures and that's one of the thing that I value about ethnobotany is that we are able to try to preserve cultures and preserve parts of culture.
JS: when we went to lassa and saw all the religious texts and things that include the medicinal texts in them, there's snow lotus. You know sitting in these old old texts, and so it's part of a long history
EA: trying to think of a parallel for us in terms of something going extinct.
JS: well for a while people were worried about eagles. You know the American eagle going extinct. And that's part of our culture. And DDT was making their shells thin and so on and people really started getting worried. Saying this is not only an animal that's going to go extinct, this is part of the american symbolism and culture and how would we feel if all of a sudden the bald eagle went extinct? Um you know it's something akin to that I think.
EA: and what does it say about us, if we would let something about that go extinct.
JS; right, I think it, you know you don't value your own symbols, your own culture, you know.
EA:and this is that kind of symbol for this culture.
WL: well I was talking to a Tibetan that was telling me about well a lotus is a very sacred flower in Buddhism, and for a plant to earn the name lotus even though it's a snow lotus means it's a very sacred plant even its not an actual lotus, but it's a lotus that grows in the very high elevation. And so they value this plant because it's got some kind of a sacred meaning. This is what one of the Tibetans that I've met has told me. So from my understanding, it's pretty important to them.
JS: yeah, just to clarify, the lotus that they talk about in Buddhism is a lowland, wetlands species that has nothing to do -this is a composite sunflower family. So they're not related at all, but symbolically and culturally they're related because the Tibetans value and revere this plant. Equally the way an Indian Buddhist would revere the lowland lotus. So it's not called lotus because it's related to the other lotus but more for symbolic and sacred reasons.
EA: what am I missing what I have not asked about.
JS: can we say something about the national science foundation? That's always nice.
informal talk about naming funding sources.
EA: who's making this possible?
EA: well somebody must value this, right, because they're helping make this happen.
WL: I mean we're getting a lot of support from the national science foundation doctorial dissertation improvement grant. Um Missouri botanical garden, the garden club of American has been a big support¿
EA: why would they care?
WL: well the grant that I received was the anne s chapman fellowship in medicinal botany, so this has to do with medicinal botany
Informal talking about feet tingling. Lack of oxygen.
Moving over to look at plant at close range.
Though it's hanging off a cliff. Logistics difficult.
People moving around
EA; ok so I have to admit that snow lotus sounds glamorous and like a delicate flower, and this is like a big burly, cottony¿I don't know you describe it.
WL: well it's definitely a cottony kind of plant, and when I think of a snow lotus, I think something that's got to be kind of warm in the snow, it's got to be hardy, its got to be able to handle cold conditions, and this guy can definitely handle cold conditions. I mean it looks like he's got a big wool jacket on, or big fur jacket on. And uh you know it's not a weak looking plant, it's a hefty looking plant.
EA: looks like it has a down jacket on. does it change in the seasons?
WL: yeah, I mean it usually bigger right now we're seeing it it's kind of late in the stage it's kind of getting ready to release it's seeds it's drying up a bit. So usually we see it at a bigger stage. It's usually bigger, wider, the leaves are a dark green, and the white is just beautiful cottony white with little wholes where the flowers are it's a real interesting plant I don't think I've ever seen anything like it before.
EA: I don't think I can think of a comparison at all.
WL: I think that's what drew me to it. It just looks so unique and it was so like, cuddly.
EA: cuddly, but it's hanging in a tough place.
WL: yeah but isn't aren't you just drawn to it, I mean, it's tough but it's fun, and it's drawing you in, and ¿[laughter] it's just unique you know¿
JS: botanists are unique, you know?
EA: no, I get it, I think I get it
W; doesn't look cute, like it looks like a small little rabbit.
EA: like a scraggly rabbit hanging in a very difficult spot.
W; yeah yeah.
EA: would there be other ones around here? Or is this the only one?
WL: at this point this is the only guy around.
WL: flowering. You can see a lot of these guys are the smaller individuals.
EA; oh are these the base of it?
WL: yeah so this is just a vegetative state. [EA; oh] these will probably flower next year. And this is like a couple of years old.
EA: so we're in a patch, we're kind of in a snow lotus patch here.
WL: as you can see they like the little crevices, whatever dirt they can find in these crevices, they try and make a home.
EA: I'd like to pick it but¿
Informal talking, thanks, waking up norbu, chapstick, pictures.
Ambi: People walking away. Sniffles.
LOT of wind.
LdA: ok, where are we and what are we doing?
EA: we are hiking in the eastern Himalayas and we are just coming down after looking for the snow lotus and we are sort of mid-point and there's a lovely stream beside us and we're all sort of walking down.
rushing water, footsteps
Rushing water -very close!
LdA: ok by the river bed, have enough of this¿
EA, LdA chatting
By the river bed.
rushing water -very close.
rushing water -loud and close
really loud rushing water. Waterfall??
footsteps on gravel.
EA, LdA, chat
faint voices, gravel footsteps, rushing water.
gravel footsteps, rushing water more faint.
END OF TAPE.