Community perception and prioritization of invasive alien plants in Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape, Nepal.
The management of invasive species is a complex, yet an essential component of biodiversity conservation and environmental management for sustainable futures. Despite a well-established linkage between biological invasions and human activities, the social dimension of invasive species management is less explored as compared to the ecological aspects. In recent years, the active participation of local communities, such as assessing levels of awareness and the selection of targeted species prioritized by communities, has been considered as a crucial element for managing invasive species. We conducted 32 focus group discussions (FGDs) including 218 participants in Chitwan-Annapurna Landscape (ChAL) of central Nepal, to assess knowledge and perceptions of agrarian and forest-dependent communities about invasive alien plants (IAPs), document the efforts of the community management of IAPs and prioritize IAPs for management. In the prioritization exercise, participants of each FGD were asked to rank three IAPs using scoring methods and to express their experience about the effects of the selected IAPs on humans and the environment. We found that communities had a living memory of the arrival of some of the IAPs in their locality without knowing the exotic nature of IAPs. Biodiversity loss, livestock poisoning, reduced agricultural production and forage supply, and negative impact on forest regeneration were reported as major negative impacts of IAPs. Communities also reportedly utilized IAPs for medicinal purposes, making compost by using biomass, and controlling floods and landslides. None of the government and non-governmental organizations working in the sectors of biodiversity conservation and environmental management has informed local forest-dependent agrarian communities about the consequences of biological invasions and management of IAPs. However, local communities had already started controlling the spread of some IAPs through manual uprooting. They were able to spot, identify and prioritize IAPs for management and some of the prioritized species were among the world's worst invasive species. Ageratum houstonianum was the top-ranked worst invasive species in agroecosystems while Chromolaena odorata and Ageratina adenophora were the top-ranked worst species in natural ecosystems. Our findings will be useful for guiding community education programs as well as the management of IAPs through formal policy and management plans, such as Nepal's National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan.