by Michael Denney
The Center for Governance and Sustainability is proud to announce that Uttam Shrestha, Research Associate at the Center and PhD candidate in biology at UMass Boston, has been awarded the National Geographic Conservation Trust Grant for his doctoral thesis on caterpillar fungus in the Himalayas.
Mr. Shrestha’s thesis is entitled, “Mountains, Mushrooms, and People: Chasing Interconnections.” He intends to study the connections between humans living at high altitudes in the Himalayas and a particular cash-crop mushroom: caterpillar fungus (Ophiocordyceps sinensis). The fungus is a parasite of the caterpillars of ghost moths (genus Thitarodes), and is well known for its medicinal value. Caterpillar fungus is an enormously valuable produce; it is about half the value of gold by weight, and its annual international trade is estimated between USD $240 million-$4.2 billion per year.
Many high-altitude Himalayans make their living harvesting the fungus. Production has declined in recent years, possibly due to over-harvesting, climate change, or reduction in the population of host moths. Mr. Shrestha’s thesis will document the natural history and phenology of the fungus, model and map its distribution, quantify its biological productivity and commercial harvest, and examine the contribution of the fungus to local and national economies.