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Fungal gold and firewood on the Tibetan plateau: examining access to diverse ecosystem provisioning services within a rural community

  • Emily Woodhouse (a1), Philip McGowan (a2) and E.J. Milner-Gulland (a1)

Abstract

Provisioning ecosystem services include wild products that form an integral part of rural economies. Using quantitative and qualitative data from semi-structured interviews with 50 households in a Tibetan community in Western Sichuan, China, we explored the relationships of households with three diverse provisioning services on the Eastern Tibetan plateau: firewood, medicinal caterpillar fungus Ophiocordyceps sinensis and matsutake mushrooms Tricholoma matsutake. We examined (1) how they contribute to wealth and livelihoods, (2) what determines household access, and (3) how local use has changed over time. All households were reliant on firewood, and levels extracted were explained only by household size. A more complex set of factors explained access to caterpillar fungus: younger, larger, pastoralist households with lower dependency ratios tended to collect more, and education and household size explained variation in price gained for the product. Caterpillar fungus extraction has dramatically increased over the last 20 years, providing up to 72% of household income, but poorer households have received significantly less of their income from the fungus. Matsutake contributed much less to livelihoods because of its relatively low price. The results show a contrast between subsistence and market-driven products: access to the latter is affected by competition and power relationships. Overall access to provisioning services was related to facets of wealth, especially human capital. The study contributes a household level analysis of the diverse provisioning value of an under-researched part of the world, highlighting the heterogeneity and dynamism of the relationships of households with ecosystem services.

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Copyright

The online version of this article is published within an Open Access environment subject to the conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution licence .

Corresponding author

(Corresponding author) E-mail emily.woodhouse@imperial.ac.uk

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