Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Name

Forest and Conservation Science

Department or School/College

College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Co-chair

Sarah J. Halvorson, James Burchfield

Commitee Members

Natalie Dawson, Kimber Haddix McKay, Dane Scott, Christiane von Reichert


University of Montana


In the Garhwal, Indian Himalaya, rural mountain people labor to piece together their livelihoods in an ever changing world. One particular group, the Bhotiya (an ethnically and culturally distinct tribal group) were historically engaged in seasonal migration (i.e. transhumance) to take advantage of scarce mountain resources and trade relations with Tibet. This livelihood practice has all but disappeared; however, today one way the Bhotiya are adapting to these changing circumstances is by engaging in the collection and sale of a valuable alpine medicinal fungus locally known as keera jari, and commonly called the caterpillar fungus or cordyceps (Ophiocordyceps sinensis). The Bhotiyas’ historic relationship with alpine meadows where cordyceps are found, uniquely positions them to access “the world’s most expensive biological resource” (Shrestha and Bawa 2013:514).

This dissertation interrogates the geographic, social, economic, political and ecological aspects of the collection and sale of cordyceps as an emerging livelihood activity in the Garhwal. The objectives of this research are designed to address: 1) the socio-spatial geography of cordyceps collection 2) the opportunities to access cordyceps meadows and markets and 3) the commodity relations in which cordyceps are embedded. The guiding research questions of the dissertation are as follows: What is the geography of cordyceps in areas where it is widely collected? How are opportunities of individuals, households, and communities to access cordyceps influenced by location and social categories of difference? What are the commodity relations in which cordyceps are embedded?

This research is significant as there are gaps in the scientific literature that pertain to the geography of cordyceps collection, access to cordyceps markets and meadows, and commodity chains. This dissertation helps to fill these gaps with an analysis of the policies which enable and constrain access to cordyceps meadows and markets, a rich description of the geography of cordyceps collection and sale as a new livelihood activity, and a critical investigation of the commodity chains of cordyceps, including a focus on who is able to benefit from this lucrative trade.



© Copyright 2016 Laura Bess Caplins