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International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 3 (2007) 223–233 Species richness, distribution pattern and conservation status of higher plants in the Spiti cold desert of trans-Himalaya, India 1 1 1 2 1 K. N. Singh , Brij Lal , R. D. Singh , N. P. Todaria and P. S. Ahuja Biodiversity Division, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, India Forestry Department, HNB Garhwal University, Srinagar, Uttarakhand, India Key words: Species richness, distribution, threatened plants, Spiti cold desert, trans-Himalaya SUMMARY This paper addresses the diversity status and distribution of higher plants in the Spiti cold desert of the trans-Himalaya in India. Ecological surveys to measure species richness were conducted using random sampling. The vegetation is quite sparse, with patchy distribu- tion. A total of 166 species in 101 genera and 37 families were recorded at sites from 3100–5200 m above mean sea level. The highest species richness was from 3400 to 3700 m. Nine species of threatened medicinal plants were observed, particularly from 3700 to 4000 m. A number of rare and endemic plants were found in several habitats, particularly from 3400 to 4300 m, mostly in localized pockets or with a very narrow distribution. Given the sparse vegetation and status of rare, endemic and threatened plants, effective strate- gies are required for sustainable management and conservation of plant species in the Spiti cold desert. INTRODUCTION The Indian Himalayan region (IHR), with a total and habitat degradation in the IHR, 14% of total −2 area of 419,873 km supports 18,440 plant species Red Data plant species and 3.5% of total medicinal (Singh and Hajra 1997), including 1,748 species of plants are recorded in threat categories (Samant medicinal plants (Samant et al. 1998), of which et al. 1998). 25.3% are endemic to the Himalaya. These have Among the many biological hotspots in the IHR, various life forms and are found at different alti- the Indian trans-Himalaya (ITH), one of the most tudes and in many habitats. Large quantities of ecologically fragile biogeographic zones in India these plants are extracted from their wild habitats (Rodgers and Panwar 1988), is known for its to meet the increasing demand for raw material for sparse vegetation, including many rare, endemic domestic consumption and export (Gupta et al. and threatened plants. Over-extraction of valuable 1998; Ved et al. 1998). As a result of over-extraction plants in trans-Himalaya has resulted in depletion Correspondence: Brij Lal, Biodiversity Division, Institute of Himalayan Bioresource Technology, CSIR, Palampur, Himachal Pradesh, India 176 061. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org 223 Species richness and conservation Singh et al. of their natural populations, including in the Spiti cold desert (Kala 2000). Many of the important medicinal plants have become rare and endan- gered; some are on the verge of extinction. There have been many ecological studies of plant species at regional and local levels in the Indian Himalaya. In Uttarakhand, ecologists have measured plant diversity of high-altitude areas in relation to various ecological variables in different ecosystems (Negi and Gadgil 2002; Kala and Rawat 2004; Kala 2005; Kharkwal et al. 2005), but there is a lack of such studies in many parts of the ITH (Kala 2000). While there have been investigations on the taxonomy and ethnobotany of plants in Spiti cold desert (Aswal and Mehrotra 1994; Kala and Manjrekar 1999; Sood et al. 2001), there have been few ecological studies to produce a compre- Figure 1 Map of the study areas in the Spiti cold desert hensive account of species richness, distribution and status of rare taxa (Kala 2000). Consequently, part of the Indian cold deserts, characterized by this paper reports on an assessment of species rich- harsh climatic conditions, i.e. dry and cold weather, ness, diversity and distribution of higher plants, heavy snowfall in winter, low temperatures (as low including endemic and threatened species, in the as −45°C), and low annual rainfall (Kapadia 1996). Spiti cold desert. The roughness and inaccessibility Due to the extreme climatic situation, the valley of the terrain, inhospitable climatic conditions, and remains cut off from the rest of the country for 6–7 the short growing season in Spiti are major con- months each year. straints for ecological assessment of plants (Kala 2004), these studies are imperative to understand FIELD SAMPLING AND ANALYSIS species distribution patterns, which provide base- line information required to plan biodiversity con- The ecological surveys in Spiti valley were con- servation, develop appropriate strategies for the ducted from 2002 to 2006. The area was surveyed long-term monitoring of plant species, and assess periodically between June and October, when snow impacts of climate change (Körner 2000; Vats and starts melting and daytime temperature increases. Singh 2002; Uniyal et al. 2002). During this period, vegetation comes into full bloom, facilitating the identification of plants. The distribution pattern of plant species richness was STUDY AREA studied using a random sampling quadrat method The study was conducted in the Spiti cold desert of (Misra 1968; Mueller-Dombois and Ellenberg 1974; trans-Himalaya in Himachal Pradesh, India, which Kala 2000). At each site, a minimal sample area −2 has an area of 5,582 km and is situated between (MSA) was determined for sampling in order to 31°42′–32°58′N latitude and 77°21′–78°35′E longi- adequately represent the species composition of tude (Figure 1). From an administrative point of the community in question. The species area curve view, Spiti is a sub-division of Lahaul-Spiti district, method was used to determine MSA, based on situated in the extreme northeast of the state of quantitative variations of vegetation in terms of Himachal Pradesh (HP), with average elevation of species number (Misra 1968; Mueller-Dombois and 4000 m. Mane, a natural glacial lake (4575 m), the Ellenberg 1974). The adequacy of sample size is Spiti river, which originates in the Kunjum Pass estimated by stopping sampling at the point at (4875 m), and the Pin River, originating in the which additional quadrats do not significantly Bhava Pass (4700 m), are the main sources of water. affect the mean number of species. Villages including Gete (4270 m) and Kibber The size of quadrat must be related to the size (4205 m) are at the highest elevations in the world and spacing of the individuals, because counting (Census of India 1991). The study area is an integral numerous species cannot be done accurately in 224 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management Species richness and conservation Singh et al. large plots. Therefore, data on higher plants were from 3401–3700 m, whereas the maximum tree recorded from each randomly-distributed quadrat species was between 3100–3400 m. The most com- of 10 × 10 m for trees, 5 × 5 m for shrubs, and mon shrubs were Caragana pygmaea, Ephedra 1 × 1 m for herbs. The altitude of each quadrat was gerardiana, Hippophae rhamnoides, H. tibetana, Loni- measured using an altimeter and efforts were made cera asperifolia, Myricaria germanica, Ribes oricutale, to cover all the accessible vegetation sites. A total of Rosa webbiana and Salix oxycarpa. Tree plantations 841 quadrats were laid at elevations from 3100 to were found from 3100 to 3700 m. Populus alba, 5200 m. Based on preliminary surveys and field Robinia pseudo-acacia and Salix alba were the com- observations of the scanty and sparse vegetation, mon trees species planted by the forest department steep slopes and barren terrain of the study area, we and local people. decided to use an altitudinal interval of 300 m to assess distribution, resulting in seven altitudinal Distribution pattern of species, genera bands. and families Species richness was determined as the total number of species recorded in sampling plots in Species richness as well as richness of genera and each altitudinal interval (Misra 1968). Nomencla- families increased significantly from the lowest ture and taxonomy follows Aswal and Mehrotra altitudinal band (3100–3400 m) to the one above (1994). Plant specimens were also taken to the (3400–3700 m) and then gradually decreased with Botanical Survey of India (Northern Circle), elevation up to the uppermost band (4900–5200 m) Dehradun, India for authentication. Rarity of spe- (Figures 2 and 3). The highest band included typi- cies was determined by taking into consideration cal cold desert plants such as Leontopodium brachy- the status of endemism and distribution. The crite- actis, Saussurea bracteata, Draba lasiophylla, Corydalis ria used were: the wide distribution range of species govaniana, Nepeta longibracteata and Saxifraga with narrow habitat specificity; locally abundant flagellaris. Along the altitudinal gradient, the com- over a large range in a specific habitat; constantly mercially important medicinal and aromatic plants sparse in a specific habitat; abundant in specific dominant in localized pockets were Aconitum habitats but in localized pockets with restricted dis- rotundifolium, Allium auriculatum, Artemisia macro- tribution to special habitats (Nayar 1996; Tandon cephala, Biebersteinia odora, Dracocephalum hetero- 1998; Samant et al. 2001; Anonymous 2003). In phyllum, Gentianella tenella, Pedicularis rhinanthoides, addition, species having a distribution range only Saussurea gnaphalodes, Saussurea nana and Wald- within one 300-m altitudinal interval in the present heimia glabra. Dominant genera which contributed study were also considered for rarity. the maximum number of species of higher plants at extreme elevations of 4901–5200 m were Saussurea, Rhodiloa, Nepeta, Polygonum and Potentilla (Figure 3). The maximum number of plant species at the high- RESULTS est elevation in the study area is represented by Floristic diversity A total of 166 species in 101 genera and 37 families of vascular plants were recorded. The highest species numbers were found in the following plant Plant family families: Asteraceae (30), Fabaceae (18), Poly- 60 Ge ne ra gonaceae (11), Rosaceae and Lamiaceae (9 each), Species richness Scrophulariaceae (8), Ranunculaceae (7), Gen- tianaceae and Apiaceae (6 each), Poaceae, Cheno- podaceae, Brassicaceae and Boraginaceae (5 each). Each of the remaining 24 families had fewer than five species. 3100- 3400- 3700- 4000- 4300- 4600- 4900- 3400 3700 4000 4300 4600 4900 5200 Herbaceous species were most common in all Elevation (m) elevation bands (84–100%), followed by shrubs (3–10%), and trees (3–12%). The proportion of Figure 2 Distribution of plant families, genera and herbs and shrubs reached a maximum at altitudes species richness International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 225 Num be r Species richness and conservation Singh et al. 0 1 Plant families A (Altitudinal range: 3100–3400 m) Plant families 12 E (Altitudinal range: 4301–4600 m) Plan t families B (Altitudinal range: 3401–3700 m) P la n t fa milie s 6 F (Altitudinal range: 4601–4900 m) Plan t families C (Altitudinal range: 3701–4000 m) 1 Plant families G (Altitudinal range: 4901–5200 m) Plant families D (Altitudinal range: 4001–4300 m) Figure 3 Number of species in each family along an altitudinal gradient in Spiti cold desert 226 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management Apiac eae Ast erac eae Boragi nace ae Brassica cea e Cappa ridac eae Chenopodi aceae Ephe drace ae Fabac eae Irida ceae La mia cea e Poace ae Apiaceae Ast erac eae Ranunc ulac eae Boragi naceae Brassica cea e Sali cac eae Chenopodi ace ae Convolvul ace ae Cyperaceae El aea gnace ae Ephe draceae Equi setaceae Fabac eae Fumariaceae Genti anaceae Gerani ace ae La mia cea e lia e Li cea Li nace ae Orchida cea e Plantaginaceae Poace ae Asteraceae Polygonac eae Ranunculaceae Brassicaceae Rosace ae Rubiacea e Salicaceae Chenopodiaceae Saxifragaceae Scrophula riac eae Apiaceae Fabaceae Solana cea e Asterac eae Ta mari cac eae Boragi naceae Gentianaceae Brassicacea e Capri folia cea e Geraniaceae C ryophyllac eae Chenopodi ace ae Haemodoraceae Cypera cea e Ephe drace ae Lamiaceae Fabac eae Genti anac eae Poaceae Geraniaceae Polygonaceae La mia cea e Li lia ceae Rosaceae Li nace ae Onagraceae Scrophulariaceae Orchida cea e Poaceae Polygonac eae Ranunculaceae A st erac eae ace Ros ae Biebersteiniaceae Rubia cea e Saxifragace ae Boragi naceae Scrophula riac eae Crassulac eae Apiaceae Ephedrace ae Asteraceae Fabaceae Boraginaceae Brassicaceae Gentianac eae l ae Caryophy lac e La miaceae Chenopodiace ae Cyperaceae Li liacea e El aeagnace ae Ephedraceae oa ea P c e Fabac eae P olygonac eae Gentianaceae Geraniace ae Ranunc ulac eae Lamiacea e Rosace ae Liliaceae Plantaginaceae S axifra gace ae Poaceae S crophula riac eae Polygonaceae Asterac eae Ranunculaceae Rosaceae Bie berstei niac eae Rubiaceae Saxifragaceae Brassicacea e Scrophulariaceae Ta maricaceae Crassulaceae Fabaceae Fumariace ae Geraniaceae a a ae L mi ce Poaceae Polygonaceae Ranunculaceae Rosaceae Saxifragace ae Species richness Species richness Species richness Species richness Species richness Species richness Species richness Species richness and conservation Singh et al. the following families: Asteraceae, Crassulaceae, The number of species in each family was low. Lamiaceae, Poaceae, Polygonaceae and Rosaceae. About 91% of plant families had between one and ten species; this limited distribution could be due to harsh environmental conditions and biotic pres- Status of endemic, rare and threatened sures prevailing in the region. Asteraceae, which is plants dominant in Spiti, is also the dominant family in the Plants in threatened categories, according to the Lahaul-Spiti region (Aswal and Mehrotra 1994), IUCN categorization (Anonymous 2003; Kala Bushahr Himalaya (Nair 1977), Himachal Pradesh 2005), are shown in Table 1. The highest propor- (Chowdhery and Wadhwa 1984) and other high- tion of these plants was found in the middle eleva- altitude regions of western Himalaya (Rau 1975; tion range of 3701–4000 m, above this the Kala and Rawat 2004). This suggests that Asteraceae proportion declined with increasing altitude. has the potential to grow in a wide range of environ- Threatened plant species were not found in samp- mental conditions, thus dominating all the eleva- ling plots between 4301–4600 m and above 4901 m. tion gradients. The life form distribution highlights Most of the threatened plant species recorded are the dominance of herbaceous elements in the Spiti in the endangered and vulnerable categories cold desert, which increase with increasing altitude; (Table 1 and Figure 4). Most of these species were however, at higher elevations, the life form diversity herbaceous, except Hippophae rhamnoides and is reduced drastically, perhaps due to the harsh arid Ephedra gerardiana, which are shrubs. environment (Pauses and Austin 2001). Arnebia euchroma, an important critically en- The maximum species richness was at inter- dangered medicinal plant, was found from mediate altitudes (3400–3700 m), decreasing with 3401–4300 m on dry gentle slopes. Dactylorhiza elevation (Figure 2). In his review, Rahbek (1995) hatagirea, an endangered orchid was observed from also found that half of the studies showed maxi- 3401–4000 m in marshy areas and along river mum species richness at intermediate elevations. A banks. Among endangered plants, Ephedra similar pattern has also been reported by Klimes gerardiana was widely distributed from (2003) in eastern Ladakh, which is also an integral 3100–4900 m on dry slopes; Hyoscyamus niger was part of the Indian trans-Himalaya, similar to found only near human habitations between Spiti cold desert with respect to its climate and 3400–3700 m; however, Bergenia stracheyi was ob- topography. served on the moist rocky slopes, in the elevation The lower species richness at the highest alti- band of 3700–4300 m. The distribution of Rheum tudes may be due to lack of habitat diversity and Ferula was confined between 3700–4000 m and (Colwell and Hurtt 1994; Bhattarai and Vetaas 3400–4000 m respectively. 2003). Besides these factors, disturbances due to A number of rare and endemic plants were natural causes such as low temperature, high-wind found within various ecological habitats (Table 1), speed, high precipitation and freezing – which particularly from 3400 to 4300 m. As with species increase with increasing elevation – may explain richness, the distribution of endemic plants also the low value for species richness at higher altitudes decreased towards the extreme elevations. Among (Fosaa 2004). The upper boundary is probably many rare and endemic species, Aconitum rotundi- close to the physiological limit for plant survival, folium, Erigeron alpinus, Hippophae tibetana, Hyo- and a hard boundary here is therefore ecologically scyamus niger, Pedicularis pectinata, P. punctata, sound. Therefore, species richness decreases as the Rheum emodi, R. spiciforme, Saussurea bracteata, S. boundaries are approached, i.e. at higher altitudes. glanduligera, S. gnaphalodes, S. nana, Waldheimia However, the ground area also decreases towards glabra and W. tomentosa were observed in localized the higher elevations, which reduces the prob- pockets with a narrow distribution. ability of immigration of species due to lack of an adjacent species pool, leading to a reduced number of species (Bhattarai and Vetaas 2003). Thus, these DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS factors at higher elevations in Spiti may have This study gives the species distribution pattern of resulted in low-plant diversity as compared to mid- 166 species (101 genera and 37 families) of higher elevation gradients. Gyrtnes and Vetaas (2002), plants from 3100 to 5200 m in the Spiti cold desert. Vetaas and Grytnes (2002), Bhattarai and Vetaas International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 227 Species richness and conservation Singh et al. 228 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management Table 1 Distribution extent of some rare, endemic and threatened plants in Spiti cold desert Altitudinal Distribution Family/Taxa Life form Endemism* range (m) extent (m) IUCN** Distribution in Himalayas*** Apiaceae Ferula jaeschkeana Herb Endemic 3401–4000 251 Vulnerable WH, NWH, TH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla), Kashmir; 3600 m Heracleum thomsonii Herb Endemic 3401–4300 775 – WH, NWH, TH, HP (Lahul-Spiti); 3600 m Pleurospermum stylosum Herb – 3701–4000 Localized plots – WH, NWH, Kashmir, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3300 m Asteraceae Artemisia japonica Herb Endemic 3401–3700 14 – WT, NWH, KH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 1500–3000 m A. maritima Shrub Endemic 3401–4300 785 – WH, Kashmir to Kumaon, HP (Shimla); 2000–3000 m A. scoparia Herb – 3100–3400 39 – WT, WH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 1500–3500 m A. tournefortiana Herb – 3100–3400 Localized plots – WH, WT, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 2500–4000 m A. molliusculus Herb – 4601–5200 40 – WH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Shimla); 1800–3000 m Erigeron alpinus Herb Endemic 3401–3700 Localized plots – Temperate and alpine WH, KH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); up to 4800 m E. borealis Herb – 3701–4000 Localized plots – NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3700–4000 m E. multiradiatus Herb – 4301–4600 Localized plots – Temperate and Alpine Himalaya in HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 2500–4500 m Hieracium crocatum Herb Endemic 3401–3700 80 – WH, WT, KH, TH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 2000–4000 m H. umbellatum Herb – 3401–3700 Localized plots – WH, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti, Pin Valley); 2000–4000 m Lactuca macrorhiza Herb – 3701–4000 Localized plots – Temperate Himalaya, HP (Kullu, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Mandi, Shimla); up to 4800 m Leontopodium brachyactis Herb – 4901–5200 Localized plots – NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4900–5200 m L. himalayanum Herb – 3701–4600 417 – AH, Tibet, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla, Chnadra valley); up to 4800 m Saussurea bracteata Herb Tibetan 4901–5200 Localized plots – WT, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3500–5600 m Endemic – S. glanduligera Herb Endemic 3701–4000 Localized plots – WT, KH, TH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3900–5700 m S. gnaphalodes Herb Centrasiatic 4601–4900 Localized plots – WT, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 4000–5000 m S. nana Herb Endemic 4601–5200 40 – KH, PH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4500–6000 m Tanacetum falconeri Herb – 3701–4000 Localized plots – WT, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti), Kashmir; 4000–5000 m Waldheimia glabra Herb Endemic 4601–5200 40 – ET, WT, Ladakh, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti); 3800–5500 m W. tomentosa Herb Endemic 4301–4600 Localized plots WH, WT, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti); 4000–5500 m Biebersteiniaceae Biebersteinia odora Herb – 4601–5200 Localized plots – AT, Ladakh, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 4800–5100 m Boraginaceae Arnebia euchroma Herb Centrasiatic 3401–4300 775 Critically-Endangered WT, Nepal, AWH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur and Lahaul-Spiti); 4800 m A. guttata Herb – 3100–3400 170 – NWH, Ladakh, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti); 4300 m Brassicaceae Draba lasiophylla Herb Endemic 4901–5200 3 – AH, WH,NWH,TH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3700–5500 m D. setosa Herb – 4301–4600 2 – WH, KH, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 4600 m Lepidium latifolium Herb – 3401–3700 36 – Himalaya, HP (Chamba, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); 3400–3700 m Capparidaceae Capparis spinosa Herb Endemic 3100–3400 166 – WH, KH-GH, WN, PH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Shimla); 500–3500 m Caprifoliaceae Lonicera asperifolia Shrub – 3701–4000 Localized plots – WH, KH, KuH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3900 m Caryophyllaceae Dianthus anatolicus Herb Endemic 4001–4300 72 – WH, WT, KH, KuH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); above 2700 m Species richness and conservation Singh et al. International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 229 Crassulaceae Rhodiola himalensis Herb – 4901–5200 Localized plots – NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4900–5200 m R. wallichiana Herb Endemic 4601–5200 37 – NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4600–5200 m Sedum tibeticum Herb – 4601–4900 Localized plots – AWH, Kashmir, HP (Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 4800 m Elaeagnaceae Hippophae rhamnoides Shrub Holarctic 3401–3700 120 Vulnerable NWH, KuH, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 4500 m H. tibetana Shrub – 4001–4300 Localized plots – NWH, GH, KuH, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 4200 m Ephedraceae Ephedra gerardiana Shrub Endemic 3100–4300 1708 Endangered Afghanistan to Bhutan, GH, NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); above 1800 m usually between 2400–5000 m E. regeliana Herb – 3100–3400 170 – NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 3100–4300 m Fabaceae Astragalus candolleanus Herb Endemic 3401–4300 727 – WH, WT, KH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 3300 m A. himalayanus Herb Endemic 3401–4000 171 – WH, Nepal, KH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 2400–4500 m A. strobiliferus Herb – 3401–3700 Localized plots – WH (temperate, alpine regions), Kashmir, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 3600 m Cicer microphyllum Herb Endemic 3701–4000 256 – WH, KH, WN, TH, HP (temperate, alpine regions of Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti); 3000–5000 m Thermopsis inflata Herb Endemic 4301–4900 337 – AWH, Ladakh, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 4800–5100 m Trigonella pubescens Herb Endemic 3401–3700 Localized plots – WH, WN, Tibet, PH, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 3500 m Fumariaceae Corydalis cornuta Herb – 3401–3700 Localized plots – Temperate WH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla); 2300–4000 m C. govaniana Herb Endemic 4901–5200 Localized plots – WH, KH to WN, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 3200–5600 m Gentianaceae Gentianella moorcroftiana Herb Endemic 3401–4000 311 – KH to KuH, TH, WH, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); up to 4500 m Lomatogonium carinthiacum Herb – 4301–4600 Localized plots – WH,Nepal,HP(Chamba,Kinnaur) Geraniaceae Geranium wallichianum Herb Endemic 4001–4600 322 – Temperate Himalaya, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla); up to 4000 m Lamiaceae Dracocephalum heterophyllum Herb – 4001–4900 656 – WT, HP (Chamba, Lahaul-Spiti); 4500–5100 m Elsholtzia eriostachya Herb – 4301–4900 385 – AH, Garhwal, KuH, Sikkim, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 4300 m Hyssopus officinalis Shrub – 3701–4000 119 – WH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 3700–4000 m Nepeta discolor Herb Endemic 3401–4900 1266 – WT, Kashmir to WN, PH, AWH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 2700–4800 m N. floccosa Herb Endemic 3100–3400 Localized plots – WT, Kashmir to HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 2500–4500 m N. longibracteata Herb Endemic 4901–5200 3 – WT, Kashmir to alpine regions HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4000–4800 m Liliaceae A. carolinium Herb – 3401–4300 Localized plots – WH, Afghanistan, KuH, GH, Kashmir, HP (Lahul-Spiti); 3700–4800 m Onagraceae Epilobium chitralense Herb Endemic 3701–4000 Localized plots – KH, PH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4000–5000 m E. latifolium Herb Endemic 3701–4000 Localized plots – KH-CNH, AWH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 3000–4800 m Orchidaceae Dactylorhiza hatagirea Herb Endemic 3401–4000 220 Endangered Temperate WH, Kashmir-Nepal, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla, Lahaul-Spiti); 2500–3500 m Species richness and conservation Singh et al. 230 International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management Plantaginaceae Plantago himalaica Herb – 3401–4300 543 – NWH, Kashmir to Nepal, HP (Chamba, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 3000–4000 m Polygonaceae Polygonum minus Herb – 4001–4300 Localized plots – Temperate Asia, NWH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4000–4300 m P. paronychioides Herb Endemic 3401–4000 195 – WH, PH, KH to HP (Lahaul-Spiti, Chamba, Kinnaur); 2700–4500 m Rheum emodi Herb Endemic 3701–4000 Localized plots Endangered AH, Kashmir to KuH, HP (Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 3600 m R. spiciforme Herb Endemic 3701–4000 68 Vulnerable WH, KuH, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); up to 4800 m Ranunculaceae Aconitum rotundifolium Herb Centrasiatic 4601–4900 Localized plots – AH, Kashmir to Nepal, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 3000–4500 m Aquilegia fragrans Herb Endemic 3701–4300 276 – Alpine and temperate WH, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 2600–3700 m A. publiflora Herb – 3701–4000 Localized plots – Kashmir to Nepal, temperate OH, Gharwal, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); up to 4000 m Clematis orientalis Herb Endemic 3100–4000 525 – Dry inner valleys of WH, HP (Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); 2800–3500 m Thalictrum alpinum Herb Endemic 4601–4900 Localized plots – AH (Chamba, Kangra, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 3500–4570 m T. minus Herb Endemic 3401–5200 1415 – Inner valleys of temperate Himalaya, Adjacent Tibet, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 3700 m T. platycarpum Herb – 4001–4300 103 – Temperate Himalaya, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu); 1800–2400 m Rosaceae Potentilla fructicosa Herb – Localized plots – Kashmir to Sikkim, temperate and subalpine Himalaya, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Lahaul-Spiti, Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla); up to 4500 m P. multifida Herb Endemic 3701–5200 1230 – KH, NWH, KuH, HP (Kangra, Lahaul-Spiti); 5400 m P. sundaica Herb – 4601–4900 Localized plots – WH, HP (Kinnaur, Kullu, Shimla); 4600–4900 m Saxifragaceae Bergenia stracheyi Herb Endemic 3701–4300 348 Vulnerable KH to KuH, western NH, WH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 2000–4500 m Saxifraga flagellaris Herb – 4601–5200 40 – AH, Kashmir to Kumaon, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); 4300–4800 m S. sibirica Herb – 4601–4900 Localized plots – WH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kullu, Kinnaur, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 4800 m Scrophulariaceae Leptorhabdos parviflora Herb – 3401–3700 34 – WH, Nepal, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Shimla); 2000–3000 m Pedicularis pectinata Herb Endemic 4301–4600 Localized plots – Temperate WH, Kashmir to WN, KuH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); 2400–4500 m P. punctata Herb Endemic 3701–4000 Localized plots – KH, AH, KuH, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); 2700–4500 m P. rhinanthoides Herb – 4601–4900 Localized plots – AH, WT, Kashmir, Ladakh, HP (Lahaul-Spiti); 4500 m Scrophularia decomposita Herb – 3401–3700 38 – WH, Nepal, Kashmir, HP (Chamba, Kangra, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti, Mandi); 2500–3500 m Solanaceae Hyoscyamus niger Herb Holarctic 3401–3700 Localized plots Endangered Kashmir to Garhwal, temperate Himalaya, HP (Chamba, Kinnaur, Kullu, Lahaul-Spiti); up to 3300 m AH; Alpine Himalaya: AT; Alpine Tibet: AWH; Alpine Western Himalaya: CNH; Central Nepal Himalaya: ET; Eastern Tibet: GH; Garhwal Himalaya: HP; Himachal Pradesh: KH; Kashmir Himalaya: KuH; Kumaon Himalaya: NH; Nepal Himalaya: NWH; Northwestern Himalaya: OH; Outer Himalaya: PH; Pakistan Himalaya: TH; Tibetan Himalaya: WH; Western Himalaya: WN; Western Nepal: WT; Western Tibet *Endemism: Nayar (1996) and Kala (2005); **IUCN Status: Anonymous (2003); Kala (2005); ***Distribution in Himalayas: Collet (1902); Rau (1975); Nair (1977); Chowdhery and Wadhwa (1984); Polunin and Stainton (1984); Aswal and Mehrotra 1994; Nayar (1996); Gaur (1999) Species richness and conservation Singh et al. At present, natural vegetation is gradually being replaced by cash crops, such as peas and potatoes, in most of the localities in Spiti, including Guling (3580 m), Hurling (3100 m), Kaza (3700 m), Lari Vuln erable (3345 m), Mud (3800 m), Poh (3385 m), Rangrik Endangered (3600 m), Sagnam (3600 m) and Tabo (3300 m). Crit ically These crops have also replaced the native cultivars Endangered of arable crops. People now grow apples at lower elevations, between 3100–3400 m in the Hurling, Poh and Tabo areas of Spiti. Such changes in land-use patterns are resulting in habitat degrada- 3100 - 34 01- 3701- 40 01- 43 01- 4601- 4901 - 3400 3700 40 00 430 0 4600 4900 5200 tion and the fragmentation of vegetation at access- A lt it udinal gradient (m) ible lower elevations – this may be leading to low- species richness. Other anthropogenic activities, Figure 4 Distribution pattern of threatened medicinal plants along an altitudinal gradient in Spiti cold desert such as heavy grazing and extraction of medicinal herbs, may also be responsible for low-species rich- ness. All these factors were responsible for the (2003, 2006) and Kharkwal et al. (2005) found smaller number of vegetation sites available for similar patterns of plant species richness along a sampling at lower elevations. The low frequency of Himalayan elevation gradient, with maximum threatened plants reveals their narrow distribution species richness at mid-altitudes where overlapping and habitat specificity. Threatened plants were of neighbouring communities occurs and immigra- found below 4900 m. In general, threatened tion of species from adjacent species pools became species were not found between 4300–4600 m and possible in most common habitats. above 4900 m in sampling plots; perhaps their The maximum diversity in plant species richness frequency of distribution was very narrow and low can be expected at intermediate altitudes in the at these elevations. transition zone, where two zonal vegetation types The over-extraction of medicinal plants from overlap (Lomolino 2001). This is consistent with natural habitats is another reason for their low the maxima in species richness in the altitudinal availability in sampling plots. Some 90% of the raw range of 3400–3700 m in Spiti. Rahbek (1995) material of medicinal plants for herbal industries in reported that moderate humidity with maximum India and for export is drawn from natural popula- environmental resources was responsible for maxi- tions (Gupta et al. 1998; Ved et al. 1998). With the mum species richness and number of plant com- increase in demand for raw material of medicinal munities at mid-elevations. Many species of plants, world trade figures suggest that India ranks Artemisia, Astragalus, Cynoglossum, Ephedra, Gera- next to China in export of medicinal raw material nium, Gentiana, Gentianella, Heracleum, Nepeta, (Lange 1997). The continuous over-extraction of Polygonum, Populus, Potentilla, Rosa, Ribes, Robinia valuable plant species in Spiti has also resulted in and Salix occur at both lower and higher elevations the depletion of populations of many rare endemic and were found at transitional altitudes at inter- and endangered plants, which are on the verge mediate elevations. of extinction (Kala 2000). Arnebia euchroma The major decline in species richness at higher (Boraginaceae), one of the commercially valuable elevation could also be due to the reduced growing medicinal plants, has been moved from the endan- season and low-ecosystem productivity (Körner gered (Ved and Tandon 1998) to critically endan- 1998), which results in fewer micro-sites for plants gered category of plants in the latest IUCN to occupy through the development of specific categorization in Himachal Pradesh (Anonymous adaptive traits. Husain and Garg (2002) reported 2003). Similarly, Ephedra gerardiana and Rheum that adverse environmental conditions in the cold emodi are now listed in the endangered category, desert of Lahaul-Spiti permitted the growth of a few and Hippophae rhamnoides and Hyoscyamus niger have thorny herbs. Few species with good adaptability been replaced from LR-NT (Lower Risk–Near potential under harsh environmental conditions Threatened) to vulnerable and endangered catego- were found at high extreme altitudes in Spiti. ries. However, A. euchroma and E. gerardiana were International Journal of Biodiversity Science and Management 231 Number of species Species richness and conservation Singh et al. widespread at several elevations, but restricted to for conservation of their natural habitats and local- fragmented habitats. ized populations through the development of Because of over-exploitation and habitat degra- micro-plans at the species level. dation, the original habitats are fragmented into isolated patches, which also leads to fragmentation ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS of populations of plant species (Tandon 1998). In such fragmented systems, smaller fragments will ini- This paper is dedicated in memory of the late Dr. tially contain more species. However, the rate of H.R. Negi, scientist of the Institute of Himalayan extinction of species in such smaller groups with Bioresources Technology, for his contribution. specific habitat requirements is faster than for The authors are grateful to the National Bio- species with a continuous broad habitat range, as resource Development Board, Government of ecological niches available for survival are reduced India, for financial support. The first author also (Tandon 1998; Nautiyal et al. 2002). Hence, a num- thanks CSIR, New Delhi, for the award of a senior ber of the rare and endemic plants (Table 1) iden- research fellowship. The research constitutes inter- tified in the study area need immediate attention nal IHBT Publication No. 0660 REFERENCES Anonymous. Threat Assessment and Management Priori- Grytnes JA. Species-richness patterns of vascular tization of Selected Medicinal Plants of West Himalayan plants along seven altitudinal transects in Norway. States. 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International Journal of Biodiversity Science & Management – Taylor & Francis
Published: Dec 1, 2007
Keywords: SPECIES RICHNESS; DISTRIBUTION; THREATENED PLANTS; SPITI COLD DESERT; TRANS-HIMALAYA
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