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The Ecology of the Himalayas

Soil of the Himalayas



Climate of the Himalayas

Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya
Complimenting its diverse flora, the fauna of the Himalayas exhibits a magnificent variety. A high degree of endemism is found in this region, especially in the northeastern part. The Black Necked Crane, the musk deer, and the Kashmir stag, or hangul are some of the species on the brink of extinction. Due to the immense variations found on the east-west axis of the Himalayas, we can understand the fauna of these two areas as under:
  • Western Himalayan region: This region includes cold desert climatic conditions with very low precipitation and frigid winter temperatures as well as lower altitudinal regions with temperate to sub-tropical climatic conditions. This results in a wide range of faunal diversity from the elusive and endangered snow leopard (Uncia uncia), double humped camel of Ladakh and the brown bear (Ursus arctos) to threatened species like the Himalayan tahr (Hemitragus jemlahicus) and markhor (Capra falconeri). Several avian species like the Himalayan quail (Ophrysia superciliosa), white throated tit (Aegithalos niveogularis) and Kashmir nuthatch (Sitta cashmirensis) can also be found in the region.

  • Eastern Himalayan region: This region is characterized by heavy rainfall and a wide range of temperatures. Species like the endangered Red panda (Alurus fulgens), golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) and pygmy hog (Sus salvinius) are found in the region. The Eastern Himalayas are home to 163 globally threatened species like wild buffalo (Bubalus bubalis), the one-horned rhinoceros (Rhinoceros unicornis), vultures and hornbills.
To understand the enormous wealth of the faunal diversity of the Himalayas, we can discuss the characteristic species under the phyla given below:
  • Birds: The birdlife found in the region is rich but comparatively more in the eastern Himalayas. Some of the common Himalayan birds include different species of magpie, titmouse, chough, whistling thrush, and redstart. Species like the Cheer pheasant (Catreus wallichii) and Western Tragopan (Tragopan melanocephalus) are some of the vulnerable birds found in the Western Himalayas. Fifteen of the 980 bird species found in the Indo-Burma hotspot are endemic in the Eastern Himalayas of which the Himalayan quail (Ophrysia superciliosa) is critically endangered. The black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis), a threatened high altitude migratory bird is also found across the belt.
  • Mammals: Approximately 300 mammalian species have been documented in the Himalayas, of which several are endemic. While mammals like langurs (Semenopithicus spp.), Tibetan wild ass or Kiang (Equus kiang), wild dogs (Cuon alpinus) and deer are found in the lowlands, species like the snow leopard (Uncia uncia), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetinus), blue sheep (Pseudois nayur) and Himalayas thar (Hemitragus jemlahicus) are found at higher altitudes. In Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh, the yak is found in the upper reaches and is domesticated and used as a beast of burden. A few of the endemic species of the region are the golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) and the flying squirrel (Biswamoyopterus biswasi). The lower grasslands at the foothills of the Himalayas are also home to flagship species like tigers, elephants and rhinoceroses.
  • Reptiles: Several reptiles are found in the Himalayan belt, like a wide range of blind snakes (Typhlops) found across the eastern and western regions. Various poisonous and non poisonous snake species are found upto an elevation of 4800 m including the Indian spectacled cobra (Naja naja), Russell’s viper (Vipera russellii) and the common grass snake. In the eastern region, 50 of the 175 reptiles species found are endemic.
  • Amphibians: In the western Himalayas, several frog species (Bufo viridus, Staurois himalayanum) and lizards are found. In the eastern belt, 40 of the 105 species known are endemic. An important threatened species found in Sikkim and Nepal alone is Ichthyophis sikkimensis, which is found at elevations of 1,000 to 1,550 m.
  • Fish: Several freshwater fish species are found in the numerous rivers and streams originating from the Himalayas. The important species found in the western region are the migratory golden mahseer (Barbus tor putitora), the Ladakh snowtrout (Gymnocypris biswasi), the Indus snow trout (Ptychobarbus conirostris) and the endangered Kinnaur snowtrout (Schizopygopsis stoliczkae). In the eastern stretch, 30 of the 270 species found are endemic. The Himalayan belt is also home to 6 endemic species of the genus Schizothorax, all of which inhabit in the high mountain lakes and streams.
The vast natural wealth of the Himalayan fauna is now being directly affected by anthropogenic activities like hunting and poaching, and indirectly affected by activities like deforestation, which impact their habitats. Large dam projects over several major Himalayan rivers and construction of roads in virgin landscapes coupled with the effects of climate change are slowly exerting a pressure on the species found in the region. Thus, while appreciating the bounty of faunal diversity of this magnificent landscape, we must also understand the threats it faces.
Doubled humped Camel
Black Necked Crane