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The Ecology of the Himalayas

Soil of the Himalayas



Climate of the Himalayas

Credit:Compiled from multiple sources by Pragya
The Indian Himalayas are unique in the fact that they are home to a multitude of plant species, many of which are endemic to the region. They are a storehouse of the most rare and valuable species of medicinal plants, with approximately 1700 species being classified as high-value plants. Approximately five families, 71 genera and 3,160 species of plants are endemic to the Himalayas.
The flora of the Himalayas has elements from various regions and thus we can find alpine grasslands, temperate forests, deciduous species and high altitude medicinal herbs growing at different places. The location of the Himalayas put them in a zone where six floristic regions meet: Central Asiatic (north), Sino-Japenese (east), Southeast Asia-Malayasian (southeast), Indian (south), Sudano-Zambian (south-west) and Irano-Turanian (west). This leads to an abundant species diversity of plants some of which are wild relatives of agriculturally important species.
The entire Himalayan belt can be divided into two prominent categories:
  • Western Himalayan Region: This region extends from north Pakistan to Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh in India. The temperate zone is rich in forests of chir pine (Pinus roxburghii) and other gymnosperm species as well as broad-leaved temperate trees like Quercus. At higher altitudes, deodar (Cedrus deodara), blue pine (Pinus wallichiana), spruce (Picea spp.) and silver fir (Abies spp.) trees are found. The alpine zone extends from the upper limit of the temperate zone and up to the snowline. The characteristic trees of this zone are high-level silver fir, silver birch and junipers.
  • Eastern Himalayan Region: The interplay of altitude with heavy rainfall makes this region one of the most species rich regions in the world. This region falls under the Indo-Burma biodiversity hotspot for its high rate of endemism (7000 plant species, 18 birds, 25 mammals, 35 amphibians) and variety of flora and fauna. The temperate forests have a rich diversity of epiphytic species along with several angiosperms and pteridophytes. The lower regions are covered with evergreen broadleaf species from families like Lauraceae, while the upper regions have conifers like Tsuga and Taxus with deciduous broadleaf species like Betula and Magnolia. Rhododendrons and bamboo are the prominent species in the entire eastern belt. The largest family of flowering plants in the region is Orchidaceae, with 750 species.  
The vegetation types found in the Himalayas differ along the east-west and north-south axis making classification very difficult. However, to appreciate the full diversity of the region’s floral wealth, the major vegetation types are described below:
  • Tropical moist deciduous to evergreen forests are found at an altitude of 300-900 m in the foothills. Sal (Shorea robusta) is the representative tree species of this vegetation.
  • Sub-tropical moist to semi evergreen forests are found at an altitude of 900-1800 m with a mixture of tree species like Laportea, Macaranga, Eugenia and Castanopsis and shrubs like Clerodendrum and Stobilanthes.
  • Temperate forests are found at an altitude of 1800-2700 m. The vegetation of this region comprises Rhododendrons, Acer, Populus, Abies and Quercus. It is interesting to note the mixture of broadleaved and evergreen species found in this region.
  • Temperate to sub-alpine forests are found at an altitude of 2700-3000 m and serves as a transition zone from tall trees to shrubby species of Rhododendron, Juniperus, Berberis and Salix.
  • Sub-alpine forests range from 3000-3700 m and the vegetation shows a mixture of conifers, spruce, firs in the western regions and rhododendrons and junipers in the eastern side.
  • Alpine forests are found from 3700-4500 m and are mostly made up of meadows. Some species found at this altitude are Arenaria and Saxifraga, Meconopsis and Primula.
Thus, owing to the wide range of climatic variations found, the Himalayan region is a rich repository of plant species belonging to Bryophyta, Pteridophyta, Gymnosperms and Angiosperms. This floral heritage is slowly getting depleted because of indiscriminate deforestation, illegal trade in rare medicinal plants and their extracts, unscientific extraction of non-timber forest products (NTFPs like honey, bamboo, resins etc.) and changing land use patterns.
Western Himalayan Region
Eastern Himalayan Region
Tropical moist deciduous to evergreen forests
Sub-tropical moist to semi evergreen forests
Temperate forests
Temperate to sub-alpine forests
Sub-alpine forests range
Alpine forests