Himalayan ecology, biosphere reserve

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Himalayan ecology

The Himalayas, by virtue of their stupendous height, act as a climatic divide for the Asian region, and the behaviour of large systems of air and water circulation in the region is moderated by it. The meteorological conditions in the Indian subcontinent to the south of the Himalayas as well as the Central Asian highlands to its north are therefore shaped by the presence of this mountain range. Rain-laden clouds from the south are forced to shed most of their moisture on the southern slopes, with the eastern part receiving maximum rain, decreasing their shed gradually as they head west; very little however is able to cross the high peaks to the northern plateau beyond. Hence while the Rain Pole of the Earth lies in the south-eastern part of the Himalayas (Cherrapunji in Assam is the place with the highest precipitation in the world!), the highest cold deserts in the world lie just north in the Trans-Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau that receive just 3-6 inches of rain per year. The Himalayas also serve to shield the southern slopes from the cold, continental winds from the Central Asian tablelands. Microclimate of particular locales in the Himalayas is however determined by local relief features apart from location within the range.

The abrupt rise of the Himalayas from the sea to the highest point on earth, along with the geologic and topographical complexity of the mountain system, has given it a wide range of ecological conditions, within a rise of just a few hundred kilometres. Add to this the fact that it is the confluence of two very different continental plates, each with its own flora-fauna and the meeting bringing forth an interesting cross-culturation as well, has created one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. There are about 10,000 species of plants, nearly a 1,000 species of birds, 300 species of mammals, and several reptiles and aquatic species as well; a significant number of these species are endemic to the region. The southern slopes of the Himalayas are very green, with alluvial plains and moist deciduous forests at the base, teeming with life, including several species of large mammals. Higher up there are temperate broadleaf forests and coniferous forests, and even higher beyond the tree line are alpine meadows with the rarest of plants, several possessing medicinal properties. The soils at higher altitudes are made of rock fragments and are not very productive . Beyond 5,500 metres lies a zone of permanent ice and rocks. The northern slopes are believed to have been beautiful valleys before the birth of the Himalayas, and were gradually turned into deserts (Gobi, Taklamakan) as the Himalayas grew and grew. The relative strength of the monsoons finds a reflection in the ecological profile east to west along the mountain range, as well. The eastern foothills and low hills upto 2,000m display a rainforest ecology, the central region is a transitional semi-wet region, while the western division is an arid desert.

Biosphere reserves of himalaya region

Nanda Devi National Park

In the vicinity of Nanda Devi (7817 m), the second highest peak in India, is situated the Nanda Devi National Park, which has some of the most unique high altitude flora and fauna in the world. The spectacular views, sylvan environment, and richness of biosphere make it quite different from the other wildlife sanctuaries of India. The park has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and In its vicinity are the Valley of Flowers, Badrinath Temple, and Hemkund Sahib.  Though the park was notified only in 1982, it has a long history. W.W. Garden was the first person to reach this region in 1883, but his expedition to the Nanda Devi Peak failed to create any impact. In 1936, Tilman and N.E. Odell scaled the Nanda Devi and opened its vista for others to follow. This led to the region becoming a game sanctuary in 1939. The area of the park remained undisturbed until 1950’s when organized expeditions for Nanda Devi started. To save the park from these disturbances, the Government of India declared the region a National Park in 1982 and later it was given the special status of a Biosphere Reserve.

The Nanda Devi National Park is located in the Indian state of Uttaranchal in the upper Himalayan ranges. A part of the Garhwal Himalayas, the park extends from the latitude 30°24′ in the North to the longitude 79°53′ in the East. The entry to the park is from Lata village around 23 km from Joshimath. Mountain peaks surround it from all sides except the west where it is bounded by an inaccessible gorge.


Dihang-Dibang Biosphere Reserve

The Biosphere Reserve constitutes an area of 5112 Sq. Km in the district of West Siang, Upper Siang and Dibang valley of Arunachal Pradesh. An area of 4095 Sq.Km constitutes the core zone of the BR and 1017 Sq.Km makes the buffer zone. Due to the steep terrain combined with difficult weather as well as the lack of communication, the area has a very sparse human population. The approximately 10,000 people who live here are primarily of the Adi, Buddhist and Mishmi tribes with ten sub tribes including the Paris, Padams, Karkos, Pangis, Simongs, Ashings, Tangams, Komkars, Millangs, Dalbings, Membas, Khambas and Idu Mishmis. The Biosphere Reserve area is almost totally under the cover of vegetation with villages and cultivations located on lower slopes and terraces edging the major river systems. Considerable territory in the BR lies at elevations above the tree line and this area features a very special array of plants and animals. Two of the most exciting facts relating to the forest here is that in most of the Himalayas outside of Arunachal Pradesh one does not find natural vegetation stretching in an unbroken sequence from the tropics to the mountain tundra. Arunachal Pradesh is the finest stronghold for this type of continuity in the Himalayas. Secondly, in contrast to other areas of the Himalayas outside of Arunachal Pradesh, the BR exhibits a wonderful extent of sub-tropical forest. Forests at subtropical levels are the most severely altered in the Himalayas and Arunachal Pradesh is the last stronghold for many Himalayan species dependent on this forest type.

Cold Desert biosphere reserve

Cold Desert Biosphere Reserve is a biosphere reserve located in the western Himalayas region, within Himachal Pradesh state in North India. Biosphere reserves are the areas of coastal ecosystems which promote the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use.There are over 669 biosphere reserves around the world in over 120 countries.The ministry of environment and forest provides financial assistance to the respective state governments for conservation of landscape, biological diversity and the cultural heritage.


Kanchenjunga biosphere reserve

Situated in the northern Indian State of Sikkim, Khangchendzonga reserve exhibits one of the widest altitudinal ranges of any protected area worldwide. The Park has an extraordinary vertical sweep of over 7 kilometres (1,220m to 8,586m) within an area of only 178,400 ha and comprises a unique diversity of lowlands, steep-sided valleys and spectacular snow-clad mountains including the world’s third highest peak, Mt. Khangchendzonga. Numerous lakes and glaciers, including the 26 km long Zemu Glacier, dot the barren high altitudes.

The property falls within the Himalaya global biodiversity hotspot and displays an unsurpassed range of sub-tropical to alpine ecosystems. The Himalayas are narrowest here resulting in extremely steep terrain which magnifies the distinction between the various eco-zones which characterise the property. The Park is located within a mountain range of global biodiversity conservation significance and covers 25% of the State of Sikkim, acknowledged as one of India’s most significant biodiversity concentrations. The property is home to a significant number of endemic, rare and threatened plant and animal species. The property has one of the highest number of plant and mammal species recorded in the Central/High Asian Mountains, and also has a high number of bird species.


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