WWF has identified the entire Eastern Himalayas as a priority Global 200 Ecoregion while Conservation International has upscaled the Eastern Himalaya Hotspot which initially covered the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Darjeeling Hills, Bhutan, and Southern China to the Indo Burma Hotspot (Myers 2000) which now includes all the eight states of North-East India, along with the neighbouring countries of Bhutan, southern China and Myanmar. The richness of the region’s avifauna largely reflects the diversity of habitats associated with a wide altitudinal range. North East India supports some of the highest bird diversities in the orient with about 850 bird species. The Eastern Himalaya and the Assam plains have been identified as an Endemic Bird Area by the Royal Society for Protection of Birds, (ICBP 1992). The global distribution of 24 Restricted-range species is limited to the region. The region’s lowland and montane moist to wet tropical evergreen forests are considered to be the northernmost limit of true tropical rainforests in the world (Proctor et al. 1998). The region has been identified by the Indian Council of Agricultural ResearchICAR) as a centre of rice germplasm while the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), India, has highlighted the region as being rich in wild relatives of crop plants. It is the centre of origin of citrus fruits. Two primitive variety of maize, Sikkim Primitive 1 and 2 have also been reported from Sikkim (Dhawan, 1964). Although jhum cultivation, a traditional system of agriculture, is often cited as a reason for the loss of forest cover of the region this primary agricultural economic activity practiced by local tribes reflects the usage of 35 varieties of crops. The region is rich in medicinal plants and many other rare and endangered taxa. Its high endemism in both higher plants, vertebrates and avian diversity has qualified it to be a biodiversity ‘hotspot’ and this aspect has been elaborated in details in the subsequent sections. IUCN in 1995 identified Namdapha in Arunachal Pradesh as a centre of plant diversity.
The following figures highlight the biodiersity significance of the region ( Hedge 2000, FSI 2003):
- 51 forest types are found in the region broadly classified into six major types - tropical moist deciduous forests, tropical semi evergreen forests, tropical wet evergreen forests, subtropical forests, temperate forests and alpine forests.
- Out of the nine important vegetation types of India, six are found in the North Eastern region.
- These forests harbour 80,000 out of 15,000 species of flowering plants. In terms of floral species richness the highest diversity is reported from the states of Arunachal Pradesh (5000 species) and Sikkim (4500 species) amongst the North Eastern States.
- According to the Indian Red data book published by the Botanical Survey of India, 10 per cent of the total flowering plants in the country are endangered. Of the 1500 endangered floral species, 800 are reported from North East India.
- Most of the North Eastern states have more than 60% of their geographical area under forest cover, a minimum suggested coverage for the hill states in the country.
- North East India is a part of Indo Burma 'hotspot'. The hotspot is, the second largest and next only to the Mediterranean basin with an area 2,20,60,000 km2 among the 25 identified globally.
- The International Council for Bird Preservation, UK identified the Assam plains and the Eastern Himalaya as an Endemic Bird Area (EBA). The EBA has an area of 220,000 sq kilometre following the Himalayan range in the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Myanmar and the Indian states of Sikkim, northern West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, southern Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Meghalaya and Mizoram. Because of a southward occurrence of this mountain range in comparison to other Himalayan ranges, this region has a distinctly different climate with warmer mean temperatures and fewer days with frost and have much higher rainfall. This has resulted in the occurrence of a rich array of restricted range bird species and more than two critically endangered species, three endangered species and 14 vulnerable species of birds within this EBA. Stattersfield et al. (1998) identified 22 restricted range species out of which 19 are confined to this region and the remaining three are also present in other endemic and secondary areas. Eleven out of the 22 restricted range species found in this region are considered as threatened (Birdlife International 2001), a number greater than in any other EBA of India.
- WWF has identified the following priority ecoregions in North-East India:
- Brahmaputra Valley Semi Evergreen Forests
- The Eastern Himalayan Broadleaved Forests
- The Eastern Himalayan Sub-alpine Coniferous Forests
- India–Myanmar Pine Forests
Read more about this topic: Northeast India
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