Biodiversity Hotspots in India - Himalayas, Indo-Burma, Western Ghats & Sundaland

Biodiversity is referred to as the variation of plant and animal species in a particular habitat. Species evenness and species richness form the major components of biodiversity.

India is known for its rich biodiversity and has around 24.46% of the geographical area covered by forests and trees.

Coined by Norman Myers, the term “Biodiversity hotspots” can be defined as the regions which are known for their high species richness and endemism.

Biodiversity hotspots in India are an important topic for the IAS Exam and are under UPSC Mains GS-III syllabus. This article will discuss the major biodiversity hotspots in India. Aspirants will also find the list of IUCN endangered species. Aspirants can also download the notes PDF at the end of the article.
Along with Biodiversity, one may also read:

Biodiversity Hotspots – 2 Main Qualifying Criteria

According to Conservation International, a region must fulfill the following two criteria to qualify as a hotspot:

  1. The region should have at least 1500 species of vascular plants i.e., it should have a high degree of endemism.
  2. It must contain 30% (or less) of its original habitat, i.e. it must be threatened.

Following the criteria must for an area to be declared as Biodiversity Hotspot, there are major four biodiversity hotspots in India:

  1. The Himalayas
  2. Indo-Burma Region
  3. The Western Ghats
  4. Sundaland

The Himalayas

Considered the highest in the world, the Himalayas (overall) comprises North-East India, Bhutan, Central and Eastern parts of Nepal. This region (NE Himalayas) holds a record of having 163 endangered species which includes the Wild Asian Water Buffalo, One-horned Rhino; and as many as 10,000 plant species, of which 3160 are endemic. This mountain range covers nearly 750,000 km2.

Indo – Burma Region

The Indo-Burma Region is stretched over a distance of 2,373,000 km². In the last 12 years, 6 large mammal species have been discovered in this region: the Large-antlered Muntjac, the Annamite Muntjac, the Grey-shanked Douc, the Annamite Striped Rabbit, the Leaf Deer, and the Saola.

This hotspot is also known for the endemic freshwater turtle species, most of which are threatened with extinction, due to over-harvesting and extensive habitat loss. There are also 1,300 different bird species, including the threatened White-eared Night-heron, the Grey-crowned Crocias, and the Orange-necked Partridge.

The Western Ghats

The Western Ghats are present along the western edge of peninsular India and covers most of the deciduous forests and rain forests. As per UNESCO, it is home to at least 325 globally threatened flora, fauna, bird, amphibian, reptile and fish species. Originally, the vegetation in this region was spread over 190,000 km2 but has been now reduced to 43,000 km2. The region is also known for the globally threatened flora and fauna represented by 229 plant species, 31 mammal species, 15 bird species, 43 amphibian species, 5 reptile species and 1 fish species. UNESCO mentions that “Of the total 325 globally threatened species in the Western Ghats, 129 are classified as Vulnerable, 145 as Endangered and 51 as Critically Endangered.”

Knowing in detail about the Western Ghats will be helpful for the aspirants for the Geography preparation.

Sundaland

The Sundaland hotspot lies in South-East Asia and covers Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia. In the year 2013, the Sundaland was declared as a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations. This region is famous for its rich terrestrial and marine ecosystem. Sundaland is one of the biologically richest hotspots in the world which comprises 25,000 species of vascular plants, of which 15,000 are found only in this region.

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Biodiversity in India – Flora, and Fauna

India is famous for its rich flora and fauna. India houses over 500 species of mammals, more than 200 species of birds, and 30,000 different species of insects. The Zoological Survey of India which is headquartered in Kolkata is responsible for surveying the faunal resources of India.

India has a diverse climate, topology, and habitat are known to have the richest flora in the world with over 18000 species of flowering plants. These plant species constitute 6-7% of the world’s plant species. There are 8 main floristic regions in India- the Western and the Eastern Himalayas, Indus and Ganges, Assam, the Deccan, Malabar, and the Andaman Islands which is home to 3000 Indian plant species. The forests in India cover ranges from the tropical rainforest including Andaman, Western Ghats, and northeast India to the coniferous forests of the Himalayas. The deciduous forests can be found in the eastern, central, and southern parts of India.

Endangered Species of India

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, “India accounts for 7-8% of all recorded species, including over 45,000 species of plants and 91,000 species of animals. But with the rapid loss of biodiversity, many species are becoming extinct or at risk of becoming critically endangered. The species that are at risk of extinction due to the sudden decrease in their population and habitat are known as endangered species.

The top 5 endangered species (Flora and Fauna) in India are listed in the table below:

Top 5 Endangered Species of India
Endangered Animal Species Endangered Plant Species
The Royal Bengal Tiger Ebony tree
The Great Asiatic Lion Indian Mallow
The Snow Leopard Malabar Lily
Nilgiri Tahr Assam Catkin Yew
Indian Rhino Milkwort

Aspirants may know that NCERTs books on Geography give information on Biodiversity in India, hence to get NCERT Notes on Biodiversity, they may check the linked article.

What is the IUCN Red List?

Founded in 1964, the IUCN Red List also known as the Red Data List evaluates the biological species in the world which are at the risk of extinction. IUCN aims to focus on the conservation of the world’s species to reduce species extinction. More than 77,300 species have been assessed on the IUCN Red List.

The IUCN Red List can be divided into the following 9 categories:

  1. Extinct (EX) – No known individuals remaining.
  2. Extinct in the wild (EW) – Known only to survive in captivity, or as a naturalized population outside its historic range.
  3. Critically endangered (CR) – Extremely high risk of extinction in the wild.
  4. Endangered (EN) – High risk of extinction in the wild.
  5. Vulnerable (VU) – High risk of endangerment in the wild.
  6. Near threatened (NT) – Likely to become endangered shortly.
  7. Least concern (LC) – Lowest risk. Does not qualify for a more at-risk category. Widespread and abundant taxa are included in this category.
  8. Data deficient (DD) – Not enough data to assess its risk of extinction.
  9. Not evaluated (NE) – Has not yet been evaluated against the criteria

To know about the critically endangered species of India as per IUCN Red List refer to the linked article.

Tiger Conservation in India

Since a large number of the tiger population in India is entering into the list of endangered species, the conservation of tigers has become a crucial point in India. One of the initiatives taken by the Government of India for the protection of the tigers is the ‘Project Tiger’. This project was launched in April 1973 and was administered by the National Tiger Conservation Authority.

Project Tiger aims at protecting the tiger population in India, preventing them from the risk of extinction and preserving areas of biological importance as a natural heritage.

The list of major threats to Tiger Population are:

  • Man- animal conflict
  • Hunting, poaching and illegal trade
  • Habitat and loss of prey species

It is due to this initiative that India’s tiger population has risen to 2,967 in 2018 within 12 years. As per the latest data, the largest survey conducted by the government to map the Tiger Population in India till date was over 381,400 km of forested habitats across 20 states.

To know more about Tiger Conservation & Tiger Reserves in India, refer to the linked article.

Biodiversity Hotspots in India – UPSC GS-III Notes:- Download PDF Here

Aspirants preparing for UPSC civil service exam can visit the below-given links for more information on actions taken at the national level and conventions at the global level to tackle the problem and mitigate the effects of climate change.

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