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Southern Asia: Central India

The Narmada Valley Dry Deciduous Forests [IM0207] are neither exceptionally species-rich nor high in numbers of endemic species. But this ecoregion still retains more than a third of its natural habitat in several large blocks that exceed 5,000 km2 in area. In this bioregion, such large dry forest habitats present rare and important opportunities to conserve Asia's largest carnivore, the tiger (Panthera tigris).

  • Scientific Code
    (IM0207)
  • Ecoregion Category
    Indo-Malayan
  • Size
    65,600 square miles
  • Status
    Critical/Endangered
  • Habitats

Description
Location and General Description
The ecoregion represents the dry deciduous forests along the Narmada River Valley and the flanking Vindhya Mountain Range and the western part of the Satpura Mountain Range in the central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These hill ranges, rising to more than 1,300 m, mark the northern boundary of the Indian Peninsula (Kendrick 1989). The Deccan Plateau itself-and thus the ecoregion-traces its geological roots back to the ancient circumpolar continent Gondwanaland. Hora (1949) hypothesized that the Satpura Range was a dispersal bridge that allowed species exchanges between the eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats. The presence of fossils of species such as Anisopteris, Cynometra, Dipterocarpus, Dryobalanops, Gluta, Hopea, and Mesua suggests that evergreen moist forests covered this area during the Miocene (Meher-Homji 1989).

The seven- to eight-month dry season is relieved by the southwest monsoon, which brings 1,200-1,500 mm of annual rainfall. The vegetation is influenced by this seasonality. Three stories-an upper canopy at 15-25 m, a 10-15 m understory, and 3-4 m undergrowth-characterize the forests. Teak (Tectona grandis) dominates the vegetation and is associated with Diospyros melanoxylon, Anogeissus latifolia, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Terminalia tomentosa, Lannea coromandelica, Hardwickia binata, and Boswellia serata (Champion and Seth 1968). Riparian habitats with species such as Terminalia arjuna, Syzygium cumini, Syzygium heyneanum, Salix tetrasperma, Homonoia riparia, and Vitex negundo create moist forest corridors.

Biodiversity Features
Although it is not exceptional in terms of endemism or diversity, the ecoregion still retains important habitat for many of the Indian Subcontinent's large animals, such as the tiger, gaur (Bos gaurus), wild dog (Cuon alpinus), sloth bear (Melursus ursinus), chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), and blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra). Throughout most of their ranges, these larger vertebrate species are being increasingly confined to small forest fragments that do not offer much hope for long-term survival of declining populations. Therefore, it is important to safeguard large habitat areas where they exist. Most of the large blocks of remaining habitat have been included in TCUs (Dinerstein et al. 1997). These habitat landscapes present the best opportunities for long-term conservation of viable tiger populations. However, very little is known of the habitat integrity and the status of the prey populations in these forests. Surveys have been recommended to determine their importance and potential contribution toward a regional tiger conservation strategy.

The mammal fauna in the ecoregion includes seventy-six species. Although none of them are endemic, there are several threatened species, including the tiger, gaur, wild dog, sloth bear, chousingha, and blackbuck (IUCN 2000).

None of the 276 bird species in this ecoregion are endemic. But the bird fauna includes the globally threatened lesser florican (Eupodotis indica) and the endangered Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) (IUCN 2000).

Current Status
Nearly two-thirds of the natural forests of this ecoregion have been cleared, but the remaining habitat includes several large blocks that cover extensive areas, especially along the Satpura and Vindhya Ranges. The seventeen protected areas cover more than 7,500 km2, or almost 5 percent of the ecoregion's area (table 1). Two of the protected areas, Melghat and Noradehi, exceed 1,300 km2.

Table 1. WCMC (1997) Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion.

  Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Panna 820 II
Noradehi 1,380 IV
Singhori 220 IV
Ratapani 490 IV
Kheoni 80 IV
Son Gharial 210 IV
Bagdara 540 IV
Sanjay [IM0203] 690 II
Sanjay (Dubri) 350 IV
Bandhavgarh 360 II
Panpatha 300 IV
Sardarpur 120 IV
Aner Dam 70 IV
Melghat 1,490 IV
Yawal 100 IV
Gugamal 350 II
Bhimashankar [IM0134] 30 IV
Total 7,600  

Ecoregion numbers of protected areas that overlap with additional ecoregions are listed in brackets.

Types and Severity of Threats
The large patches of forests are still greatly threatened by ongoing forest clearing and conversion. But the threats from a series of dams on the Narmada River are even more serious than the small-scale degradation threats. These dams will flood critical habitat, and they will also displace a large number of tribal and local communities into adjacent intact forests (Anonymous 1994).

The conservation status of this ecoregion was changed from vulnerable to endangered because of threats from the dense human population to the intact forest blocks. However, impending threats from the hydropower schemes may warrant elevation to critical status.

As the tribal populations shift from a subsistence lifestyle to a more material one and as the populations continue to increase rapidly, conflicts are beginning to occur with conservation interests and authorities. These problems must be addressed in a timely manner.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
In a previous analysis of conservation units, Rodgers and Panwar (1988) divided the Deccan Peninsula into five biotic provinces. This ecoregion largely corresponds to the Rodgers and Panwar biotic province 6E, the Central Highlands, but we redrew the boundary to exclude the small area of moist deciduous forest represented in the biotic province as shown in MacKinnon's (1997) map of the original vegetation. This modification of Rodgers and Panwar (1988) is to conform to our rules for delineating ecoregions, that is, to represent distinct habitat types of regional extent. The dry deciduous forests therefore were represented by the Narmada Valley Dry Deciduous Forests [IM0207].

References
References for this ecoregion are currently consolidated in one document for the entire Indo-Pacific realm.
Indo-Pacific Reference List

Prepared by: Gopal S. Rawat and Eric D. Wikramanayake
Reviewed by: