Southern Asia: Eastern India and western Pakistan

Please note: These biome and ecoregion pages (and associated data) are no longer being updated and may now be out of date. These pages and data exist for historical reference only. For updated bioregion data, please visit One Earth.

The Northwestern Thorn Scrub Forests [IM1303] ecoregion represents a large expanse of degraded dry forest surrounding the Thar Desert. Neither exceptionally species-rich nor high in endemism, the ecoregion nevertheless harbors viable populations of chinkara (Gazella bennettii), chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), and blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra). 

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    188,500 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
The ecoregion represents the thorn scrub forests in northwestern region of the Indian subcontinent. Many ecologists consider this thorn scrub to represent a degraded state of tropical dry forests (e.g., Champion and Seth 1968; Puri et al. 1989). The ecoregion stretches across the border between India and Pakistan and covers parts of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Haryana, and Punjab states of India and the lower parts of Jammu and Kashmir. The average annual rainfall in this arid ecoregion is less than 750 mm. The temperature can exceed 45(C during the hottest months, and in winter temperatures can drop to below freezing.

The flat alluvial lowlands extend into the low hills. Local variations in soil salinity affect the distribution of vegetation; patches of highly saline soil usually are bare of vegetation. The vegetation is stunted and open, dominated by Acacia species such as A. senegal and A. leucophloea that rarely exceed 6 m in height. Other characteristic species that make up the vegetation are Prosopis spicigera, Capparis zeylanica, Salvadora spp., Carissa spp., Gymnosporia spp., Grewia spp., and Gardenia spp. and xerophytic climbers such as species of Tragia, Rivea, Tinospora, Vitis, and Peristrophe (Champion and Seth 1968; Puri et al. 1989). In drier areas, the thorn forest transitions into xerophytic shrubland and semiarid vegetation, usually dominated by Euphorbia species. Intermingled with the Euphorbia scrub is a Zizyphus scrub (Champion and Seth 1968) that is characterized by Zizyphus nummularia with Acacia leucocephala, Acacia senegal, Anogeissus pendula, and Dicrostachys cinerea. The poor soils along rocky tracts promote a Cassia-Butea community. Closer to the coast, where the soils are more saline, the community includes Salvadora and Tamarix (Puri et al. 1989). The southwestern part of the Aravalli Range supports a distinct deciduous forest characterized by Anogeissus pendula, Aegle marmelos, Boswellia serreta, Cassia fistula, Mitragyna parviflora, Diospyros melanxylon, and Wrightia tinctoria.

Biodiversity Features
The ecoregion is not exceptionally rich or high in endemism but does harbor several large mammals of conservation importance, including the leopard (Panthera pardus), caracal (Felis caracal), chinkara (Gazella bennettii), chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), and blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra). Overall, the mammal fauna consists of about ninety species, including two bats that are endemic to the ecoregion (table 1).

Table 1. Endemic and Near-Endemic Mammal Species.

Family Species
Rhinolophidae Triaenops persicus*
Rhinopomatidae Rhinopoma muscatellum*

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

Both of these bats are strict endemics, their known range being limited to this ecoregion (Corbet and Hill 1986). The chousingha and blackbuck are threatened species (IUCN 2000) and should be focal species for conservation actions.

The Aravalli Hill Ranges and the surrounding flat areas support two very distinct rodent communities that are influenced by the geology, soil, and vegetation conditions. Detailed studies are under way to determine the species composition of these communities (I. Prakash, pers. comm., 2000).

The bird fauna consists of an impressive list of more than 400 species, among the highest for ecoregions in this bioregion. The list includes two endemic species (table 2).

Table 2. Endemic and Near-Endemic Bird Species.

Family Common Name Species
Paridae White-winged tit Parus nuchalis
Sylviidae Rufous-vented prinia Prinia burnesii*

An asterisk signifies that the species' range is limited to this ecoregion.

The rufous-vented prinia is a strict endemic limited to this ecoregion, and the white-winged tit is a near endemic shared with the adjacent Khathiarbar-Gir Dry Deciduous Forests [IM0206]. The ecoregion also harbors the globally threatened Indian bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) and lesser florican (Eupodotis indica) (IUCN 2000).

Current Status
More than 90 percent of this ecoregion's natural habitat has been converted, and only small, scattered fragments remain. There are an astounding sixty protected areas in the ecoregion (table 3), but they cover only about 11,000 km2, or just over 2 percent of the ecoregion area. Many of the protected areas are small, at an average size of just over 175 km2.

Table 3. WCMC (1997) Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion.

Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Dhrun [PA1307] 310 II
Kachau 220 IV
Khurkhera 180 IV
Kirthar 2,980 II
Mahal Kohistan 650 IV
Hab Dam 460 IV
Kinjhar Lake 180 IV
Hadero Lake 10 IV
Haleji Lake 20 IV
Bijoro Chach 1 IV
Norange 2 IV
Deh Jangisar 3 UA
Keb Bunder North 90 IV
Pai 20 UA
Lakhi 1 IV
Goleen Gol 10 UA
Deh Sahib Saman 3 UA
Khipro 40 UA
Narayan Sarovar 830 IV
Barda 210 IV
Velavadar 50 II
Nal Sarovar 50 IV
Jessore 260 IV
Doli Closed Area 700 VII
Indus River #1 1,370 UA
Dhoung Block 20 IV
Dosu Forest 20 UA
Drigh Lake 1 IV
Mando Dero 140 UA
Resi 50 UA
Sheikh Buddin 240 IV
Kalabagh Game Reserve 10  
Thanadarwala 40 UA
Nemal Lake 4 IV
Chashma Lake 220 IV
Taunsa Barrage 70 IV
Kot Zabzai 100 UA
Sodhi 50 IV
Daphar 30 IV
Head Qadirabad 30 UA
Bhon Fazil 30 UA
Gat Wala 60 UA
Bhono 20 UA
Kharar Lake 2 IV
Kamalia Plantation 40 UA
Chichawatni Plantation 50 UA
Abohar 190 IV
Indo-Pak Border 30 UA
Chaupalia 100 UA
Head Islam/Chak Kotora 30 UA
Daulana 20 UA
Bahwaalpur Plantation 5 UA
Harike Lake 1 IV
Bir Motibagh 30 IV
Bir Bunerheri 10 IV
Chautala 110 IV
Bir Gundial Pura 30 IV
Simbalbara 160 IV
Sultanpur 20 IV
Renuka 40 IV
Total 10,653  

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

The local people, especially the Bishnoi communities, have a cultural reverence for wild animals, particularly blackbuck and the tree Prosopis cinerea. For this reason, the wildlife and habitat have been protected over the years.

Types and Severity of Threats
This ecoregion is subject to intensive degradation threats from livestock grazing. Associated human impacts such as lopping and cutting of vegetation for fuelwood, setting fires to create grazing lands, and settlements also contribute to habitat degradation. The marble beds of the ancient Aravalli Range are being heavily mined. Rodgers and Panwar (1988) present an analysis of conservation gaps and needs for the Indian part of the ecoregion.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
In a previous analysis of conservation units, MacKinnon (1997) placed these desert and thorn scrub forests of northwestern India and Pakistan in Biounit (I3) along with other habitat types that included dry deciduous forests and deserts. In keeping with our rules for representing distinct habitat types of regional extent in separate ecoregions, we used MacKinnon's (1997) digital map of the original vegetation to delineate and separate the thorn scrub forests from the desert and dry deciduous forests. The thorn scrub around the Thar Desert therefore was placed in the Northwestern Thorn Scrub Forests [IM1303]. The Northwestern Thorn Scrub Forests [IM1303] lie in both the Indus-Ganges monsoon forest and Thar Desert biogeographic provinces.

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: