Central Iran

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Located primarily in the hills and mountain ranges of central and eastern Iran, with a small area in Pakistan, this ecoregion represents part of the Irano-Turanian geobotanical region, an especially active center of plant speciation. Scattered stands of pistacio and almond forest on dry steppe is characteristic. The mountains are home to small surviving populations of endangered fauna, such as the cheetah and leopard, and a number of other wild cats share the land with gazelle, hares, wolves, lizards, snakes and other creatures.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    48,800 square miles
  • Status
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion covers a range of hills and low mountains in central and eastern Iran and a small area of western Pakistan. It occurs in the areas identified by Zohary (1973) as the Kuh Rud system in central Iran and in the eastern mountain zone along the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Kuhrud mountain system is comprised of several ridges running largely NW to SE along the western edges of the central plateau region; among it's most prominent peaks are the Kuh-e-Kargiz (3,890m) south of Kashan and the Shir Kuh (4,075m) south of Yazd. The eastern mountain zone is also comprised of folded ridges, including: the Jam system in northeastern Iran, running NW to SE; farther south, the Kara Kuh, the Qayen and the Palangan Mountains, which drain into the Sistan basin and the Hamun Helmand; and in the southeast part of the country near the border with Pakistan, the Bazman Kuh (volcanic, 3,489m) and the Kuh-e-Taftan (4,042m), southwest and north, respectively, of the Sarhad plateau.

Zohary (1973) describes the climatic zone for all the mountains of eastern Iran (from Kopet Dag to Palangan Kuh) as arid-temperate. Farther west, he notes that annual rainfall amounts of approximately 100 mm are common for Kerman (135 mm), Yazd (126 mm), and Qom (98 mm).

Mean annual temperatures range from 15 to 18 degrees C; extreme maximum temperatures may reach 44 and 41.2 degrees C in Kerman and Esfahan, respectively and extreme minimum temperatures may be as low as –13.7 and –18 degrees C, respectively, for these two cities.

Forest steppe dominated by pistacio (Pistacia spp.) and almond (Amygdalus spp.) is characteristic of this ecoregion, where widely spaced trees or shrubs are interspersed with thorn-cushion or herbaceous vegetation. The arboreal species do not attain a tree-like form, with the exception of Pistacia atlantica and occasionally P. khinjuk. Shrubby species include Amygdalus spp., Pteropyrum spp., Lycium spp and others (Zohary 1973). Zohary (1973) holds the view that the association of Pistacia spp. and Amygdalus spp. was probably one of the most characteristic montane forest steppe types of inner Iran in the not-so-distant past.

Biodiversity Features
The cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), preferring arid steppes, rolling hills and plains, and woodlands has traditionally lived and hunted in this ecoregion. Although it is now classified as vulnerable by the IUCN Red List (IUCN 2001), small surviving populations continue to exist here, particularly in Khorasan and Semnan Provinces. The cheetah mainly preys on gazelle and other small or medium sized ungulates (IUCN 2001).

Ungulates traditionally played an important ecological role in the open woodlands, plains and semi-desert areas of the hill and mountain regions (Breckle 1983). Here, where the climate is cooler and somewhat wetter than the neighboring desert areas, is one of the preferred habitats of the goitered gazelle (Gazella subgutturosa). This gazelle can be found in northeastern and eastern Iran in Khorasan Province and in the Sistan region, as well as other parts of the country, although in greatly reduced numbers relative to its original range. The chinkara gazelle (G. bennetti), smaller than the goitered gazelle, inhabits the southeastern plains (Humphreys & Kahrom 1995).

The wolf (Canis lupus) is still found in mountain areas, and the common fox (Vulpes vulpes) has traditionally inhabited most parts of Iran except for very dense forests and the dry parts of the central and eastern deserts (Humphreys & Kahrom 1995). The dry mountainous valleys in Khorason province represent typical habitat for some of the smaller wild cats, and the now rare manul cat (Felis manul) was once more widespread in eastern and northeastern Iran. The steppe cat (Felis catus) is the most common wild cat in Iran and historically it has occupied most habitats except the dry desert regions. The lynx (Lynx lynx), one of the largest wild cats in Eurasia, resides mainly in the foothills of the stonier mountains (Humphreys & Kahrom 1995).

The Cape hare (Lepus capensis) is found in all areas inhabited by gazelles, cheetahs and foxes and is variable in size and color (Humphreys & Kahrom 1995). The venomous Latifi’s viper (Vipera latifi) inhabits the mountainous regions and grasslands in central Iran and is vulnerable to extinction (IUCN 2001).

According to Anderson (1999), one of the least-known and yet most important areas for fauna in central Iran is the north-south chain of upland masses that separate the central plateau basin from Afghanistan, sometimes referred to as the Qa’in and Birjand highlands. Here, where several faunistically distinct areas are in contact, many species are only known from a single record or from a few localities, all within this district. Anderson (1999) notes that a number of lizard species or subspecies occur only in the mountain ranges of the central plateau, including Laudakia microlepis, several species of Cyrtopodion, and several others.

Current Status
In contrast to northern and western Iran, there do not appear to be any significant protected areas in this ecoregion. However, the Touran Biosphere Reserve in the northeastern part of the neighboring Central Persian Desert Basins ecoregion is home to a number of species whose ranges overlap into this mountain forest steppe region. Pistacia Amygdalus woodland communities similar to those in the Kuhrud Kohbanan ecoregion can be found in this reserve.

The cheetah is listed on Appendix I of CITES. The hunting of cheetahs and the trade in cheetah products is prohibited by law in Iran (IUCN 2001).

Types and Severity of Threats
Degradation of vegetation and soils due to cultivation, overgrazing, and fuelwood harvesting, has reached advanced stages in many areas of Iran. In the more mountainous regions in particular, the plowing of slopes, over-cutting of forests, and overgrazing have lead to serious wind and water erosion and loss of soils and the potential for productivity (Breckle 1983). Hunting and habitat degradation have significantly reduced the populations of the larger mammals, who are also threatened indirectly by a reduction in prey species (due to hunting or habitat degradation resulting from human and livestock pressures) (IUCN 2001).

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
The Kuhrud-Kohbanan Mountains forest steppe ecoregion consists of a wide range of hills and low mountains in central Iran. It includes the zones classified by Zohary’s (1973) geobotanical map of the Middle East as the actual and supposed climax areas of Irano-Turanian steppe forest dominated by Pistacia Amygdalus vegetation.

Anderson, S. C. 1999. The lizards of Iran. Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles. St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Breckle, S.W. 1983. Temperate deserts and semi-deserts of Afghanistan and Iran. Pages 271-316 in N.E. West, editor. Ecosystems of the World 5: Temperate Deserts and Semi-Deserts. Elsevier Scientific Publishing Company, New York.

Humphreys, P.N. and E. Kahrom. 1995. The lion and the gazelle. Comma International Biological Systems, Gwent, United Kingdom.

IUCN. 2001. The 2000 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Zohary, M. 1973. Geobotanical foundations of the Middle East: Vol.1, Gustav Fischer Verlag, Stuttgart, Germany.

Prepared by: Julie Bourns
Reviewed by: In process