Asia: Afghanistan and Pakistan

The magnificent biotic variation and composition of the Sulaiman Range Alpine Meadows [PA1018], a central site for plant endemism, is the result of the ecoregion's role as a transitional zone between Palearctic and Indo-Malayan zoogeographic regions. The Toba Kakar highlands in the south have thirty-one plant endemics, whereas the Chitral Valley has at least thirty-nine. The only surviving but vulnerable patches of Chilghoza pine (P. geraridiana) forest of the world are located in a 200-km2 area on Sulaiman Hills. The oldest woodlands of Juniperus macropoda are also found at higher peaks south of this ecoregion.

  • Scientific Code
  • Ecoregion Category
  • Size
    9,200 square miles
  • Status
    Relatively Stable/Intact
  • Habitats

Location and General Description
This ecoregion traverses the side valleys of Chitral and Swat in the north and cuts through parts of the ranges of Safed Koh and Waziristan. It then descends to the high-elevation areas of Chialtan, Toba Kakar, and Takht-I-Suleiman ranges of southwestern Pakistan and northeastern Afghanistan. Most of the area has average elevation of 1,600-3,500 m. This ecoregion is characterized by extreme aridity and severe temperature extremes. Mean annual precipitation is no more than 225 mm. The temperature rises to a maximum of 40(C and falls to a minimum of -12(C in the winter. Much of the precipitation occurs in the form of rain or snow during the winter, and the snow remains on higher peaks from December until March. The foothills of Safed Koh and Waziristan hills and most of the south receive similar amounts of rainfall because of the effect of the monsoon. Approximately 25 percent of the rainfall occurs in the winter, but rain occurs in every month of the year.

This ecoregion is made up of gravel and scree slopes with widely scattered isolated tufts of bunch grasses, thorny hassock-shaped clumps of plants such as Onobrychis and Acantholimon spp. (T. Roberts, pers. comm., 2000). Forest cover is sparse and highly concentrated in gullies. In the lower part of Chitral, Safed Koh, Nuristan, and Waziristan Hills, where the moisture level is higher because of the influence of the monsoon, western Himalayan evergreen sclerophyllous forests and woodlands that resemble the flora of the Mediterranean region are common. These include species of Fagaceae, in particular Quercus ilex, which is found only in the Northern Waziristan, Koh-i-Safed, and Chitral foothills, as well as east oleander (Nerium), tropical adhatoda, and Fraxinus xanthoxyloides. The lower slopes of Takhatu, Zarghun, Wam-Pilghar, and Toba Kakar, between 2,000 and 3,300 m, have dry alpine steppe of Irano-Turanian affinities. These are made up of Cupressaceae, Anacardiaceae, Pinaceae, Oleaceae, and Fagaceae families. Juniperus macropoda, J. polycarpos, Pinus gerardiana, and P. wallichiana are typical species of this elevation. Ephedraceae, Labiatae, Gramineae, Compositae, and Leguminosae make up the understory shrubs and perennial grass of this ecoregion. Some of these are Artemisia spp., Astragalu spp., Cotoneaster persica, Berberis baluchistani, and Ephedra intermedia. Ferrula oopoda, Eremurus stenophylla, and Saliva spp. are some of the flowering plant species.

Biodiversity Features
This ecoregion is predominantly Palearctic in origin but does contain some Indo-Malay affinities. Approximately fifty mammal species are scattered throughout this ecoregion. There is one near-endemic mammal species (table 1).

Table 1. Endemic and Near-Endemic Mammal Species.

  Family Species
Dipodidae Salpingotus michaelis

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

Chiltan markhor (Capra falconeri chiltanensis), Sind ibex (Capra hircus), Ladahk urial (Ovis vignei), brown bear (Ursus arctos), grey wolf (Canis lupus), Asiatic black bear (Ursus thibetanus), and leopard (Panthera pardus) are located at upper north and mid-latitudes of the ecoregion. Carnivores such as two species of fox (V. vulpes and V. lupus), striped hyena (Hyaena hyaena), and Asiatic jackal (C. aureus) are found south of the ecoregion. Small mammals and rodents such as collard pika (Occhotona rufescens), Royle's pika (Ochotona roylei), stone marten (Martes foina), migratory hamster (Cricetulus migratorius), and three sand rat species are spread widely. The Suleiman markhor, Afghan urial, and Ladahk urial are listed as endangered, and the Chiltan wild goat is indicated as critically endangered on IUCN's Red List of threatened animals database (IUCN 2000). The flare horned markhor, sarmantier (Vormela peregusna), hyena, wolf, and leopard are also threatened in this ecoregion. The Asiatic black bear may have been extirpated from this ecoregion; as recent WWF-Pakistan surveys have not found any evidence in this ecoregion (T. Roberts, pers. comm., 2000).

More than 150 bird species have been recorded in this ecoregion. Although there are no endemic birds, the white-cheeked tit (Aegithalos leucogenys) and the Kashmir nuthatch (Sitta cashmirensis) are limited to this ecoregion (Stattersfield et al. 1998). Other noteworthy bird species include black-rumped flameback (Dinopium benghalense), Eurasian cuckoo (Cuculus canorus), alpine swift (Apus apus), European nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus), blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius), and two owl species (Otus scops and O. brucei). Conspicuous species include redstarts (Phoenicurus spp.), finches, buntings (Caprodacus and Emberiza spp.), serins, and tits (Paridae).

Important reptile species include Afghan tortoise (Testudo horsefieldi), rock Agsama lizard (Agama caucasica), and the Perisan horned viper (Pseudocerastes persicus).

Current Status
Higher-elevation areas are highly intact and suitable for wildlife because of the sparsity of human settlement. However, at lower elevations threats such as deforestation, shifting cultivation, urban and industrial development, and effect of introduced species are imminent. Only 240 km2 of the total area of 19,600 km2, or 0.01 percent of this ecoregion, is under protection (table 2).

Table 2. WCMC (1997) Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion.

  Protected Area Area (km2) IUCN Category
Koh-e-Geish 240 IV

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

Types and Severity of Threats
The Chilghoza forests of Sulaiman Ranges are at risk from local timber extraction. In the early 1990s, close to 40,000 trees were harvested annually. WWF-Pakistan has worked with the local communities on implementing a conservation agreement with alternative economic incentives for forest landowners (Shengji et al. 1996).

Local gypsy tribes catch the young cubs of brown bears and leopards for village shows and baiting. In 1993, a survey by WWF-Pakistan revealed that 205 bear cubs were captured by local villagers for display (Roberts 1997). The adult bears are also hunted by sport hunters and locals for their medicinal value. Another significant threat is poaching of wild animals to protect domestic livestock. Habitat loss caused by high fragmentation is the main threat for the avifauna of this ecoregion. High competition for fodder with domestic animals has caused a severe decline of wild ungulates. The heavy human settlement, possession of firearms, and disruption of the food chain caused by scarcity of ungulates have also led carnivores, especially leopards, to near extinction. Unless preventive measures are taken, extirpation is likely.

There is severe depletion of subterranean aquifers, caused by the installation of tube wells and increased irrigation. The groundwater is not being replenished, and the Kharezes originally used for crop irrigation are mostly now dry and inoperative. In the case of the Chilghoza, because it grows so slowly there has never been a single attempt to produce nursery stock. The Pakistan Forestry Department is trying to introduce alien species such as Pinus halipensis instead.

Overgrazing by goats prevents any natural regeneration and is a more serious threat to the Chilghoza than timber felling.

Justification of Ecoregion Delineation
We identified five ecoregions-Sulaiman Range Alpine Meadows [PA1018], South Iran Nubo-Sindian Desert and Semi-Desert [PA1328], Baluchistan Xeric Woodlands [PA1307], Rajasthan-North Pakistan Sandy Desert [PA1326], and East Afghan Montane Coniferous Forests [PA0506]-from MacKinnon's Baluchistan subunit (I3d). All five of these ecoregions extend westward and have a portion of their ecoregion beyond the limits of this analysis. These ecoregions overlap with numerous Udvardy biogeographic provinces outside the scope of this analysis. These include the Hindu Kush highlands to the north, and the Anatolian-Iranian Desert, Iranian Desert, and the Caucaso-Iranian highlands to the south and west.

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

Prepared by: Meseret Taye, with contributions from Tom Roberts
Reviewed by: