By Ishtiaq Hussain and Faizan Wazir

IN THE Holy Quran, Allah says: And the earth We have spread out (like a carpet); set thereon mountains firm and immovable; and produced therein all kinds of things in due balance (Holy Quran15:19). Climatic changes are vertically influenced due to high mountain ranges. It has posed serious threats to biodiversity in recent years by exerting direct and indirect impacts on various plant species, affecting reproductive system and species distribution. Around 20 to 30 per cent of plant and animal species assessed so far are likely to be at increased risk of extinction if global temperatures rise by more than 1.5 to 2.5°C. The changes in rainfall are not uniform; in sub-humid and humid areas there will be increase in monsoon rainfall whereas in the coastal and hyper-arid areas there will be decrease in winter and summer rainfall. It will also likely to increase the risk of extinction for more vulnerable species; some others may increase in distribution and numbers. Recent studies predict that a temperature rise of 2 to 3°C over the next century could result in as many as half of the worlds plant species being threatened with extinction.

Plants are major regulators of global climate and are the keystone of the carbon cycle. Loss of plant species will disproportionally affect the rural poor where a large majority of whom rely on wild natural resources for medicinal purpose and daily uses.

Faizan Wazir

The northern parts of the mountainous regions of Pakistan, Gilgit and Baltistan (GB), covers an area of 45,224 sq. km possessing rich biodiversity as they are situated at the junction of three mountain ranges, i.e., the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush Ranges. The diverse climatic condition and landscape in Gilgit-Baltistan represents variety of habitats e.g., glaciers, natural springs, wetlands, small rivers and streams alpine pastures, variable agro-ecosystems supporting a rich floristic diversity therein.

The renowned bio-geographical analyst Dr R R Stewart, in 1972 has reported approximately 6000 species of higher plants in Pakistan and nearly 600 plant species identified as having medicinal value. Almost 80 per cent of Pakistans endemic flowering plants are confined to the north and western mountains whereas, in the Himalayas Mountains, same pattern of endemism expecting the maximum number of endemic species at high elevations due to isolation mechanisms.

Plants are endangered by a combination of factors: over-collection, intensive agriculture and forestry, urbanization and other land use changes, pollution, the spread of alien invasive species, and increasingly, climate change. Flowering plant species are listed as threatened from Pakistan by Walter and Gillet in IUCN Red Data List 1998.

Up till now no comprehensive and systematic list of species of national concern has been compiled for Pakistan. The threatened flora of Pakistan has not been assessed extensively so far according to IUCN Red List Categories and Criteria and critical investigation and field work is needed to be done on these rich floras which are threatened in Pakistan.

Plant species prevailing at high altitude mountains with extreme climatic conditions and in fragmented habitats of GB, are particularly vulnerable to change in climate. The majority of the flora in GB has important uses in terms of medicines, economical value and other uses. On one side its medicinal uses produce bulk quantity of medicinal herbs to use by local dwellers as well as Hakeems and marketing, there is increasing pressure by over-exploitation and unsustainable use.

But regional and local level of status of flora represents different scenario. The need of local and regional conservation status would make clearer picture of flora. A total of 36 plants were identified from the GB in a case study and identified at Islamabad Herbarium, Quaid e Aam University, Islamabad, out of which 9 species from Asteraceae family representing maximum (25 per cent) followed by Ranunculaceae family (13.9 per cent) and Fabaceae (11.1 per cent). Information regarding conservation status in Pakistan, particularly in GB is scanty. Some selected plant species collected from GB, like Aconitum violaceum Sassuria lappa and Viola canescens were reported as vulnerable and two species namely Astragalus gilgitensis and Tanacetum baltistanicum are placed under the category of critically endangered from Gilgit and Baltistan region respectively according to the IUCN criteria.

Recently the conservation status of Astragalus gilgitensis Ali and Cadaba heterotricha Stocks was determined for Pakistan based on field studies.

Another research report published in Pakistan Journal of Botany by Alam and Ali describes some important taxa with the conservation status in mountain areas signifies the importance of conservation strategy for these natural resources accounting total biodiversity of Pakistan. There is dire need to document and conduct expanded field surveys followed by database about conservation status for local flora under the current climate change scenario and its consequence on vulnerable flora of Gilgit-Baltistan.

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