Biodiversity in Himalaya




Dr. Ole R. Vetaas, Uni Global,  University of Bergen, Norway.

Prof. Ram P. Chaudhary,  Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University of Kathmandu, Nepal.

Dr. John-Arvid Grytnes, Department of Biology, University of Bergen, Norway.

Dr. Khem Bhattarai, Department of Plant Resources, Kathmandu, Nepal.

The study aims to use published data on plants of the Himalayas in the following ways:
  (I) In the exploration of biogeographical patterns in biodiversity such as variation in total  species richness or endemic species richness with elevation and from east- to- west in the  Himalayan range.

(II) As a resource base for teaching.  For example, it could be used to illustrate the concepts of gradient analysis within  ecology, biogeography, biodiversity and conservation, as well as  phenomena  such as  endemism and speciation.

To assist field studies in landscape-ecology, biodiversity and resource management.
As an example it may be used in a  field study  designed to investigate the factors affecting species richness and endemic species in high elevation pastures. 

Chaudhary, R. P. 1998. Biodiversity in Nepal: status and  conservation, Crafstman Press, Bangkok.

Chaudhary, R. P. 2000. Forest conservation and environmental management in Nepal: a review, Biodiversity and Conservation 9: 1235-1260

Grytnes, J.A. & Vetaas, O.R. 2002. Species richness and altitude: a comparison between simulation models and interpolated plant species richness along the Himalayan gradient, Nepal. American Naturalist 159: 294-304.  (pdf-fulltext)

Vetaas, O.R. & Grytnes 2002. Distribution of vascular plant species richness and endemic richness along the Himalayan elevation gradient in Nepal. Global Ecology and Biogeography 11: 291-301. (pdf-fulltext)

Bhattari, K.R. & Vetaas, O.R. 2003. Variation in plant species richness of different life forms along a subtropical elevation gradient in the Himalayas, east Nepal.  Global Ecology and Biogeography 12: 327-340. (pdf-fulltext)

Bhattarai, K.R., Vetaas, O.R. & Grytnes, J.A. 2004. Fern species richness along a central Himalayan elevation gradient, Nepal. Journal of Biogeography 31: 389-400. (pdf-fulltext)

Bhattarai, K.R., Vetaas, O.R. & Grytnes, J.A. 2004. Relationship between plant species richness and biomass in an arid sub- alpine grassland of the central Himalayas, Nepal. Folia Geobotanica 39: 57-71. (pfd-fulltext)

Bhattarai, K.R. & Vetaas, O.R. 2005. Do fern and fern-allies show similar response to climatic factors along the ecological gradient in the Himalayas? Bull. Dept. Plant Resources, HMG Nepal 26: 24-29.

Bhattarai, K.R. & Vetaas, O.R. 2006. Can Rapoport’s rule explain tree species richness along the Himalayan elevation gradient, Nepal. Diversity and Distribution. 12: 373-378.

(I) Biogeographical patterns in biodiversity

The Himalayan mountain range exhibits the largest elevation gradient in the world, from 60 m a.s.l. at the Gangetic plains (Terai in south Nepal) to the Himalayan peaks  above 8000 m . The ecological variation associated with an elevation range of 8000 m is equivalent to a latitudinal distance of approximately 6000 km.

Species richness decreases with increasing elevation in many locations around the world in the same way as its general decrease with increasing  latitude  (Rahbek  1995, Huston 1994, Brown & Lomolino 1998).  Although the pattern of species richness along elevation gradients is known,  it is  not quantitatively well documented (Brown & Lomolino 1998).  This was also true in the Himalaya,  with the exception of Yoda (1967) who demonstrated a decrease in  tree-species density with elevation. This project has used the largest altitudinal gradient in the world to reveal new insights on the relationship between  species diversity and elevation (Lomolino et al. 2005: 636; Begon et al. 2005:623)

The  data from Neapl is already compiled, based on  the «An enumeration of the flowering  plants of  Nepal ». This is a three volume book which compiles  most  of the  herbarium information on the Nepalese flora up to 1980  (Hara et al. 1979,1980, 1982) . It was compiled during a joint project  between The British Museum (Natural History)  and The University of  Tokyo. In  addition to an updated list of all species with names and synonyms, it also gives  the elevation range for nearly 5000 species in Nepal. It is the latter information which is crucial for  this part of the  project. Based on the elevation ranges for the different species it is possible to derive how many species  potentially occur at each hundred meter elevation interval. In this  way it is possible describe the general SPECIES RICHNESS  pattern from 100 m. a.s.l.  up to to the zone of permanent ice.

The enumeration also gives some crude information on the east-west distribution of the  species  in the Himalayan range. Thus  the total species richness patterns can be  constrained to a delimited geographical zone, e.g. east Nepal. Combining longitudinal information and with elevation it is possible to derive the number of species that may  potentially grow within a certain elevation range and geographic zone. This will provide  an estimate of the species pool in a region, which is a very important parameter  in conservation  biology and resource management.

In addition to revealing patterns of total species richness this data base can also be used to reveal variation in specific groups of species such as : (1) Life form groups, (2)  Endemic species, (3) Taxonomic groups,  (4) Medicinal plants or other plants with  economic value.

(1)  The data base will have information on which life form groups each species belongs to,  such as  trees, shrubs, herbaceous species, lianas, or other functional groups. This   information can also be used to reveal life-form richness  patterns.

(2) Endemic species, i.e. species that only occur in Nepal, is of special interest.
Information found in « Rare, endemic and endangered plants of Nepal» (Shrestha & Joshi 1996) and «Biodiversity in Nepal»   (Chaudhary 1998 ) will be incorporated into the data base. However, the endemic status of  Nepal is not a based on a biological rationale, so the primary scientific focus will be on Himalayan endemics, which are very numerous at higher elevations.

(3) One may also select a taxonomic group, and show how the number of members in an order, family, or genus varies with elevation and geographical distribution along the Himalayan range (click to see RHODODENDRON  and  ERICACEAE) . This can  be extended to  include  variation in family-species ratio or genus-species ratio. Such ratios have recently been applied in conservation biology to produce an estimate of  the number of  species when only information on higher taxonomic units is known. However,  such   ratios tend to increase when the total number of species is increasing. If this is to be a useful tool for resource management,  it is important to demonstrate how such ratios vary with elevation and the east-west gradient along the  range.

(4) Based on the data of Sherstha & Joshi (1996)  and Chaudhary  (1998) it  is possible toinclude information on  species of particular economic value (edible or medicinal plants)  which can be compiled in the same data base.





A master degree awarded by Tribhuvan University (Nepal) in collaboration with University of Bergen,
Kunming Institute of Botany (China), Jawaharlal Nehru University and Kumaun University (India).

Dr. Ole R. Vetaas, Uni Global,  University of Bergen, Norway.

Prof. Ram P. Chaudhary,  Central Department of Botany, Tribhuvan University of Kathmandu, Nepal.


The project, with financial support of NORAD, aims to develop a regional two years master program in Biodiversity and Environmental Management (BEM) in Tribhuvan University (TU), Nepal in collaboration with University of Bergen (UiB) and regional partners in India and China. The UiB believes that the key to an effective education is by developing academic competence at partner institutions in the south ( Nepal comprises a fragile young democracy with enormous natural resources. The use of bioresources is far from sustainable; this is due to poverty and lack of in-depth knowledge of environmental management. The Masters in BEM introduces students a dynamic combination of new courses, research training and thesis writing for upscaling academic competency and professional career. The programme will admit 24 students in two batches from Nepal, India and China, including females and marginalized groups. First semester course consists of basic conceptual courses at TU; second semester with advanced and methodology courses (with statistical analysis) at UiB; and two last semesters are allocated to field research and thesis writing in Nepal. The BEM degree will be awarded by Tribhuvan University, but the long term goal is to develop a regional degree in collaboration with regional partners.

The students are affiliated with the Ecological and Environmental Change Research Group (EECRG). The Master program is administered by UNIFOB - Global. SIU is responsible for the overall NOMA program on behalf of NORAD.

TEACHING: NOMA students follow standard MSc-courses at Department of Biology and Department of Geography. In addition special lectures are given that are relevant for their thesis research (300-special pensa).


Introduction: Thesis structure- hypothesis, statistical testing, interpretation discussion (download) Vetaas

Gradient analyses: the continuum concept and the niche (download) Vetaas
Gradient analyses: diversity, species richness and the niche (download) Vetaas
Temporal gradient: Succession (download) Vetaas

Ordiantion:Species-space and Site-space, PCA and CA (download) Vandvik (vetaas)
Ordiantion: Indirect and Direct (download) Vandvik (vetaas)

Palmers ordiantion WEB-pages including ordiantion glossary and key references

The correlation between species richness and human population density (download) Vetaas
Why cultural landscapes are species rich (download) Vetaas

Special lectures given by Prof. John Birks: at 1015-1200 in the 'Lille Kurssal', 1st floor, Realfagbygget.

Related readings, (upload reading list)

(1) Tree-lines in the Sino-Himalayan Region
Monday November 24

(2) What caused the forest-decline on the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau - climate-change or human activity?
Wednesday November 26

(3) Plant Life in the Cold Part I Morphological adaptations
Friday November 28 (download)

(4) Plant Life in the Cold Part II Physiological adaptations
Monday December 1 (download)

(5) Alpine Plant Biodiversity - Patterns and Processes
Friday December 5 (download)

(6) Alpine Plant Biodiversity - Functions and Threats
Monday December 8 (download)

(III) Application of the data base in a field study:

               High elevation pastures and species richness

Shrestha & Joshi (1996) and Chaudhary (1998) recognise the need for more information on the threats to biodiversity and especially  to the endemic plant species of Nepal. Most endemic plants in Himalaya belong to genera that have an alpine distribution. Thus  this project will investigate how grazing affects the biodiversity of alpine plants and particularly the endemic species  of  Nepal and Himalaya. Moderate levels of grazing have been demonstrated to increase species richness (e.g. Naveh & Whittaker 1979,  Huston 1994). However, this observation is based on  studies from the industrialised world, where traditional pastures have been transformed into forest (no grazing) or modernised with fertiliser and cultivated grasses. In these areas traditionally-maintained species-rich pastures  are considered to have conservation value, and large amounts of money are used to maintain these cultural landscapes. In  Himalaya, however, the human impact on the vegetation is similar to the traditional management in EU and USA, but nevertheless it is often classified as land degradation and a threat to the diversity of plants and animals (e.g. Chaudhary 1998).

The following questions will be answered by the project:

1. Is  grazing  at high elevation  a threat to biodiversity?

2. Are there  more or less himalayan endemics in the pastures compared to the surrounding shrubs?

3. Are there any changes in the landuse that may influence the species richness?

 Species richness is not always  the optimal measure of how valuable an area is for conservation.  Grazing may  facilitate  ruderal (or disturbance tolerant) species which may have wide geographical distribution range or  in the worst case be invasive weeds. These types of  aggressive plants may  exclude the endemics  or species with  a narrow Himalayan range. The project will use the data base to classify which type of species are  found in the alpine pastures compared to the  surrounding unmanaged vegetation. Biodiversity is taken her to include both the total species richness (i.e. number of species in a given area), and also  a weighted species richness where  endemic  have higher weighted than geographical wide spread species. This weighting will be done  by the use of the data base.


Field studies will be done in the conservation areas, such as Langtang, Annapurna Conservation Area or outside protected areas, e.g. Rowaling
Quadrats will be laid out in grazed and non-grazed areas. Grazed and non-grazed areas will be selected using physical evidence of grazing on vegetation, and animal droppings, paths,  etc.

 The biodiversity will be measured in different ways .
(a)   Number of species
(b)   Number of endemic species; both Nepalese endemics and Himalayan endemics.
(c)   A weighted species richness, where the species with the most narrow  elevation    and  geographical  range will have  the  largest weight.
The last two variables will be based on  information from the data base.


If you have any questions concerning the project,  please contact Ole R. Vetaas,
Uni Global , PB 7810, N -5020 Bergen, Norway. TEL: +47 5558 9324
or by e-mail.

VISITING ADRESS: Jekteviksbakken 31, Bergen

 If you have any questions concerning the project leader please download the
CV of O.R. Vetaas


PROJECT: High altitude ecology in Manang


Ecological and Environmental Change Research Group

Uni Global

Nepal and Himalaya on the web


 Created by Ole R. Vetaas , last updated Nov.. 2008
Suggestions will be most appreciated!