Ecosystem Diversity

The varied edaphic, climatic and topographic conditions and years of geological stability have resulted in a wide range of ecosystems and habitats such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, deserts, and coastal and marine ecosystems. Arid and semi-arid regions cover 38.8% of India’s total geographical area. The cold arid zone located in the Trans-Himalayan region covers 5.62% of the country’s area. The region is the stronghold of three cat predators – the lion, leopard and tiger. Of the 140 species of known birds, the Great Indian Bustard is a globally threatened species. The flora of the Indian desert comprises 682 species, with over 6% of the total plant species being endemic. The cold desert is the home of rare endangered fauna, such as the Asiatic Ibex, Tibetan Argali, Wild Yak, Snow Leopard, etc., and the flora is rich in endemism and economically important species.

India has a variety of wetland ecosystems ranging from high altitude cold desert wetlands to hot and humid wetlands in coastal zones with diverse flora and fauna. About 4,445 km2 of the country is under mangroves. India is blessed with rich fish diversity that dwells in the inland waters. The major rivers of India and their tributaries traverse through varied geo-climatic zones, displaying high diversity in their biotic and abiotic characteristics throughout their 28,000 km linear drift. The current distribution of 783 species of freshwater fishes, belonging to 89 genera under 17 families, which includes 223 endemic fishes, is recorded in India. In total, the Indian fish population represents 11.72% of species, 23.96% of genera, 57% of families and 80% of the global fishes. The country is the third largest producer of fish in the world, with 2,411 fish species.

India has a vast coastline of 7,517 km, of which 5,423 km belong to Peninsular India and 2,094 km to the Andaman, Nicobar and Lakshadweep Islands, and an EEZ of 2.02 million km2 with a very wide range of habitats (e.g. estuaries, lagoons, mangroves, backwaters, salt marshes, rocky coasts, stretches and coral reefs, all of which are characterized by rich and unique biodiversity components).

Another crucial ecosystem for India is its forest, covering 23.39% of the geographical area of the country (of which 75% occurs in the northeastern states) and counting over 16 major forest types and 251 sub-types. Against the global trend of deforestation, it is worth underlining the achievement made by India in stabilizing its area under forest cover over the years.

The mountain ecosystems of India are largely described under two global hotspots, viz., the Eastern Himalaya, and the Western Ghats. They contribute prominently in geographic extent, biophysical and socio-cultural diversity and uniqueness. The extent of species endemism in vascular plants alone ranges from 32% to 40% in the mountain ecosystems. Other groups, such as reptiles, amphibians and fish show more than 50% of species endemism in Western Ghats. Of the 979 bird species recorded from the Himalayan region, four Endemic Bird Areas have been delineated for priority conservation measures and, likewise, identification of Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs) has been initiated in Western Ghats.

Diversity and distribution of major forest types in India

Major Groups Type and Group Area(m ha) % of forest area
Tropical Forests Wet evergreen forest 4.5 5.8
Semi-evergreen forest 1.9 2.5
Moistdeciduous forest 23.3 30.3
Littoral and swamp forest 0.7 0.9
Dry deciduous forest 29.4 38.2
Thom forest 5.2 6.7
Dry evergreen forest 0.1 0.1
Sub-Tropical Forests Subtropical broad leaved hill forest 0.3 0.4
Subtropical pine forest 3.7 5
Sub tropical dry evergreen forest 0.2 0.2
Temperate Forests Montane wet temperate forest 1.6 2
Himalayan Moist temperate forest 2.6 3.4
Himalayan dry temperate forest 0.2 0.2
Sub-alpine & Alpine Forests Sub – alpine forest 0 0
Moist alpine forest 3.3 4.3
Alpine scrub 0 0