Flora of the Central Karakoram, 2016: Field Observations on a Shifting Baseline

Authors: Nina Hewitt*, University of British Columbia, Sher Wali Khan, Karakoram International University
Topics: Biogeography, Mountain Environments, Global Change
Keywords: Central Karakoram Flora, Climate change, Species range shifts, Species diversity, Alpine vegetation
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Zulu, Sheraton, 8th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

We investigated the species composition, distribution and diversity of high alpine plant species in the Central Karakoram Himalaya (35-36° N and 75-76° E) in order to examine influencing factors, and to provide a baseline for future studies. Alpine regions are the subject of recent scientific scrutiny due to their sensitivity to ongoing global changes. Central Karakoram flora is poorly documented due to remoteness, rugged terrain and other constraints, yet this region harbours a high proportion of endemic species and its vegetation represents a key indicator of climatic changes at high altitudes, for which direct measurement data is lacking. Our study transects were located in three sites, Thalle, Baumharel Valleys and neighbouring the Deosai Plateau. Species were surveyed along elevation gradients within the high alpine zone (ca. 3800 m-4400m) at each site. The sites varied somewhat in their species composition. Species identity was sorted with respect to elevation bands within site, but species richness was not strongly correlated with elevation limits. Thus, new species were encountered upslope, while others were lost. Relationship to patterns discovered in earlier (late 19th-early 20th century) expeditions (e.g., the 1913-14 de Filippi) shed some light on biogeographic changes such as upslope migration in response to climate change, and those resulting from human land use impacts, particularly transhumance grazing above permanent human habitation. The study provides critical baseline information to document vegetation in a remote and little studied, but extreme, high alpine area.

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