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Inventory of the Plants of Pakistan

Main | Intro | Project | Bibliography | Volumes | Database | Links

The primary goal of this project is a comprehensive inventory of the plants of Pakistan. This will be accomplished by 1) completion of the remaining family treatments of the published Flora of Pakistan, and 2) development of a web-accessible searchable relational database of all plant species in Pakistan. Eventually, we hope to create a revised, synopical Checklist of the Plants of Pakistan in both electronic and published form. This project will result in a complete modern Flora of approximately 6,000 species from a large, relatively poorly known region of South Asia, and the first complete floristic database for the region.

---- Acknowledgements ----

Overall institutional support for this project comes from the University of Karachi, Pakistan, and the Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis. Support for the completion of the published Flora of Pakistan has been provided by the US National Science Foundation, Division of Environmental Biology, Biotic Surveys & Inventories Program, through two grants, most recently DEB-0316828. Support for development of the electronic database and website has been provided by a grant from the US Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service, Research & Scientific Exchanges Division, Scientific Cooperation Research Program. Additional support for this project was provided by grants to the Missouri Botanical Garden from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and from the Taylor Family Fund. The project investigators gratefully acknowledge the generous support for the Pakistan project from these institutions. For more information about this project, please contact Peter Hoch (peter.hoch@mobot.org).

---- Pakistan ----

Although established as an independent country only in August 1947, Pakistan occupies a position of great geostrategic and biogeographical importance, bordered by Iran on the west, Afghanistan on the northwest, China on the northeast, India on the east, and the Arabian Sea on the south (Fig. 1). Lying between 23-37° N and 61°-81° E, Pakistan has a total land area of 804,152 square kilometers, about twice the size of California. The altitude ranges from sea level to 8,611 m (at K2, the second highest peak on Earth), and temperature varies from well below zero in the high, glacier-clad mountains to 52°C (125°F) at Sibi in the plains. Mean annual precipitation ranges from c. 50 mm at Nok Kundi in Baluchistan to 2032 mm in the monsoonal uplands of Kashmir (Ali 1978). This great variation in elevation, temperature, precipitation, and other physical parameters has resulted in a diversity of biotic communities, and a relatively rich flora of at least 5,700 species of flowering plants (Ali 1978).

---- Biotic Regions of Pakistan ----

Pakistan sits astride one of the major disjunctions in the biota of southern Asia, with the line of demarcation running along the western edge of the Indus Basin and the deep dry upper Indus valley of Kohistan (Frodin 1984). This biogeographic disjunction was the mutual boundary between Boissier's Flora Orientalis (1867-1888) and Hooker's Flora of British India (1872-1897), the two standard floras of the late nineteenth century for Southwest and South Asia, respectively. One of the modern floras of the region, the Flora Iranica, initiated in 1963 by K. H. Rechinger (Vienna), follows this eastern boundary of Boissier's classic work, and so includes Baluchistan and the N.W.F. Provinces of Pakistan. The Flora Iranica does not, however, treat plants of the rest of Pakistan, including the very rich northeastern areas.


Figure 1. Map of Pakistan, showing boundaries of the four provinces (Baluchistan, Sind, Punjab, and North-West Frontier), one territory (Federally Administered Tribal Areas), and the Pakistani-administered portion of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir region (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas). Shading indicates floristic provinces as delineated by Takhtajan (1986).

The underlying basis of this disjunction has been explored by numerous biogeographical analyses, such as those of Stewart (1972), Zohary (1973), Ali (1978), and Hedge & Wendelbo (1978). Takhtajan (1986), summarizing much of this literature, delineated five distinct floristic provinces that extend into the territory of Pakistan (Fig. 1). Two of these provinces, the Southern Iranian and Sindian Provinces, belong to the Sudano-Zambezian Region (African Subkingdom, Paleotropical Kingdom), which extends west along the southern Arabian Peninsula through the Horn of Africa to eastern tropical Africa and across to the Atlantic coast of Mauritania, Senegal, and Guinea. The other three floristic provinces in Pakistan belong to the Irano-Turanian Region (Tethyan Subkingdom, Holoarctic Kingdom): the Northern Baluchistan and Western Himalayan Provinces in the Western Asiatic Subregion, and the Tibetan Province to the Central Asiatic Subregion. Thus, the source and affinities of the plants of southern and southwestern Pakistan are with central and eastern Africa and the coastal regions along the Arabian Sea, whereas the source and affinities of the flora in northern Pakistan are with Central Asia, from Turkey in the west to the Gobi Desert in the east. In addition, eastern Pakistan has an admixture of elements from the Indomalesian Subkingdom (Paleotropical Kingdom), and in the monsoonal forests in Azad Kashmir, one finds elements of the Eastern Himalayan Province (Eastern Asiatic Region, Boreal Subkingdom, Holarctic Kingdom).

The flora of Pakistan includes no endemic families, and only three endemic genera (Douepia in Brassicaceae, Stewartiella in Apiaceae, and Decalepidanthus in Boraginaceae). In all, there are some 203 endemic species, or about 4% of the flora (Ali 1978). Many of these endemic species are found in the montane regions of northern Pakistan, particularly in the Chitral and Kashmir districts, and in northern Baluchistan. Notwithstanding, these regions are considered to be relatively poorly known and likely to be sources of new species (Chaudhri 1977, Frodin 1984).

---- Conservation & Environmental Issues ----

Pakistan has a human population of some 141,500,000 (July 2000 est.), according to The World Factbook 2000 (www.odci.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/pk.html). Because some areas of Pakistan, especially the arid southwest (Baluchistan) and the mountainous north, are inhospitable and sparsely populated, this large population is heavily concentrated in the Indus Valley. The environmental impacts of this huge human population and the very long history of human occupation of the Indus Valley (home to a highly developed urban civilization at least 5,000 years ago) present special challenges to the government. Many of the most pressing environmental issues in Pakistan involve water, i.e., water pollution from raw sewage, industrial wastes, and agricultural runoff, and shortages of potable water for a majority of the populace. The other major environmental problems – deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification – are also closely tied to water use and availability.

In order to begin to address these problems, Pakistan needs good information about its natural resources. A Flora based on all available plant collections and on the most current taxonomy and phylogeny of those plants is an essential first step to understanding, managing, and preserving the biodiversity of any area. Because terrestrial communities are generally defined by their plants, a Flora forms the foundation to which inventories of animals, fungi, etc., can be added. Completion of the Flora of Pakistan will provide scientists and government officials with critical information for management of their resources. Because the database resulting from this project will be geographical in nature, it can be used with data on soil types, precipitation, and other parameters to address questions such as what intact habitats should have highest priority for conservation, and what types of plants should be used in restorations for erosion control, reforestation, and the like.

Nasir (1991) conservatively estimated that 580-650 plant species (c. 12% of the flora) are threatened or endangered, but suggested that this number would increase when work on the Flora is completed. He cited habitat destruction, over-exploitation of economic plants, introduction of alien species, and pollution as the major causes for this threat. Nasir (1991), Sulaiman et al. (1991), and others suggest that awareness of the problems is widespread, but that additional knowledge and information is critical if the problems are to be addressed and solutions found.

Many results of the proposed project will have a direct and beneficial impact on conservation efforts in Pakistan. Knowing what species occur where, at what elevations, with what other species, and whether the species is rare, is the type of information that is critical for informing decisions about where to establish conservation areas, how big to make them, etc. The ability to combine data on known collections, soil types, elevations, associated plants, and other parameters will make it possible to identify areas of potential distribution of rare species, or to select appropriate plants to be used in ecological restorations. In a country with limited resources suffering serious problems of deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification (Nasir 1991), the ability to make rapid, fully informed decisions regarding restoration and other conservation projects is extremely important, and depends on sufficient background data.

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