Example 1: Conservation status of the critically endangered and endangered species in the Nandiar Khuwar catchment District Battagram, Pakistan (published 2011 - available online)
This article covers 37 species including 14 supposedly 'critically' endangered and 23 'endangered'. The author says that the district's flora is placed within the Western Himalayan Province, located on the western edge of the Himalaya. 270 local people were surveyed as to threats to the flora from loss of habitat, unplanned collection, deforestation, over-grazing, erosion, attacks of pathogens and impact of introduced plants (not that the author seems to understand that several of the species covered are not indigenous being introduced themselves, so it is farcical to include them).
It is rather amusing that in the introduction to this article, it states, "In order to determine the conservation status of a taxon, it is necessary to determine the fluctuation in its population size, the area that it occupies and to maintain long-lasting observation. Such studies have never been done in Pakistan". IF this is the case (which is correct and the same applies in India) then how can any botanist or conservationist claim ANY species is 'Endangered' let alone 'Critically Endangered' in Pakistan or India? The areas requiring in-depth surveys are vast, particularly in mountainous regions such as the Himalaya. Bearing in mind there are only a strictly limited number of professional botanists in these countries, few who can reliably identify plants, seldom undertaking surveys anyhow. One cannot accurately assess how abundant or rare a plant species is in an office. The UK, relatively small in size, with much smaller scale mountains, a flora with a fraction of the number of species found in Pakistan or India and large numbers of volunteer amateur botanists (of a professional standard) have been able to survey to a depth which is not feasible in the Himalaya. Thus, there is a need to be cautious about claims of rarity. The truth is, nobody actually knows which species are genuinely rare or endangered!
Within the article, the author acknowledges that studies on the conservation status of plant species are limited and data variable. With Pakistan authors claiming between 580 (1991) and 709 (1991) species as "threatened" or "threatened and endangered". Whereas the IUCN listed just 14 species of flowering plants as 'threatened' in Pakistan (1998). It is clear which is a more realistic figure....
The problem is that others reading articles like this one, which only refer to a strictly limited geographic district are extrapolated with the FALSE assertion that the findings of being 'endangered' or 'critically endangered' refer to the whole of a country or region. Such claims might SOUND impressive and aid the article being published (as does claims of species being "endemic") but it is increasingly clear to me that the surveys involved are fundamentally flawed. Publishing FALSE information misleads and when the species concerned are actually under NO THREAT WHATSOEVER and in some cases widespread and abundant or not even native, the situation is unacceptable and needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency, at the highest levels. I cannot do this but am obliged to expose these unscientific claims.
It appears that the authors of these article do not understand that unless a species is found all over the world in every country, habitat, altitude etc., it will have a limited range. At the limits of its range, whether geographic, climatic, altitudinal or whatever, it will be rare and reach the point at which it is no longer found - which to those without suitable training might interpret as being 'endangered' or 'critically endangered'. A species typically found in moist forests on the southern slopes of the main Himalaya, will become increasing less common as one heads over the Great Himalaya into the borderlands of Tibet. An example is the 'Himalayan May-Apple' (Podophyllum hexandrum) which is uncommon in districts such as Lahoul and Ladakh. In Ladakh e.g. it is restricted to such parts as Suru Valley and Zanskar, which receive more rain and even then, often only existing thanks to theshade and protection of boulders. I know of no colonies in the main, much drier, more exposed Upper Indus Valley. For people to suggest its 'rarity' in such places as an indication of it being 'critically' endangered misunderstand scientific principles and the basics of plant geography! Yes, such people are taken seriously. Just as their false claims about cultivation of supposedly 'endangered' species utilised in Tibetan Medicine. I would like to know just how growing a species which is not native to a district in the borderlands of Tibet can possibly help protect 'wild' populations? After all it is not a wild plant!!!
This article is based upon surveys undertaken in different parts of Nandiar Khuwar over a 2 year period. I am at a loss to explain how a survey over such a short period - no matter how intense and accurate it may or may not have been, entitle the author to use IUCN Criteria to assess conservation status. And even if a proper survey had happened over a longer time period, the results only apply to a strictly limited area i.e. Nandiar Khuwar, not Pakistan as a whole, let alone the Western Himalaya. Yet this sort of inadequate survey is widely used to assign 'Endangered' or 'Critically Endangered' status in Pakistan and India. It is FALSE and MISLEADING to extrapolate, yet this is typical of what happens. Then, based upon one or two such utterly flawed articles, others blindly copy the claims, suggesting these species are under threat. This has even led to submission and acceptance of Himalayan species under CITES Appendices. This is seriously wrong - FALSE. The truth is, nobody actually knows which species are genuinely 'rare & endangered' in Pakistan or India. As for those species 'selected' as being under threat, the vast majority under no threat - some are in fact widespread and abundant, making a mockery of the whole process in India & Pakistan - certainly as far as the Western Himalaya is concerned (I am not familiar with sub-tropical or tropical flora in the region, so cannot comment about these). For evidence, see: https://sites.google.com/a/shpa.org.uk/main/alphabetical-listing-of-species.
Let me go through the covered by this article:
1. Acer caesium - this tree is collected by locals for fuel, timber and fodder (as it surely would have been for centuries). Apparently the population size had been reduced by 86% (according to the local people - yet how could they possible tell to this level of accuracy), meeting Criteria A of a Critically Endangered species - yet even if the 'evidence' is correct, this tree remains widespread and abundant in other parts of the Western Himalaya, so to include it is FALSE.
2. Pistacia integerrima - this tree, which is collected for fuel and medicinal purposes, was prominent in the spring thanks to its red new leaves, during the botanical tour of Pakistan in 1987, is widespread, mostly in N.Pakistan @ 700-2100m. I am sceptical that it is in any way under threat in Pakistan as a whole. Its inclusion in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (which covers common plants) where it is named as PISTACHIA CHINENSIS subsp. INTEGERRIMA, where a distribution of Afghanistan to West Nepal is given, hardly suggests it is under any threat. Apparently. the population size has reduced by 93% (amazingly accurate surveyors these people are), meeting Criteria A of a Critically Endangered species but as with the previous species, to claim so is FALSE.
3. Rhus javanica - I am uncertain to which species the author refers, as Stewart in 'An Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan & Kashmir' does not list this! So I cannot comment further, beyond my suspicion that it is not a native species....
4. Trachelospermum lucidum - this climber grows on cliffs, in hedges or among bushes @ 600-1800m. Apparently due to loss of habitat and reduction of population size of 66% this falls under Criteria A of Endangered category. Even if the results were accurate, they would only apply to this one district. The species is found from Pakistan to Bhutan and its inclusion in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (which covers common plants) hardly suggests it is under any threat. FALSE claim.
5. Asparagus officinalis - surely the author cannot be serious? This is the 'Garden' Asparagus!!! There are several Asparagus species in Pakistan, so presumably he has misidentified it?
6. Picris hieracioides - again, surely the author is not serious? Apparently its population size has fallen by 60% (which would be a good thing if it was correct) bringing it under the 'Endangered' category, affected by loss of habitat thanks to the introduction of other species. Known as 'Hawkweed Ox-tongue' in the UK, this plant is very common, weedy (with numerous small prickles on its stems) in Pakistan from 1700-4000m. Clearly under no threat whatsoever! FALSE claim.
7. Betula utilis - this tree is collected by locals for fuel, fodder, paper-making and medicinal purposes, its population size has reduced by 98% (which is a quite remarkable figure if accurate) supposedly making it 'Critically' Endangered. I am sceptical about these figures, since it can be found on very steep slopes and inaccessible cliffs but just for argument sake, let us accept the figures, they only apply to a small district. This tree, the 'Himalayan Birch' remains abundant (and the authors in Example 2 below even comment that how healthy its population is in Kinnaur) throughout the Himalaya. To suggest it is Critically Endangered in Pakistan or the Himalaya as a whole is a farce. FALSE clim.
8. Ehretia serrata - only 240 mature individuals were found (no indication was given as to saplings/regeneration, which surely is crucial to understand its status) of this tree belong to the Boraginaceae family found widely in N.Pakistan and Kashmir, through to Nepal and Bhutan. The reduction (strangely enough, no %age reduction is given in this case) is due to collection of wood for fuel and timber. The number of mature individuals makes it endangered. This might be the case (not that I have ever surveyed tree numbers or know whether this represents a reasonable number or not), I do not know populations sizes elsewhere in the Himalaya (or other parts of the world where this is found) so impossible to meaningfully assess its status.
9. Opuntia dillenii - presumably, the author does not realise that ALL members of Cactaceae are NOT indigenous (some being very old introductions, frequently planted to make hedges or as specimens in pots or gardens). This species is commonly used in the plains as a hedge plant. Dr Stewart, author of 'Annotated Catalogue of the Vascular Plants of Pakistan & Kashmir' had a fine hedge of it in Rawalpindi until it was destroyed by a cochineal insect. So what does it matter that an escape from cultivation is restricted in its distribution or its population has been reduced by 90%. To waste time suggesting that an introduced, presumably somewhat invasive 'weed' is 'Critically Endangered' (due to loss of habitat, being uprooted by farmers, impact of introduced plants (perhaps other Opuntias!!!) and attacks of pathogens, shows a complete lack of basic understanding of botany! FALSE and PREPOSTEROUS.
10. Bauhinia variegata - only 230 mature specimens were observed, making it 'Endangered'. This tree has long had its leaves cut for fodder; the flowers are eaten and pickled, bark used for dyeing, tanning & medicinally, the wood for building and implements. It is found in forests and planted in villages to 1800m from Pakistan to Bhutan, India, Myanamah & China. In Pakistan it is much planted by gardens and by roadsides in Sind, Baluchistan and Punjab. So the suggestion it is in any way 'endangered' is downright silly! FALSE.
11. Cornus macrophylla - only 47 mature individuals were found (again, now mention about regeneration/young plants) being collected for fuel and timber. This tree is common in mixed forest in Hazara and recorded from other parts of N.Pakistan and through to Bhutan, Assam, Myanamar, China and Japan. Now named as SWIDA MACROPHYLLA. Even if it is under threat in Nandia Khuwar, there seems little to suggest it is endangered elsewhere.
12. Dioscorea deltoidea - apparently the population size of this climber has reduced by 68% falling under endangered category (does even make 'critically' endangered which has been suggested elsewhere). the main causes being loss of habitat, collection for medicinal usage and as a fish poison. I have commented upon this species elsewhere. It is doubtful that this plant is under serious threat overall, even though it populations in certain districts may well have reduced, even significantly so.
13. Rhododendron arboreum - apparently reduced in size by 69% due to collection for fuel and medicinal purposes - in most places local people have destroyed suitable habitat. It may be that the 'Tree Rhododendron' has a reduced population in certain districts but overall, this widespread and abundant species, found the length of the Himalaya, is under any threat. FALSE.
14. Glochidion velutinum - a total of 198 mature individuals this member of the Euphorbiaceae were found in Pinus roxburghii forests along roadsides and stream banks. The reduction was due to collection for fuel and loss of habitat. Apparently the small population size means it is 'endangered'. But it is common in such forests on dry hills from Swat eastwards to 1500m. Doubtful if it is under any serious threat overall.
15. Quercus glauca - 230 mature individuals were restricted to an area covering square km, apparently making it 'critically' endangered. This tree is collected for fuel and fodder. Whilst this is the least common of Oaks in Pakistan, sometimes found in moist valleys, I cannot but wonder if it has declined that much overall from Hazara eastwards at 700-1800m? Given the difficult correct identification of oaks present, I doubt its distribution is fully known. So yes, it is not that common or gregarious but who has surveyed all the promising ravines to 3000m from Pakistan to SW China also in Japan and S.E.Asia?
16. Quercus semecarpifolia - apparently the population size has reduced by 68% due to collection for fuel and agricultural instruments. I question that it is in any way endangered overall, as known to be common in parts of N.Pakistan, recorded as gregarious and common, sometimes dominant up to the upper tree-line @ 2100-3800m from Afghanistan to SW China. FALSE.
17. Aesculus indica - only 149 mature individuals in restricted area, so 'endangered'. The reduction in number due to collection of wood for fuel, timber incl. making tools for home and agriculture. Known to be common in mesophytic forest @ 2100-3000m. I do not have any evidence to suggest that the 'Indian Horse Chestnut' is seriously under threat in forests & shady ravives @ 1800-3000m from Afghanistan to Central Nepal. FALSE.
18. Colebrookia oppositifolia - apparently a 61% reduction in population size, making it 'endangered'. Known to be common in parts of Pakistan, ascending to 1500m. No suggestion it is under any serious threat overall. Included in Supplement to 'Flowers of the Himalaya' which says it often grows gregariously from Pakistan to SW China also in India and S.E.Asia. FALSE.
19. Notholirion thomsonianum - apparently a 58% reduction in population size thus 'endangered' due to over grazing and loss of habitat. The 'Hazara Lily' is known to be common in parts of Pakistan and Kashmir to 1500m. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from fields & rocky slopes from Afghanistan to Uttaranachal. I do not have evidence to suggest this is under serious threat.
20. Viscum album - recorded as an epiphyte on Ulmus wallichiana; as only 24 mature specimens of this tree was found of which 9 had the mistletoe, the loss of a host means this is 'critically endangered'. Mistletoes, though especially found on certain trees, they are by no means restricted to one species. It is known to be common in the Kashmir Valley, especially on walnuts. Found in many districts in N.Pakistan, distributed from Afghanistan to Central Nepal @ 1000-2700m. No evidence to suggest this plants is seriously endangered overall. FALSE.
21. Cissampelos parerira - apparently a 69% reduction in population size making it endangered due to loss of habitat and the impact of introduced plants. This member of the Mensipermaceae family is known from various parts of N.Pakistan, ascending to 1500m. I wonder how many botanists can reliably identify this species. I suspect the distribution of this undistinguished climber is not fully known in the Himalayan foothills - a pantropical species.
22. Cephalanthera longifolia - apparently a reduction in population size of 67% due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat due to over grazing meaning it is endangered. Recorded from many parts of N.Pakistan; the only orchid at the hill-station of Murree before the rains. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from forests in drier country @ 1800-3000m from Afghanistan to SE Tibet, W&N Asia, Japan, Europe even N.Africa @ 1800-3000m. Clearly, there is nothing to suggest that 'Narrow-leaved Helleborine' is under any serious threat - bearing in mind orchid populations are known to fluctuate. FALSE.
23. Paeonia emodi - apparently population reduced by 81% making it critically endangered - it is collected for medicinal use. The 'Himalayan Peony' is commonly gregarious on open hillsides in many parts of N.Pakistan & Kashmir. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from Afghanistan to W.Nepal in forests, shrubberies @ 1800-2500m. FALSE.
24. Cedrus deodara - population size reduction by 98% as only 3 mature trees were found due to collection for fuel, timber and medicinal uses making it 'critically' endangered. Stewart considered 'Deodar' was often planted, only wild in a few places. It forms forests from Afghanistan to West Nepal @ 1800-3000m. Yes, there will be places where colonies have largely been destroyed but nothing to suggest it is endangered, let alone 'critically' so overall. FALSE.
25. Podophyllum hexandrum - population size has reduced by 68% making it 'endangered' due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat.
I have commented about this species elsewhere on this web-site. It probably remains common in thin forest and open slopes from Afghanistan to SW China @ 2400-4500m. As explained, the inclusion under CITES is not justified. FALSE.
26. Crataegus songarica - 242 mature specimens making it locally endangered used locally for fuel. A common hawthorn especially in Kashmir & Chenab Valley in cultivated areas from Afghanistan to Uttaranachal @ 1500-2700m. Nothing to suggest it is endangered overall.
27. Filipendula vestita - apparently population reduced by 65% due to over-grazing and loss of habitat meaning 'endangered'. The Himalayan Meadowsweet is common in damp meadows in many parts of N.Pakistan. included in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' (which covers common species) in forests and damp places @ 2100-3300m from Afghanistan to W.Nepal. Nothing to suggest this plant is under threat. FALSE.
28. Potentilla sericophylla - only found in a single location in rock crevices in a 4 square km area making it 'critically' endangered. Potentilla is a large genus with quite a number of species difficult to identify, so the author has done well to recognise this one. Stewart records it from a number of locations in N.Pakistan & Kashmir @ 2400-2700m. Interesting that the author found it 400m higher than any Stewart records.
29. Prunus padus - population size has reduced by 64% making this tree 'endangered' due to collection for fuel and timber. The 'Himalayan Bird Cherry' is one of Pakistan's largest and commonest trees. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' describe it as common in forests @ 2100-3500m from Afghanistan to SW China. Nothing to suggest this is in any way threatened overall.
30. Skimmia laureola - the correct name for this is SKIMMIA ANQUETILIA; its population size has reduced by 81% due to medicinal collection & loss of habitat meaning it is 'critically' endangered. Yet this is very common in the undergrowth of fir forests in N.Pakistan & Kashmir. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from forests, shrubberies and shady places @ 2400-4000m from Afghanistan to W.Nepal. Nothing to suggest this plant is in any way under threat, let alone 'critically' endangered. FALSE.
31. Populus alba - restricted to an area of 3 square km making it critically endangered; collected for fuel, timber and medicinally. The correct name for this seems to be POPULUS CASPICA. Stewart records this from many places in N.Pakistan, finding it common in Kashmir. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it from Afghanistan to Himachal Pradesh, a native which is also planted @ 1200-3000m. Nothing to suggest this poplar is under any threat.
32. Salix babylonica - 196 mature specimens were observed making it 'endangered'. This is the 'Weeping Willow' - widely planted as an ornamental to 2000m in Pakistan - what on earth does it matter about the populations of non-native trees! Ridiculous.
33. Withania somnifera - population size reduced by 67% due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat thus being endangered. Stewart records this from many parts of Pakistan, rarely ascending to 1500m. The identification of many genera within the Scrophulariaceae family is often difficult, so I doubt if the distribution of this species is fully known. Stewart considered it to like W,coagulata to be a common shrub in desert areas but more likely to be about houses. Nothing to suggest this plant is in any way threatened.
34. Taxus baccata subsp. wallichiana - has shown an 87% reduction in population, so is thus 'critically' endangered. - used for fuel, medicinal purposes and timber in graves. Do not understand why this tree was not counted in terms of number of mature specimens - perhaps there were too many? Stewart found this in mixed forest, not gregarious as a rule over much of N.Pakistan & Kashmir. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it in forests & shady ravines, usually in the understory @ 2100-3400m from Afghanistan to SW China, Myanamar & S.E. Asia. Nothing to indicate it is 'critically' endangered, though clearly collected heavily in some areas.
35. Grewia optiva - reduced population size of 69% making it 'endangered' due to collection for fuel and timber plus habitat loss. Stewart found this small tree to be the commonest wild Grewia recorded from many places in Pakistan. The Supplement to 'Flowers of the Himalaya' gives a distribution of Pakistan to Sikkim ascending to 1800m. Nothing to suggest this tree is under serious threat.
36. Ulmus wallichiana - only 24 mature specimens making it 'critically' endangered due to collection for fuel, timber, tools for use in households, loss of habitat and "change in environment" (whatever this is meant to mean); most trees are found in graveyards, just a few in paddy fields and nullahs. Stewart noted the 'Big Leaved Elm' in much of N.Pakistan in moist ravines and broadleaved forest. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' records this in broad-leaved forests and moist ravines @ 1800-3000m from Afghanistan to W.Nepal. Extensive surveys are required to meaningfully assess its distribution and abundance.
37. Viola canescens - a 64% reduction in population size means it is 'endangered' due to medicinal collection and loss of habitat. Stewart recorded this from many places in N.Pakistan, finding it to be common in Kashmir. 'Flowers of the Himalaya' found it in shrubberies and on shady banks @ 1500-2400m from Kashmir to Bhutan (for some reason missing out Pakistan). Nothing to suggest this violet is in any way endangered. FALSE.
I found it hard to work out just how the author arrived at such exact %ages as for "reduction in population size"? Nor does he reveal over what time period the decline occurred. As it would be impossible for local people to estimated actual %age loss of populations of individual species and as the author states that information about 'critically endangered' and 'endangered' species was collected from the 270 local people, I am beginning to suspect this is how he arrived at the figures i.e. the number of locals who said they considered populations had reduced! But he cannot have? But how else?
The author also seems to have misunderstood how to determine whether a species is considered 'endangered' or 'critically' endangered according to IUCN rules. By proclaiming so many species are 'endangered' it seem others accept this applies to the species in the whole of its range. This has led to a proliferation of articles about 'endangered' and 'critically endangered' - and let us not forget that 'critically' endangered infers the species is in imminent danger of becoming extinct. Whoever makes such claims is not just being misleading but present FALSE unscientific evidence which is completely flawed - yet these findings are blindly accepted and repeated. I do not know who sits on the panels which accept submissions for the CITES Appendices but they clearly do not understand how poorly the flora of the Western Himalaya is know. How can they possibly imagine such a vast mountainous region has been properly surveyed. And what of the botanists who compiled the data which were submitted, do they not realise their claims cannot be substantiated.
Example 2: Vascular plants, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, India (published 2012 - available online)
This article provides a supposed 'check-list' of the vascular plants of Kinnaur district situated in the Western Himalaya. The authors state that 27 (3%) of the species they recorded from this district are placed under IUCN threatened categories. Whilst 108 (c.12%) being 'endemic' to the Western Himalaya (those not reading the article carefully might think they meant 'endemic' to Kinnaur'). My immediate reaction, without reading the article, let alone scrutinising it, was one of disbelief that so many were actually threatened or endemic! Who decided this? On what evidence? It could not possibly be as a result of the authors' study alone. I know for a fact that many of the species they claim to be 'endangered' are no such thing - in some cases being widespread and abundant! Such false, un-scientific and downright silly claims continue to be repeated, time after time. Are there no local botanists who realise that the flora of the Western Himalaya has not been studied sufficiently to judge which species are rare, let alone 'endangered'!? I dispute pretty much every claim made in the article! It is a shame that I am obliged to find so much fault as the authors are to be commended for actually collecting pressed specimens, especially of grasses (Poaceae), sedges (Cyperaceae) and ferns (Pteridophyta) - families which are often neglected or ignored due to identification difficulties.
As to endemics (Indian botanists do love to refer to 'endangered'/'threatened' plants and 'endemics'), I cannot but wonder if the authors fully understand what the terms mean? My understanding is that endemic means "unique to a certain defined geographical area''. But unless Indian botanists have up-to-date (reliable) information on the presence (or not) of said species in bordering countries such as China, Pakistan, Nepal (and other parts of the world) and these countries have detailed floras (which they often do not), then how on earth can the authors of this and numerous other articles know a species is unique, in this case to the 'Western' (i.e. 'Indian' Western Himalaya)? I do not consider Nepal part of the 'Western' Himalaya - very much part of the 'Central' Himalaya to my thinking. I think it is over-simplistic to split Himalayan flora into just 'Western' and 'Eastern', though I do accept that the main part of West Nepal has a flora with affinities to the W.Himalaya. I consider what is now 'Uttarakhund' may be best classified as part of 'Central Himalaya', limiting 'Western' or perhaps 'North-Western' Himalaya to Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh (though this State is the most north-westerly point for some Himalayan species) plus perhaps bordering areas of Pakistan. The extreme East of Nepal, Sikkim and Bhutan would be within my understanding of 'Eastern Himalaya'. But I do not count the mountains of SW China as part of the proper 'Himalaya' anymore than the Karakoram range is in Pakistan (let alone the Hindu Kush). So, perhaps a different definition of what constitutes the 'Western' Himalaya has been applied - though there are still species definitely found elsewhere, which are thus not endemics!
My reference works inform me that many of the species they classify as endemic are not or questionably so. The most glaring examples are Epilobium latifolium (which is an out-of-date name, it is now Chamerion latifolium). Known as 'dwarf fireweed' or 'river beauty willowherb', it has a circumboreal distribution throughout the northern regions of the Northern Hemisphere, including subarctic and Arctic areas such as snowmelt-flooded gravel bars and talus; there is also its inconvenient occurrence in Nepal (which certainly is not part of the 'Western Himalaya'); I know of it personally from Alaska. Also., 'Chickweed' (Stellaria media) - a cosmopolitan weed of waste and cultivated ground found in many parts of the world. Oh dear, such woeful mistakes create a bad impression and makes me suspicious about ALL the information provided in this article. Some of the content must be accurate but it makes you wonder.... I have now checked each claim of 'endemism'; in at least 10 cases the species are so difficult to distinguish from related ones, it is impossible to meaningfully assess their distribution. I cannot find a total of 108 species listed as 'endemic' but of those I could check, AT LEAST 69 are known to occur elsewhere in the Himalaya, Afghanistan or other parts of the world! A mere 16, based on present evidence are endemic (a further 10 might prove to be) - so I make that somewhere between 1.5-2.4 %, rather different to c. 12%! This really is unacceptable - how can anyone make errors for almost two thirds of those claimed. Inexcusable for anyone, let alone a trained scientist. Grossly misleading because others will read the article, assume it to be accurate and then make FALSE claims about the high levels of endemism in the Western Himalaya.... If you then add in the FACT that the check-list does not represent anywhere near the full number of species in Kinnaur.
May I state categorically that the 881 species they list DOES NOT represent a meaningful check-list for Kinnaur. MANY species were overlooked, in particular those from higher elevations (which do not appear to have been surveyed much - there are e.g. many high passes @ 4500-5200m in the Baspa Valley but only two have been partially explored) and I doubt very much if the steep slopes which involve a lot of physical stamina to explore, let alone those requiring field botanists to scramble amongst boulders and negotiate cliff faces, were searched sufficiently. I would estimate that literally hundreds of other species occur in Kinnaur but nobody actually knows for sure. I shall start to accumulate a list to prove my point, starting with those from the sources mentioned in the next paragraph, which may run to dozens by themselves.... How can you have a check-list when at least 1/4, perhaps even 1/3 or 1/2 of the total are missing! Their study site of Kinnaur represent some 6,400 square kms!
A quick reference to species observed myself during a visit to Baspa Valley, Kinnaur in 1993 (which included Chamerion latifolium) and the travels of Margaret & Henry Taylor plus treks organised by the UK Alpine Garden Society along with some of the species I can recollect which were found by Tsongpen Lepcha, who was sent to Kinnaur in 1940, primarily to search for Primula obtusifolia, reveal quite a number the team who complied their check-list failed to locate including the little matter of 7 species of Primula: P.munroi, P.elliptica, P.minutissima, P.matthiolii, P.stuartii, P.obtusifolia, P.reptans! Just what is going on?
To claim to be able to have produced a meaningful check-list after a single, all-too-brief visit to such a vast mountainous area is misleading, at the very least. It is a pity that I am obliged to be so critical about this article (but I must speak the truth), as this team did actually collect voucher pressed specimens, which were, it seems from a casual glance (we are not told how many) reliably identified (some mistakes were made) by staff at a major herbarium in India. Often voucher pressed specimens are not gathered during surveys of flora in the Western Himalaya - for Indian scientists with no proper training as to how to identify plants, to rely upon 'matching' what they found with out-of-date descriptions in Hooker's 'Flora of British India' (published in the 19th century), assorted lists of dubious reliability or with small photos in 'Flowers of the Himalaya' is likely to lead to numerous misidentifications. This, regrettably seems to be what normally happens. It is a situation which needs to change. Local botanists need to take pride in the quality and reliability of the information they publish - bearing in mind that others then TRUST and uncritically copy, refer to and cite what is published..... The very CREDIBILITY of Indian botany is at stake...
However, the main purpose of this account is not to highlight the overall shortcomings of this article (or very poor standard of plant identification typically performed on Himalayan flora) but to address the issue of the species the authors found in Kinnaur which they claim are 'Endangered' along with claims of endemism (meaning only found in a certain district, region or country).
MISTAKES you will notice that most species which the article's authors claim to be 'vulnerable' are described within 'Flowers of the Himalaya' - a guide to the COMMON
and prominent plants of the region!
Acer caesium - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' described this as "common" in forests and open grassy places @ 2200-3000m from Afghanistan to Central Nepal. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) says it is "our commonest maple, often ascending to near the treeline" (referring to Pakistan and Kashmir. I have observed it many times in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. There is nothing to suggest that the occurrence of this species has substantially reduced in recent years. Whoever came up with the idea that this tree is in any way vulnerable clearly does not know what they are talking about! Perhaps it was decided in an office, "on paper only" because nobody, like myself, who has field experience would make such a suggestion. As to its supposed 'endemism' in the Western Himalaya? It is recorded from both Afghanistan and Nepal - these countries do not form part of the Western Himalaya.
Betula utilis - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' described this as forming forests at upper limit of tree growth @ 2700-4300m from Pakistan to SW China. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) says it is "very common from Chitral eastwards" (referring to Pakistan and Kashmir. I have observed it many times in Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh also in Nepal. Whilst Stewart did observe that overgrazing has destroyed the species in many places so that in such districts it is now only on steep rocky inaccessible slopes but there are plenty of those along the Himalaya so to suggest the species as a whole is in any way 'Endangered' shows a complete lack of understanding. Stewart considered it to be a species aggregate which varies greatly, changing gradually as one goes from west to east. Varieties and, I think, subspecies, have been recognised. For a check-list not to refer to variation within species is remiss.
Allium stracheyi - Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) correctly observed that the genus Allium is well represented in the dry regions along the Afghan frontier and in the high, dry inner mountains of Chitral, Gilgit, Baltistan etc. They are sometimes abundant enough to be collected for food but many of the species are poorly represented in herbarium collections. Although the bulbs are often essential for identification they are often left behind by collectors. The genus requires more attention and there may even be unidentified species. As the reference material available is so minimal, the genus neglected by most botanists and is need of revision in the Western Himalaya what one can say about most species is highly provisional - the truth is that we just do not fully know about the status of Allium stracheyi or most other spp. - so neither I nor anyone else is in a position to judge whether it is 'vulnerable' or not. This article lists 4 other species of Allium. It would be reasonable to suggest they missed others. As for A.stracheyi, Stewart recorded it from Gilgit, Swat, Baltistan, Kashmir, stating it had pale yellow flowers with long stamens. Nothing to suggest this was more 'vulnerable' than several other species likely to be found in Kinnaur....
Ferula jaeschkeana - Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) found this to be common on open hillsides @ 1200-2700m in Chitral, Gilgit, Swat, Hazara and Kashmir. I have seen it in Lahoul, Himchal Pradesh. Again, nothing to suggest it is 'vulnerable'.
Heracleum lanatum - Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) did not know this species from Pakistan or Kashmir. There is no mention in Hooker's 'Flora of British India'. A quick search on the internet suggests this species is a NATIVE OF NORTH AMERICA'S PACIFIC NORTHWEST! I was not aware it has become an invasive weed in the Western Himalaya but even if it has being a non-native weed surely does not qualify it for 'vulnerable' status! More likely it has been misidentified.... The family, Apiaceae (formerly Umbelliferae) to which Heracleum belongs is a challenging one identification-wise, in need of revision, with poor reference specimens. A major mistake I suspect.
Heracleum pinnatum - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' described this as "common" on field verges in Ladakh, from Pakistan to Himachal Pradesh @ 3000-4500m on rocky slopes in drier areas. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this from Gilgit, Astor, Baltistan, Ladkh, Kashmir and Kishtwar @ 2700-3900. Nothing to suggest this is more 'vulnerable' than several other species of Apiaceae likely to be found in Kinnaur....
Selinum vaginatum - I have found this a very difficult genus identification-wise; it is clearly in need of revision, so I question the reliability of the characteristics used by the authors to distinguish between this and the two other species they record: Selinum coniifolium and S.wallichianum. Given this situation it is impossible to assess accurately to status of any species belonging to this genus within the Western Himalaya. The author claim this is 'endemic and lower risk/least concern - a category that applies to ALL plants in the world other than those classified as vulnerable or endangered, making it utterly meaningless'. At present I do not know what S.coniifolium actually is? I have come across a preliminary revision of the genus Selinum in the Sino-Himalayan region which I shall study when time permits but it seems there remains much difference of opinion as to how to treat Selinium and related genera.
Polygonatum multiflorum 'Flowers of the Himalaya' described this as " quite common" in forests from Pakistan to Uttaranachal @ 1500-2700m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this as "common" from Kurram, Swat, Hazara, Poonch & Kashmir @ 1500-2700m. Again, nothing to suggest it is 'vulnerable'.
Polygonatum verticillatum 'Flowers of the Himalaya' noted this in forests, shrubberies & on open slopes from Pakistan to SE Tibet @ 1500-3700m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this, in places very common, from Kurram, Dir, Chitral, Swat, Gilgit, Baltistan, Poonch, Hazara, Poonch & Kashmir @ 1800-3300m. Again, nothing to suggest it is 'vulnerable'.
Berberis pseudoumbellata - this is a very difficult genus identification-wise, making it impossible to assess status and whether a particular species is 'endemic' or not. A full revision of the genus in the Western Himalaya is required. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this from Poonch, Hazara, & Kashmir (where he found it to be common) @ 1200-2700m. Again, nothing to suggest it is 'vulnerable'.
Sinopodophyllum hexandrum (syn. Podophyllum hexandrum) 'Flowers of the Himalaya' recorded this from forests & on open slopes from Afghanistan to SW China @ 2400-4500m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this as "very common" in thin forest from Kurram, Swat, Hazara, Poonch, Zanskar & Kashmir @ 1800-3600m. I have seen this plant from Bhutan to Kashmir including Ladakh & Lahoul. It is remarkably resilient in forest at Gulmarg in Kashmir despite incredible trampling pressure by hundreds of thousands of Indian tourists who walk and ride through the forest following construction of a ski-lift. To describe such this species is 'critically' endangered and list it under CITES is seriously misleading!
Jurinea dolmiaea (syn. J.macrocephala) - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it on open slopes from Pakistan to East Nepal @ 3000-4300m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) described this as "gregarious" on alpine meadows from Gilgit, Baltistan, Ladakh, Hazara, Poonch, Kashmir & Kishtwar @ 3500-4600m. Again, nothing to suggest it is 'vulnerable'.
Saussurea costus (S.lappa) - it is remarkable how many places this supposedly 'critically' endangered species is found (quite apart from it being grown in vast quantities in Lahoul). 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it as cultivated as a field crop and also found as a casual in irrigated areas from Pakistan to Himachal Pradesh @ 2000-3300m. They observed that in Lahoul it had largely been replaced by potatoes which are more profitable (but it was certainly making a come back in 2012 - though only a fraction of the quantity of Inula racemosa). Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this from Hazara, Astor and in forest undergrowth in Kashmir @ 2000-3000m. 'Kuth' was known at one time to be a valuable forest product until trade with China was stopped. To describe such this species is 'critically' endangered and list it under CITES is seriously misleading!
Saussurea obvallata - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it rocky slopes & streamsides from Pakistan to SW China @ 3600-4500m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded it from Baltistan, though correctly observed it was usually found east of Kashmir. I wonder if this was misidentified as I know that some forms of Saussurea bracteata have been mistaken for S.obvallata. Difficult to accurately assess its status as few botanists spend much time high in the mountains where this plant grows.
Saussurea roylei - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it as "quite common" in shrubberies & on open slopes from Kashmir to Central Nepal @ 3000-4300m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) described this as "common on passes and high alpine meadows" in Kashmir and from from Deosai, Baltistan, Ladakh @ 3600-4700m. Quite why its status should be given as "indeterminate", when no other species the team recorded was described as such is a mystery to me?
Dioscorea deltoidea - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' do not include this species - not because they would have considered it rare but it is not attractive. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) described this as " our only common species of Dioscorea" from Kurram, Chitral, Dir, Swat, Poonch & Kashmir @ 700-2700m. It is common in the Kulu Valley, Himachal Pradesh. To describe such this species is 'rare & endangered', listing it under CITES is seriously misleading!
Rhododendron anthopogon - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it as "common & gregarious" in alpine shrubberies & on open slopes from Pakistan to SE Tibet @ 3000-4800m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) described this as "gregarious & very common on passes in the alpine zone" in Astor, Gilgit, Baltistan, Hazara & Zanskar @ 2850-4500m; in Kashmir he found it to be abundant on high meadows above Rhododendron campanulatum. To list this as 'vulnerable' is preposterous! I don't expect the person who originally claimed this has spent much time above 4000m in the Western Himalaya!
Indigofera cedororum - I cannot find any reference to this beyond its supposed use medicinally! Is this a species which has been described as 'new' in recent years?
Dactylorhiza hatagirea - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record it as "common" in shrubberies, on open slopes & marshes from Pakistan to S.E. Tibet @ 2800-4000m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) described the 'Broad-Leaved Marsh Orchid' as common in wet marshy places above 2100m in Kurram, Chitral, Swat, Astor, Baltistan, Ladakh, Hazara and as "abundant" in Kashmir @ 2400-3600m. I first came across this growing in irrigated areas in Suru Valley, Ladakh. Yes, the tubers are used medicinally. Yes, it is collected illegally by Indians but to suggest it is 'critically' endangered i.e. about to become extinct is incorrect.
Meconopsis aculeata - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record this as "widespread" on rocky slopes & damp rocks, Pakistan to Uttranachal @ 3000-4000m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded the 'The Western Blue Poppy' from among rocks or on cliffs in Hazara, Zanskar and Kashmir @ 3300-4500m. I first came across it on cliffs in Kashmir - which required a scramble to reach. I doubt very much if the person who claims this is 'vulnerable' has ever been up such cliffs. It is widespread in Himachal Pradesh. I have seen it in Lahoul. Unless it is in flower, one needs to look closely between boulders and on cliffs but it is there by the million - as few would get anywhere near its main habitats, I consider it ridiculous to express concern about its status.
Picrorhiza kurrooa - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record this from rocky slopes & damp rocks, Pakistan to Uttranachal @ 3300-4300m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) recorded this in Hazara and Kashmir (where he found it to be "common on alpine meadows" @ 300-4300m. I have found it widespread in Himachal Pradesh. I see no reason why it should be considerable to be 'endangered' - it has been collected for medicinal use for centuries. It is an old Indian remedy for colds & flu. Koelz reported in the 1930s that wherever it grew in the mountains (in Lahoul & Kulu Valley), Tibetans and Rampuris made a business of collecting it - there encampments being found in the summer months. There is nothing to suggest the amount of collection has increased in more recent times.
Rheum australe - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record this on open slopes from Himachal Pradesh to East Nepal @ 3000-4200m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) never came across it in Pakistan or Kashmir. I have found Rheums not always simple to distinguish between the different species - though R.australe would seem distinctive enough. I have insufficient information to assess its status in the Western Himalaya. But as it is more common in Nepal, then surely the most important issue is its status in the Himalaya as a whole.
Aconitum heterophyllum - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record this in forests, shrubberies & open grassy slopes from Pakistan to Central Nepal @ 2400-4000m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) found this to be common in Chitral, Deosai, Astor, Swat, Hazara, Poonch & Kashmir @ 2140-3600m. I have found it to be common in Himachal Pradesh. Yes, it is collected for medicinal usage. I do not know what the evidence there is that the species is vulnerable. As it is found in Nepal it is not endemic to the Western Himalaya.
Aconitum violaceum - 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record this in forests, shrubberies & open grassy slopes from Pakistan to Central Nepal @ 2400-4000m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) found this to be common in Kashmir near streams or in damp soil (he recognised a var. robustum from alpine meadows) also in Chitral, Deosai, Ladakh & Kashmir @ 3000-4500m. I have found it to be common in Himachal Pradesh. Yes, it is collected for medicinal usage. I do not know what the evidence there is that the species is vulnerable. As it is found in Nepal it is not endemic to the Western Himalaya. As Aconites can be difficult to identify, I wonder as to the reliability of some records for all species of this genus in the Western Himalaya.
Saxifraga jacquemontiana 'Flowers of the Himalaya' record this on stony slopes in drier areas from Pakistan to SE Tibet @ 4000-5200m. Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) records this from Gilgit, Deosai, Baltistan, Hazara. Ladakh & Kashmir @ 3600-4800m. I have found it to be widespread in Kashmir, Ladakh & Himachal Pradesh. To suggest it is 'endangered' is ridiculous - I don't expect the person(s) claiming this have spent much time @ 4000m in the Western Himalaya let alone 5000m! I would assess it to be abundant at suitable elevations!
Ulmus wallichiana - Stewart (the most knowledgeable field botanist Pakistan ever had) found the 'Big Leaved Elm' to be found in Swat, Hazara, Poonch & Kashmir often in moist ravines @ 1800-3000m. It is recorded from Nepal, so is not endemic to the Western Himalaya. Its occurrence is not sufficiently well-known to meaningfully judge its status.
ENDEMICS IN WESTERN HIMALAYA
According to this article, 108 of the species recorded are ONLY FOUND IN THE WESTERN HIMALAYA. My first impressions were that this was unlikely to be the case. Let me check each one and see how many this description applies to, indicating the incorrect ones and those which one cannot be certain about due to taxonomic difficulties:
Not Endemic in Western Himalaya
1. Acer caesium
2. Aconitum heterophyllum
3. Aconitum violaceum
4. Agrostis munroana
5. Alnus nitida
6. Arceuthobium minutissimum
7. Artemisia japonica
8. Artemisia roxburghiana
9. Aster falconeri
10. Berberis chitria
11. Berberis coriaria
12. Berberis jaeschkeana
13. Berberis lycium
14. Bergenia ciliata (Western Himalayan forms of this species are now Bergenia pacumbis)
15. Bupleurum falcatum
16. Buxus wallichiana
17. Capparis spinosa
18. Carex haematostoma
19. Carpesium nepalense
20. Cirsium wallichii
21. Codonopsis rotundifolia
22. Corydalis govaniana
23. Corylus jacquemontii
24. Cyananthus lobatus
25. Delphinium denudatum
26. Delphinium vestitum
27. Dipsacus inermis
28. Epilobium latifolium
29. Eremurus himalaicus
30. Eritrichium nanum
31. Fraxinus xanthoxyloides
32. Geum elatum (syn. Acomastylis elata)
33. Ilex dipyrena
34. Juglans regia
35. Hippophae salicifolia
36, Lactuca dolichophylla
37. Lonicera spinosa
38. Morus serrata
39. Oxytropis mollis
40. Pedicularis pectinata
41. Pimpinella acuminata
42. Pleurospermum brunonis
43. Potentilla multifida
44. Primula floribunda
45. Primula sessilis
46. Quercus baloot
47. Quercus floribunda
48. Quercus leucotrichophora
49. Rheum webbianum
50. Rhodiola imbricata
51. Rosa macrophylla
52. Salix denticulata
53. Sarcococca saligna (syn. S.pruniformis)
54. Scrophularia koelzii
55. Selinum tenuifolium (syn. S.wallichianum)
56. Serratula pallida
57. Silene edgeworthii (syn. S.indica var. edgeworthii)
58. Silene falconeriana
59. Skimmia anquetilia
60. Sophora mollis
61. Stellaria media - a cosmopolitan weed of cultivated ground and waste places (incl. my garden), so to claim it to be 'endemic'....
62. Thalictrum foetidum (syn. T.minus)
63. Tricholepis elongata
64. Trigonella pubescens (syn. Medicago edgeworthii)
65. Ulmus wallichiana
66. Valeriana stracheyi
67. Vicia bakeri
Iris hookeriana - almost certainly 68. Iris kemaonensis
Parthenocissus semicordata - this has only been recorded from West Nepal eastwards; strangely the widespread 69. P.himalayana is not
recorded by the team from Kinnaur, which surely is what they collected a specimen of
Out-of-date name which does not relate to current species
A synonym for another species on their check-list
Myriactis wallichii (syn. M.wallichii)
Not recorded from the Himalaya at all
Not previously recorded from Kinnaur
Difficult to separate from closely-related species - so impossible to assess if 'endemic'
1. Allium stracheyi
2. Artemisia indica var. elegantissima
3. Berberis kunawurensis
4. Berberis pseudo-umbellata
5. Bupleurum jucundum
6. Cotoneaster obovata
7. Saussurea caespitose
8. Saussurea ceratocarpa
9. Saussurea glanduligera
9. Selinum vaginatum
10. Strobilanthes wallichii