The changing climate is taking a toll everywhere on the planet, and the fragile, biodiversity-rich ecosystems of the Himalayas are no exception. In a recent study, researchers from the CSIR-National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, Nagpur, and Society for Conserving Planet and Life, Uttarakhand, have reported how changes in the Himalayan climate could affect the habitat of seabuckthorn, a medicinal plant which grows in the region.
In India, the seabuckthorn (Hippophae salicifolia) grows in the icy heights of the trans-Himalayan zones of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Eastern Himalayan states, and Uttarakhand. These plants endure extreme temperatures and play a significant part in soil conservation and strengthening of the slopes. They are extensively used in the preparation of food, beverages, drugs, cosmetics and health tonics. However, the impact of climate change on these plants have not yet been documented.
“Our study will be the first attempt in understanding the distribution of seabuckthorn under future scenarios of climate change, needed to develop conservation and management plans for the species”, say the authors. The study was partially funded by the Department of Science and Technology and the findings were published in the journal Ecological Informatics.
Based on extensive field survey, the researchers estimated the present occurrence of these species in the Central Himalayan region of Uttarakhand. They used an approach called 'species distribution modelling', to predict the future distribution of the species using environmental data like temperature and rainfall.
The authors report that the species will lose 87.2% of its potential habitats by the year 2050. “An upward shift in the habitat of the species by 1700 metre above the mean sea level is predicted”, add the authors, saying that the plants will have to scale new altitudes in search of suitable climate over the next few decades.
The researchers point out that floods, cloudbursts, landslides, and infrastructural development in last few decades in these regions, as well as unsustainable harvesting of seabuckthorns for fuel, fencing and fruits, have also affected their habitat.
In this background, the researchers advocate climate-adaptive management practices to conserve the habitat of these plants, which may exhibit an unusual pattern from its current habitat. The researchers hope that their findings can help in planning long term conservation initiatives for the species.