Natural Vegetation in India- NCERT Notes UPSC

Natural Vegetation in India

Natural vegetation refers to a plant community that has been left undisturbed over a long time, so as to allow its individual species to adjust themselves to climate and soil conditions as fully as possible.

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Variation in Natural Vegetation of India

India is a land of great variety of natural vegetation depending upon the variations in the climate and the soil.

  • Himalayan heights are marked with temperate vegetation. 
  • Western Ghats and the Andaman Nicobar Islands have tropical rain forests. 
  • Deltaic regions have tropical forests and mangroves. 
  • Desert and semi-desert areas of Rajasthan are known for cacti, a wide variety of bushes and thorny vegetation.

Classification of Forests

On the basis of certain common features such as predominant vegetation type and climatic regions, Indian forests can be divided into the following groups:

  • Tropical Evergreen and Semi-Evergreen forests.
  • Tropical Deciduous forests.
  • Tropical Thorn forests.
  • Montane forests.
  • Littoral and Swamp forests.

Tropical Evergreen Forest

  • Regions: These forests are found in the western slope of the Western Ghats, hills of the north-eastern region and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
  • Climatic Conditions: They are found in warm and humid areas with annual precipitation of over 200 cm and a mean annual temperature above 22oC.
  • These are well stratified, with layers closer to the ground and are covered with shrubs and creepers, with short, structured trees followed by a tall variety of trees.
  • In these forests, trees reach great heights up to 60 m or above. 
  • There is no definite time for trees to shed their leaves, flowering and fruition. As such these forests appear green all the year-round. 
  • Tree Species: Rosewood, mahogany, aini, ebony, etc.

Watch a related video on Social Forestry by Himanshu Sharma Sir, our Geography faculty:

Tropical Semi-Evergreen Forest

  • Regions: These forests are found in the less rainy parts of evergreen regions.
  • These have a mixture of evergreen and moist deciduous trees. The undergrowing climbers provide an evergreen character to these forests. 
  • Tree Species: White cedar, hollock and kail etc.
  • The British were aware of the economic value of the forests in India; hence, large scale exploitation of these forests was started.
    • The oak forests in Garhwal and Kumaon were replaced by pine (chirs) which was needed to lay railway lines. 
    • Forests were also cleared for introducing plantations of tea, rubber and coffee. 
    • The British also used timber for construction activities as it acts as an insulator of heat.
    • The protectional use of forests was, thus, replaced by commercial use.

Tropical Deciduous Forest

These are the most widespread forests in India and are also called the monsoon forests. They spread over regions which receive rainfall between 70-200 cm. On the basis of the availability of water, these forests are further divided into moist and dry deciduous.

  • The Moist Deciduous Forests: 
    • These are more pronounced in the regions which record rainfall between 100-200 cm.
    • These forests are found in the north-eastern states along the foothills of Himalayas, eastern slopes of the Western Ghats and Odisha
    • Tree Species: Teak, sal, shisham, hurra, mahua, amla, semul, Kusum, and sandalwood.
  • Dry deciduous forest: 
    • These forest covers vast areas of the country, where rainfall ranges between 70 -100 cm. 
    • On the wetter margins, it has a transition to the moist deciduous, while on the drier margins to thorn forests. 
    • These forests are found in rainier areas of the Peninsula and the plains of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.
    • In the higher rainfall regions of the Peninsular plateau and the northern Indian plain, these forests have a parkland landscape with open stretches in which teak and other trees interspersed with patches of grass are common.
    • Characteristics: As the dry season begins, the trees shed their leaves completely and the forest appears like a vast grassland with naked trees all around.
    • Tree Species: Tendu, palas, amaltas, bel, khair, axle wood, etc

Tropical Thorn Forest

  • Regions: It grows in areas which receive rainfall less than 50 cm.
  • It includes semi-arid areas of south west Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. 
  • In these forests, plants remain leafless for most part of the year and give an expression of scrub vegetation and it also consists variety of grasses and shrubs
  • Tree Species: Babool, ber, and wild date palm, khair, neem, khejri, palas.
  • Tussocky grass grows up to a height of 2 m as the under growth.

Montane Forest

  • In mountainous areas, the decrease in temperature with increasing altitude leads to a corresponding change in natural vegetation. 
  • The Himalayan ranges show a succession of vegetation from the tropical to the tundra which change in with the altitude. 
  • Mountain forests can be classified into two types namely the northern mountain forests and the southern mountain forests. 

Northern Mountain Forest

  • Deciduous forests are found in the foothills of the Himalayas
  • Wet temperate type of forests between an altitude of 1,000-2,000 m. 
    • These trees found in the higher hill ranges of north-eastern India, hilly areas of West Bengal and Uttaranchal. 
    • Evergreen broad leaf trees such as oak and chestnut are predominant.
  • Pine forests are also well-developed between 1500-1750 m altitude. 
    • Chir Pine is very useful commercial tree. 
    • Deodar, a highly valued endemic species grows mainly in the western part of the Himalayan range. Deodar is a durable wood mainly used in construction activity.
    • Similarly, the chinar and the walnut, which sustain the famous Kashmir handicrafts, belong to this zone.
  • Between heights of 2,225-3048 m:
    • Blue pine and spruce appear. 
    • At many places in this zone, temperate grasslands are also found.
  • Between 3000-4000 m:
    • There is a transition to Alpine forests and pastures
    • Silver firs, junipers, pines, birch and rhododendrons, etc are found.
    • These pastures are used extensively for transhumance by tribes like the Gujjars, the Bakarwals, the Bhotia’s and the Gaddis.
  • At higher altitudes, mosses and lichens form part of the tundra vegetation.
  • The southern slopes of the Himalayas carry a thicker vegetation cover because of relatively higher precipitation than the drier north-facing slopes.

Southern Mountain Forests

  • It includes the forests found in three distinct areas of Peninsular India viz; the Western Ghats, the Vindhyan and the Nilgiris.
  • As they are closer to the tropics, and only 1,500 m above the sea level, vegetation is temperate in the higher regions, and subtropical on the lower regions of the Western Ghats, especially in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
  • The temperate forests are called Sholas in the Nilgiris, Anaimalai and Palani hills. 
  • Forest of economic significance include magnolia, laurel, cinchona and wattle. 
  • Such forests are also found in the Satpura and the Maikal ranges.
Natural Vegetation in India

Natural Vegetation

Littoral and Swamp Forests

  • India has a rich variety of wetland habitats. About 70 per cent of this comprises areas under paddy cultivation.
  • The total area of wet land is 3.9 million hectares. 
  • Two sites namely Chilika Lake (Odisha) and Keoladeo National Park (Bharatpur) are protected as water-fowl habitats under the Convention of Wetlands of International Importance (Ramsar Convention).
  • The country’s wetlands have been grouped into eight categories
  • The reservoirs of the Deccan Plateau in the south together with the lagoons and other wetlands of the southern west coast. 
  • The vast saline expanses of Rajasthan, Gujarat and the Gulf of Kachchh.
  • Freshwater lakes and reservoirs from Gujarat eastwards through Rajasthan (Keoladeo National Park) and Madhya Pradesh.
  • The delta wetlands and lagoons of India’s east coast (Chilika Lake).
  • The freshwater marshes of the Gangetic Plain.
  • The floodplains of the Brahmaputra; the marshes and swamps in the hills of northeast India and the Himalayan foothills.
  • The lakes and rivers of the montane region of Kashmir and Ladakh.
  • The mangrove forest and other wetlands of the island arcs of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

Mangroves

  • They grow along the coasts in the salt marshes, tidal creeks, mud flats and estuaries. 
  • They consist of several salt-tolerant species of plants. 
  • Crisscrossed by creeks of stagnant water and tidal flows, these forests give shelter to a wide variety of birds.
  • They are highly developed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and the Sundarbans of West Bengal. Other areas of significance are the Mahanadi, the Godavari and the Krishna deltas.

Forest Cover in India (Updated)

  • The forest area is the area notified and recorded as the forest land irrespective of the existence of trees. It is based on the records of the State Revenue Department.
  • The actual forest cover is the area occupied by forests with canopy. It is based on aerial photographs and satellite imageries.
  • According to the ‘Indian State of The Forest Report 2019’,
  • Total forest and tree cover rises to 24.56% of the total geographical area of the country.
  • Area-wise: Madhya Pradesh has the largest forest cover in the country followed by Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha, and Maharashtra. 
 Forest Cover in India

Forest Cover in India

  • In terms of forest cover as percentage of total geographical area, the top five States are Mizoram (85.41%), Arunachal Pradesh (79.63%), Meghalaya (76.33%), Manipur (75.46%) and Nagaland (75.31%).
  • Mangrove cover has been separately reported in the ISFR 2019 and the total mangrove cover in the country is 4,975 sq. km. An increase of 54 sq Km in mangrove cover has been observed.
  • There is 5,188 sq. km increase in total forest cover as compared to 2017 assessment.
    • Increase in Forest Cover: 3,976 sq. km
    • Increase in Tree Cover: 12,12 sq.km
  • The top three states showing increase in forest cover are Karnataka (1,025 sq. km) followed by Andhra Pradesh (990 sq. km) and Kerala (823 sq. km).
  • Extent of Bamboo: The extent of bamboo area has estimated at 16 million sq. km. There is increase of 0.32 million sq. km as compared to 2017 ISFR report.
  • Carbon Stock: In 2019 assessment the total carbon stock in country’s forest is estimated 7,124.6 million tonnes. There is an increase of 42.6 million tonnes in the carbon stock of country as compared to the last assessment of 2017.

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Percentage Cover of the Forest

RegionsPercentage cover of the forest
High Concentration> 40
Medium Concentration20-40
Low Concentration10-20
Very Low Concentration10-20

Forest Conservation

  • Forests have an intricate interrelationship with life and environment. These provide numerous direct and indirect advantages to our economy and society.
  • According to Forest Policy 1988, the Government will emphasise sustainable forest management in order to conserve and expand forest reserve on the one hand, and to meet the needs of local people on the other. Following are important policy targets,
  • Bringing 33 per cent of the geographical areas under forest cover
  • Maintaining environmental stability and to restore forests where ecological balance was disturbed. 
  • Conserving the natural heritage of the country, its biological diversity and genetic pool.
  • Checks soil erosion, an extension of the desert lands and reduction of floods and droughts.
  • Increasing the forest cover through social forestry and afforestation on degraded land.
  • Increasing the productivity of forests to make timber, fuel, fodder and food available to rural populations dependent on forests and encourage the substitution of wood.
  • Creating of a massive people’s movement involving women to encourage planting of trees, stop felling of trees and thus, reduce pressure on the existing forest.

Wildlife

It is estimated that about 4-5 per cent of all known plant and animal species on the earth are found in India. There is a considerable threat to the wildlife because of the following reasons: 

  • Industrial and technological advancement brought about a rapid increase in the exploitation of forest resources.
  • More and more lands were cleared for agriculture, human settlement, roads, mining, reservoirs, etc. 
  • Pressure on forests mounted due to lopping for fodder and fuelwood and removal of small timber by the local people.
  • Grazing by domestic cattle caused an adverse effect on wildlife and its habitat.
  • Hunting was taken up as a sport by the elite and hundreds of wild animals were killed in a single hunt. Now, commercial poaching is rampant. 
  • Incidence of the forest fire.

Wildlife Conservation in India

  • In 1972, a comprehensive Wildlife Act was enacted, which provides the main legal framework for conservation and protection of wildlife in India. The two main objectives of the act are. 
  • To provide protection to the endangered species listed in the schedule of the Act. 
  • To provide legal support to the conservation areas of the country classified as National parks, Sanctuaries, and closed areas.
  • For the purpose of effective conservation of flora and fauna, special steps have been initiated by the Government of India in collaboration with UNESCO’s ‘Man and Biosphere Programme’.
  • Following schemes have been launched to conserve these species and their habitat in a sustainable manner.
  • Project Tiger: The main objective of the scheme is to ensure maintenance of viable population of tigers in India for scientific, aesthetic, cultural and ecological values, and to preserve areas of biological importance as natural heritage for the benefit, education and enjoyment of the people.
  • Project Elephant: It was launched in 1992 to assist states having free-ranging population of wild elephants. It was aimed at ensuring long-term survival of identified viable population of elephants in their natural habitat.
  • Crocodile Breeding Project, Project Hangul and conservation of Himalayan Musk deer have also been launched by the Government of India.

Biosphere Reserve

A Biosphere Reserve is a unique and representative ecosystem of terrestrial and coastal areas which are internationally recognised within the framework of UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere (MAB) Programme. There is total 11 biosphere reserves are recognised under UNESCO’S MAB programme.

Natural Vegetation

Objectives of a Biosphere Reserve

Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve

  • This is the first biosphere reserve was established in September 1986
  • It embraces the sanctuary complex of Wayanad, Nagarhole, Bandipore and Mudumalai, the entire forested hill slopes of Nilambur, the Upper Nilgiri plateau, Silent Valley and the Siruvani hills. 
  • The total area of the biosphere reserve is around 5,520 sq. km.
  • It has unspoilt areas of natural vegetation types with several dry scrubs, dry and moist deciduous, semievergreen and wet evergreen forests, evergreen sholas, grasslands and swamps.
  • It includes the largest known population of two endangered animal species, namely the Nilgiri Tahr and the Lion-tailed macaque.
  • The largest south Indian population of elephant, tiger, gaur, sambar and chital as well as a good number of endemic and endangered plants are also found in this reserve.
  • Its topography is widely varied.

Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve

  • It is situated in Uttarakhand and includes parts of Chamoli, Almora, Pithoragarh and Bageshwar districts.
  • The major forest types of the reserve are temperate.
  • Flora: Silver weed and orchids like latifolie and rhododendron.
  • Fauna: Snow leopard, black bear, brown bear, musk deer, snowcock, golden eagle and black eagle.
  • Major threats: Collection of endangered plants for medicinal use, forest fires and poaching.

Sundarbans Biosphere Reserve

  • It is located in the swampy delta of the river Ganga in West Bengal
  • It extends over a vast area of 9,630 sq. km and consists of mangrove forests, swamps and forested islands. 
  • Sundarbans is the home of Royal Bengal tigers. The tigers at the park are good swimmers, and they hunt scarce preys such as chital deer, barking deer, wild pig and even macaques.
  • The mangrove forests are characterised by Heritiera fomes, a species valued for its timber.

Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve:

  • The Gulf of Mannar Biosphere Reserve covers an area of 105,000 hectares on the southeast coast of India.
  • The biosphere reserve comprises 21 islands with estuaries, beaches, forests of the nearshore environment, sea grasses, coral reefs, salt marshes and mangroves.
  • 3,600 plant and animal species are the globally endangered e.g., Sea cow (Dugong dugon). Besides six mangrove species, endemic to Peninsular India are also endangered.

Interesting Point

  • Generally, an international convention is an agreement among member states of the United Nations.

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