India is a cradle of biodiversity, where the richness of biodiversity manifests at multiple levels, including the genetic, organismal, and ecosystem levels. We can witness these diverse facets of biodiversity across the vast and captivating landscapes of this remarkable country. India’s unique ecological tapestry comes into ten distinct biogeographic zones, each of which is further subdivided into various subzones. This intricate partitioning reflects the astounding array of life forms and ecological niches that thrive within the nation’s borders.
1. Tropical Rainforests
Their dense vegetation and towering canopy structure characterize these forest types, reaching heights of 30-45 meters and comprising four or five distinct strata. They thrive in areas receiving significant rainfall, ranging from 2000 to over 3000 mm per year. These forests boast a rich diversity of tree species. We found them in fragmented patches, primarily along the Western Ghats, northeastern India, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Tree Species: Rosewood, Mahogany, Ebony, tree ferns, and various species of palms.
National Park and Sanctuaries: Silent Valley National Park (Kerala), Agumbe Rainforest (Karnataka), Namdapha Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Pradesh) Pakke Tiger Reserve (Arunachal Pradesh).
Wildlife: Royal Bengal Tiger, Indian Leopard, Asian Elephant, Indian Bison (Gaur), Malabar Giant Squirrel, Hoolock Gibbon, lion-tailed Macaque, Loris, and various other species of primates & birds.
2. Tropical Moist Deciduous Forests
These forests are prevalent in regions with an annual rainfall ranging from 1000 to 2000 mm, accompanied by a dry season lasting three to four months. In these forests, deciduous trees dominate the landscape, while it typically abandons the lower storey with evergreen trees. During winter months, these trees shed their leaves, only to be replenished in March-April, marking a cyclical pattern. These forest types encompass nearly 19.73% of India’s total forest cover, as per the Forest Survey of India in 2011. They are widespread, spanning both southern and northern states, including Tamil Nadu, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, and Uttarakhand.
Typically comprising two to three strata, these forests exhibit a lower species diversity compared to tropical evergreen and semi-evergreen forests. The canopy trees in these areas prefer abundant light, while the middle strata comprise shade-tolerant shrubs and young trees. Herbs and saplings adorn the forest floor, creating a diverse ecosystem. Climbers are abundant in these environments, enhancing the overall biodiversity of these unique forest ecosystems.
Tree Species: Sal, Teak, Bamboo, Palash, and Semal.
National Parks and Sanctuaries: Bandipur National Park (Karnataka), Kanha National Park (Madhya Pradesh), Dudhwa Tiger Reserve (Uttar Pradesh).
Wildlife: Bengal Tiger, Indian Leopard, Indian Bison (Gaur), Chital (Spotted Deer), Sambar Deer, and various bird species.
3. Tropical Dry Deciduous Forests
These forest types constitute the largest forest type in India, accounting for approximately 38.2% of the country’s forested areas. Tropical dry forests are found in regions characterized by distinct seasonal variations in rainfall and prolonged periods of drought throughout the year. The trees in these forests typically reach heights of less than 25 meters, featuring a canopy dominated by deciduous trees that require ample light. Spanning from Kanyakumari to the foothills of the Himalayas, these forests are prevalent in areas with low rainfall ranging from 800 to 1200 mm annually. Many extensive portions of these forests serve as suitable habitats for wildlife.
Tree Species: Acacia, Babul, Neem, and Tamarind.
National Parks and Sanctuaries: Ranthambore Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan), Sariska Tiger Reserve (Rajasthan).
Wildlife: Bengal Tiger, Sambar Deer, Indian Peafowl, Indian Gazelle (Chinkara), Desert Fox, and various reptile species.
4. Tropical Thorn Forests and Scrub
These forest types are located in regions of northern, peninsular, and central India where annual rainfall is low, ranging from 200 to 800 mm. Plant growth in these areas is severely restricted due to limited moisture availability, leading to prolonged dry periods. The trees within these forests typically reach heights of six to nine meters. Specifically, Southern Tropical Thorn Forests can be found in states such as Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh.
Tree Species: Thorny shrubs like Acacia and Prosopis.
National Park and Sanctuaries: Desert National Park (Rajasthan), Gir National Park (Gujarat).
Wildlife: Indian Wolf, Striped Hyena, Indian Gazelle (Chinkara), Desert Fox, Indian Bustard, and various reptiles.
5. Mangrove Forests
These forest types ecosystems are composed of evergreen species that differ in density and height, often found in mesic habitats. These forests are primarily in their developmental phase and are characterized as seral, indicating they are part of an ecological succession.
Mangroves are found along the east and west coasts of India, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, the Gulf of Kachchh and Khambat (Gujarat). Sundarban (40% in West Bengal) is the largest mangrove in the world.
Tree Species: Sundari, Rhizophora, Avicennia, and Sonneratia.
National Parks and Sanctuaries: Sundarbans National Park (West Bengal), Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary (Odisha).
Wildlife: Royal Bengal Tiger, Saltwater Crocodile, Indian Python, and various migratory birds.
6. Temperate Forests (Himalayan Region)
These forested regions stretch across the entire expanse of the Himalayan area, positioned between the sub-tropical pine forests and sub-alpine forests. Found at altitudes ranging from 1500m to 3300m, these forests are predominantly concentrated in the central and western Himalayan regions, except in areas where annual rainfall falls below 1000 mm. Spread across Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttarakhand, the Darjeeling district of West Bengal, Assam, and Sikkim.
Tree Species: Deodar, Pine, Oak, and Rhododendron.
National Parks and Sanctuaries: Jim Corbett National Park (Uttarakhand), Great Himalayan National Park (Himachal Pradesh), Singalila National Park (West Bengal).
Wildlife: Common Leopard, Red Panda, Himalayan Musk Deer, Himalayan Tahr, and various pheasant species.
7. Subtropical Forests
In the southern regions of India, these forests are located on the slopes and hilltops, situated at altitudes ranging from approximately 1000 to 1700 meters. Specifically, these areas include the Nilgiri, Palani, Tirunelveli, and Mercara hills.
The Northern Subtropical Forests are found in states such as Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, and West Bengal. These forests are represented by the East Himalayan subtropical wet hill forest and are situated at altitudes ranging from 1000 to 2000 meters. They are specifically located in the Khasi, Jainti, and adjacent hills. Characterized by dense evergreen foliage, these forests typically have a height not exceeding 20 meters. Key tree species within these forests include Quercus, Castanopsis, Alnus, Prunus, Betula, and Schima.
Tree Species: Sal, Oak, Chestnut, and Rhododendron.
National Parks and Sanctuaries: Rajaji National Park (Uttarakhand), Simlipal National Park (Odisha).
Wildlife: Himalayan Black Bear, Sambar Deer, Serow, and various bird species.
8. Alpine Forests
Alpine Forest types are widespread across the Himalayas, found above the timberline and reaching altitudes of up to 5,500 meters. This unique ecosystem is primarily comprised of Rhododendron species, accompanied by some birch (Betula) and other deciduous trees. In this environment, the tree trunks are short and extensively branched, while the ground is covered with moss and ferns. A substantial layer of humus is present, and the soil is typically moist, creating a distinctive and biodiverse habitat in the higher altitudes of the Himalayan region.
Tree Species: None (above the tree line).
National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries: Valley of Flowers National Park (Uttarakhand), Khangchendzonga National Park (Sikkim).
Wildlife: Snow Leopard, Himalayan Blue Sheep (Bharal), and various high-altitude birds.
Born and brought up in New Delhi, it was Sharad’s childhood passion to play cricket for India. While on a holiday in 1990, he saw his first tiger. Little did he know that this one sighting would immerse him into a realm where forests and tigers were all that mattered.
Sharad’s experiences as a wildlife photographer have inspired him to observe the tiger’s behavior for over 30 years and motivated him on his own journey as an entrepreneur. He started Nature Safari India Pvt Ltd, with a focus on “Conservation through Tourism.” to align himself to the mission of saving the regal species and repopulating them in India’s forests. In 2006, he set up one of India’s premier jungle lodges in Kanha National Park.
Sharad believes that there are many lessons to be learned from a tiger that can be applied successfully to leadership—both in business and in life. Here’s a new book by Sharad Vats on management and leadership skills to learn from a Tiger.