The Eastern Himalayas

The Himalaya, Topographic showpiece of a huge highland area stretching from Afghanistan to Myanmar results extraordinary assemblage of plant diversity. The Eastern Himalayas, the eastern region of Bhutan, upper Assam valley and Northern complex forest of Myanmar form a global biodiversity hot spot with a tremendous variety of plants and animals, a third of which of which are found nowhere else in the world.

New species are turning up at a rate of 35 a year and highlights uncovered in the region since 1998 include the miniature muntjac “Muntiacus putaoensis” also known as the leaf deer, which at 60 to 80 centimeters tall and 8 to 11 kilograms is the smallest species of deer in the world. It was discovered in 1998 by a scientific team led by Dr. Alan Rabinowitz, now the president of New York based conservation group Panthera, who later helped to establish the Hukaung Valley Tiger Reserve. The team initially believed the tiny deer to be a juvenile of another species but was surprised to find it was an adult female of an as yet unknown species, later coined the leaf deer.

Another mammal to be unearthed in the area in the past 10 years was the Arunachal macaque “Macacamunzala” the first new monkey to be fond in a century. Among the most visually striking are the red-footed but otherwise bright green flying frog “Rhacophorussuffry” and Smith’s litter frog “Leptobrachium smithi” which boasts huge golden eyes and was described by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which has compiled a report on the region, as “among the most extraordinary-looking” frogs in the world.

Other new species include catfish with sticky stomachs, a luridly green pit viper, a freshwater beetle living at 5100 meters above sea level, higher than any other beetle and a bird restricted to a site less than a square mile.
Overall from 1998 to 2008 two mammals, two birds, 16 amphibians, 16 reptiles, 14 fish, 244 plants and more than 60 invertebrates have been identified in the region, according to the WWF report “The Eastern Himalayas – Where Worlds Collide”. Fourteen of the new discoveries – five plants, three invertebrates, two fish, two reptiles, one bird and one amphibian were made in Myanmar according to the report.

The Eastern Himalayas, regarded as one of the most rugged and beautiful areas of the world, is already the stronghold of the Bengal tiger, the only home of the snow leopards and the last sanctuary of the greater one – horned – rhino, but has so much unknown wildlife that researchers expect many more discoveries to be made in the future.

Discoveries have also been made of species which lived in the region millions of years ago and were preserved when they became encased in amber resin. Among the creatures preserved in amber was the earliest known gecko “Cretaceogekko burmae” from 100 million years ago which was identified in 2008. Other included the oldest known tick and the earliest recorded mushroom.

The region is a hotspot for wildlife and harbors a huge number of species including 10000 plants, 300 mammals, 977 birds, 176 reptiles, 105 amphibians and 269 types of freshwater fish. WWF has launched the Climate for Life campaign to raise public awareness of environmental problems in the Himalayas and is working with local communities to help them cope with the impacts of climate change. The wealth and variety of wildlife being found in the eastern Himalayas comparable with better recognized ecological hotspots such as Borneo.

Myanmar section of Eastern edged of Himalaya provide fascinating experimental field and natural laboratory for the study of plants and their adaptation and also provide unique Opportunities to naturalists for studying evolution nature and ecosystem . If connects the floristically distinct Eastern and Western Himalaya region and is of high botanical interest because of both it’s geographical linkage and it’s floral wealth.

One of the unique feature of Eastern Himalaya, the remote plateau region lies in the rain shadow of the Madoi Razi, Alpine rangeland, which symbolically links the secular and spiritual realms of life in a conjunction of heaven and mountain. That auspicious setting of rugged and majestic terrain ecosystem is sacred water tower of Malikha joining of 4 mountain streams. The rangelands ecosystem is important for the headwater’s environment of the major rivers system in the Himalaya. Nine of the World major rivers The Ganges, Indus, Sutley, Brahmaputra , Mekong, Thanlwin (Salween), Ayeyarwady, Yangtze and Yellow are originate in the Himalaya and Tibetan plateau. Alpine rangeland of Madoi Razi provides habitats for numerous species of wildlife. Many of which are endangered and for a wealth of plant species. Meadow rangelands of the Himalaya are also some of the world’s most outstanding rangeland ecosystems. So that the Eastern Himalayan alpine meadows were so well represented in the ‘‘Global 200 highlights’’ the special attention that these areas need for conserving the world’s biodiversity.

In the ragged and stony alpine meadow environment of the Madoi Razi rangeland subjected to the high altitudes and monsoon climate, characteristic dominant factors are general low temperature with short summer and extremely cold and dry winters, low atmospheric pressure and strong wing, violent wing and snow in winter and incessant cold rain or sleet in summer, violent sunshine with excessive ultraviolet ray, and dynamic fluctuations in weather in a single day. Add to these conditions the flora of the uppermost alpine zone must grow in scare soil with limited water and nutrient and the instability of habitats exposed to freezing and incessant solifluction.

Almost all the plants growing in the upper alpine meadow zone of Madoi Razi are highly specialized in their morphology for survival in one of the toughest environments on earth. Their specialized morphology is not just an adoption, those plants appear to be quite unusual and prominent and can be see from a consideration distinct. Alpine and subnival plants vegetation is become very increasingly, because they are unique representative of the Himalaya, the largest and highest mountain ranges in the world. The subnival zone at Malikhu area is the one of the first to study the relationship between plants and ultraviolet light and also one of the best fields on earth to observe continuous forest venation from the tropical lowland to the tree line and alpine scrub vegetation above. In the alpine rangeland meadow of Malikhu, abundance of pendulous flowers can be found and it is probably related to the rainy weather during the day in the region. It might be that the shape and posture of flower are meaningful in relation to their habit.

One of the most attractive alpine plants at the eastern Himalaya, is Rheum nobile with its large, outstanding, cream colored, translucent bracts covering a tall, large inflorescence. It inflorescences entirely covered by papery translucent bracts or carline leaves are called ‘‘glasshouse’’ plant. The bracts and leaves are believed to keep warm moist air inside, allow sunshine to penetrate keep off cold wind, cold rain, ultraviolet rays, drastic and frequent changes in temperature, offer a comfortable place to pollinator even in bad weather and attract pollinators.

For the additive strategies for Saussurea gossipiphora, the hollow stems can effectively retain warmth from respiration. Its hollow stem can store terrestrial heat. Compact flat or hemispherical cluster of flower-heads have thick, hollow stem, which are widened-upward in the shape of an oven to warm the bundle of ovary above it. These plants with the inflorescence entirely covered with long wool-like hairs, such as Saussurea gossipiphora are called ‘‘Sweater’’ or ‘‘Snow ball pant’’ (Ohba 1988, Ohba and Akiyama). Saussurea gossipiphora provides space above the head inside the wool ball where bumble bees can obtain nectar actively in the daytime and take refuge at night and bad weather.

Many species of Ranunculacece with Symmetric, radiate flowers belong to this group. These cap flowers of Aconitum are conspicuous to pollinators. They focus sunshine on the sexual organ in fine weather. Many species of Aconitum, whose petal have the most reflective upper surface, remain open even under snow.

Another unique character of Eastern-Himalaya flora is dwarfism. This character is very important for most of the Alpine Flora, by means of dwarfism , plants can minimize their body size by minimizing their own physiological necessities , they must keep their entomophilous flowers large to attract pollinators. Dwarf plants of Asteraceae with large flower-head can be seen in the upper alpine zone, above 4800-m of the Madoi Madaing Razi. Although most alpine plants are dwarfish, considerable number of curious gigantic plants as snowball makes Myanmar section of Eastern Himalaya unique.

In the alpine region above 4000-4500 m in the Himalaya, air temperature never exceeds 15 C even at the height of summer between late July and middle August and the lowest air temperature during coldest winter month Jan, Feb is below 10 C. Several other plants are also known to have adoptions to keep their flowers warm, Translucent bracts of Rheum nobile are such a mechanism to effectively keep the reproductive organs warm to ensure reproduction in the cold summer environment of the Himalaya. In the alpine environment, plants receive strong UV radiation, which is harmful to DNA. One of the effective ways to protect against UV radiation is reflection. Reflection by trachoma and cuticle reduces not only UV radiation, but also photosynthetically active radiation. Those bracts of R. nobile are surely a remarkable adaptation to the peculiar weather condition of the Myanmar section of Eastern Himalaya.

These unique pattern and form of Eastern edged of Himalaya flora contribute the Malikhu- Madoi Madaing Razi reputation of region extraordinary unique floristic region. Different patterns in the present distribution may have derived from different dispersal histories during the glacial age, which can be proposed as ‘‘Central Asiatic Highland Corridor’’ for the region around the central Asiatic highland and continuous Eastern edged of Himalaya as an important path for the migration, and adaptation of flora between the Arctic Region and the Himalaya as well as between the arctic and eastern Tibet and Hkakabo Razi area. Each species must have established its distribution range along this Central Asiatic Highland Corridor through climatic fluctuations during the glacial age.

Alpine-Himalaya rangeland meadow ecosystem of Madaing Razi with both it’s new and old floras and it’s abundant floristic components is one of the Myanmar’s biggest treasure-house of plant resources. These catmint mountain ranges of Malikha, formed by the organic movement of the Himalaya, vertical elevation, steep valley produce many favorable small regional environment for the differentiation of plants and appearance of new species and that particular mountain eco-region is also included in the ‘‘Global 200 highlight ’’. Rangeland ecosystem is not only a major resource in the Himalaya, but will become the important tourism site. Most of the ecotourism in the Himalaya region based on part on the attraction of the meadow rangeland, wildlife. Ecotourism has the potential to not only improve the livelihoods of the ethnic people, but it can also contribute to mountain community development. Therefore biodiversity conversation of the Rangeland ecosystem is very increasing important today.

New and noteworthy flowering plants from Head Water Catchments of Mali Hka by Dr.Kalaya Lu

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