Northern Dry Deciduous Forests

The Northern Dry Deciduous Forests are found in the rainshadow of the Eastern Ghats, in eastern Central India, in the states of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. They are completely surrounded by the Eastern Highlands Moist Deciduous Forests which receive more rainfall while blocking out the rain-bearing clouds from the Bay of Bengal to the east. Given below is a description of the ecoregion by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF):

The Northern Dry Deciduous Forests ecoregion is neither exceptionally species-rich nor high in numbers of endemic species. But it does harbor several large vertebrates, including Asia’s largest and most charismatic carnivore, the Tiger (Panthera tigris). This ecoregion also represents the northernmost extent of dry deciduous forests in India. It represents a north-south-directed island of dry deciduous forests in the rainshadow of the Eastern Ghats Mountain Range and is completely surrounded by the Eastern Highlands Moist Deciduous Forests. As with the rest of the Deccan Plateau, the ecoregion’s geological history dates back to the Cretaceous, when it was part of southern Gondwanaland.

The forest type in the ecoregion corresponds to the ShoreaBuchananiaCleistanthus and ShoreaCleistanthusCroton vegetation mapped by Gaussen et al. (1973). Most of these forests are open scrub influenced by human activities. The original Sal (Shorea robusta)-dominated, multi-storied vegetation has been replaced by Teak (Tectona grandis), which favors drier conditions. In many areas, intensive livestock grazing, fire, and non-timber forest product harvest have converted the habitat to scrub and savanna woodland.

The vegetation is made up of associations of Anogeissus latifolia, Dalbergia latifolia, Pterocarpus marsupium, Stereospermum suaveolens, Spondias pinnata, Cleistanthus collinus, Acacia lenticularis, Flacourtia indica, Boswellia serrata, Butea monosperma, Sterculia urens, Cochlospermum religiosum, and Euphorbia nivulia (Puri et al. 1989; WWF and IUCN 1995). Gregarious patches of Dendrocalamus strictus tend to occur in moister areas. Cleistanthus collinus can release substances toxic to other species; therefore, monospecific stands can occur in places. Like many of the Deccan Plateau dry forest ecoregions, this region does not harbor large numbers of endemic species, nor is it exceptionally rich in biodiversity. The known mammal fauna consists of sixty-eight species. There are no ecoregional endemic species, but the threatened species include the Tiger, Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus), Sloth Bear (Ursus ursinus), and Chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis) (IUCN 2000). The 261 bird species in the ecoregion do not include endemic species. The Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) and Oriental Pied-Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris) need tall, mature trees for nesting and can be used as focal species for conservation management.

More than three-fourths of the ecoregion’s natural habitat has been cleared or degraded. But a few mid-sized (i.e., more than 2,000 sq km) blocks of intact habitat still remain. The four protected areas in the ecoregion amount to just over 1,400 sq km, representing about 2.5 percent of the ecoregion area. But of these, only one exceeds 500 sq km.

Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion

  • Sunabeda
  • Kanger Ghati
  • Debrigarh
  • Gomarda

Land clearing and degradation remain the primary threat to the remaining habitat. Fires are regularly set to encourage grazing lands for livestock. Extensive poaching and collection of non-timber forest products by the tribal communities are also a serious concern. But degradation threats from industry and timer companies also are high. The large tribal populations in these areas are also shifting from subsistence to more materially demanding lifestyles. The growing populations and economic aspirations and shrinking resources result in conflicts with conservation interests and authorities. Until these problems are addressed effectively, the conflicts will increase. The Naxalite conflicts in Andhra Pradesh and at the junction of Madhya Pradesh-Maharashtra-Andhra Pradesh prevent effective government management and protection of conservation areas (especially protected areas and reserve forests). The conflicts are also funded by poaching of rhinoceroses, tigers, and elephants.

In a previous analysis of conservation units, Rodgers and Panwar (1988) divided the Deccan Peninsula into five biotic provinces. The Eastern Highlands (6C) and Chhota-Nagpur (6D) biotic provinces of Rodgers and Panwar contain this large patch of dry deciduous forests, which is surrounded by an extensive area of moist deciduous forests (MacKinnon 1997).

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows a Hill Mynah (Gracula religiosa). The Northern Dry Deciduous Forests of Kanger Valley National Park are home to a subspecies, the Bastar Hill Myna (Gracula religiosa peninsularis). It happens to be Chhattisgarh’s state bird. Hill Mynahs are famous for their varied vocalizations and have become popular in the Asian pet trade. The photograph was taken in Sarawak (the Malaysian half of Borneo) and uploaded by Bernard Dupont of France.