Narmada Valley Dry Deciduous Forests

The Narmada Valley Dry Deciduous Forests are located in Central India, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and adjoining parts of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Uttar Pradesh. The ecoregion is not exceptional in terms of species-richness. But it retains several blocks exceeding 5,000 sq km in area. The dry forest habitats are crucial to the conservation of Bengal Tigers (Panthera tigris tigris). The Narmada is the sixth longest river of India, flowing from the Amarkantak Plateau into an east-west graben (a valley with distinct escarpments on both sides formed by downward displacement of land). This Valley forms a boundary between North and South India. To the north, the Narmada is lined by the Vindhyas, a complex of mountains, hills, ridges, plateaus and escarpments. To the south are the mountains of the Satpura Range. Given below is a description of the ecoregion by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF):

The ecoregion represents the dry deciduous forests along the Narmada River Valley and the flanking Vindhya Mountain Range and the western part of the Satpura Mountain Range in the central Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. These hill ranges, rising to more than 1,300 m, mark the northern boundary of the Indian Peninsula (Kendrick 1989). The Deccan Plateau itself-and thus the ecoregion-traces its geological roots back to the ancient circumpolar continent Gondwanaland. Hora (1949) hypothesized that the Satpura Range was a dispersal bridge that allowed species exchanges between the eastern Himalayas and the Western Ghats. The presence of fossils of species such as Anisopteris, Cynometra, Dipterocarpus, Dryobalanops, Gluta, Hopea, and Mesua suggests that evergreen moist forests covered this area during the Miocene (Meher-Homji 1989).

The seven- to eight-month dry season is relieved by the southwest monsoon, which brings 1,200-1,500 mm of annual rainfall. The vegetation is influenced by this seasonality. Three stories-an upper canopy at 15-25 m, a 10-15 m understory, and 3-4 m undergrowth-characterize the forests. Teak (Tectona grandis) dominates the vegetation and is associated with Diospyros melanoxylon, Anogeissus latifolia, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Terminalia tomentosa, Lannea coromandelica, Hardwickia binata, and Boswellia serata (Champion and Seth 1968). Riparian habitats with species such as Terminalia arjuna, Syzygium cumini, Syzygium heyneanum, Salix tetrasperma, Homonoia riparia, and Vitex negundo create moist forest corridors.

Although it is not exceptional in terms of endemism or diversity, the ecoregion still retains important habitat for many of the Indian Subcontinent’s large animals, such as the Tiger, Gaur (Bos gaurus), Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus), Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), Chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), and Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra). Throughout most of their ranges, these larger vertebrate species are being increasingly confined to small forest fragments that do not offer much hope for long-term survival of declining populations. Therefore, it is important to safeguard large habitat areas where they exist. Most of the large blocks of remaining habitat have been included in TCUs (Dinerstein et al. 1997). These habitat landscapes present the best opportunities for long-term conservation of viable tiger populations. However, very little is known of the habitat integrity and the status of the prey populations in these forests. Surveys have been recommended to determine their importance and potential contribution toward a regional tiger conservation strategy.

The mammal fauna in the ecoregion includes seventy-six species. Although none of them are endemic, there are several threatened species, including the Tiger, Gaur, Wild Dog, Sloth Bear, Chousingha, and Blackbuck (IUCN 2000). None of the 276 bird species in this ecoregion are endemic. But the bird fauna includes the globally threatened Lesser Florican (Eupodotis indica) and the endangered Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps) (IUCN 2000). Nearly two-thirds of the natural forests of this ecoregion have been cleared, but the remaining habitat includes several large blocks that cover extensive areas, especially along the Satpura and Vindhya Ranges. The seventeen protected areas cover more than 7,500 sq km, or almost 5 percent of the ecoregion’s area. Two of the protected areas, Melghat and Noradehi, exceed 1,300 sq km.

Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion

  • Panna
  • Noradehi
  • Singhori
  • Ratapani
  • Kheoni
  • Son Gharial
  • Bagdara
  • Sanjay
  • Sanjay (Dubri)
  • Bandhavgarh
  • Panpatha
  • Sardarpur
  • Aner Dam
  • Melghat
  • Yawal
  • Gugamal
  • Bhimashankar

The large patches of forests are still greatly threatened by ongoing forest clearing and conversion. But the threats from a series of dams on the Narmada River are even more serious than the small-scale degradation threats. These dams will flood critical habitat, and they will also displace a large number of tribal and local communities into adjacent intact forests. The conservation status of this ecoregion was changed from vulnerable to endangered because of threats from the dense human population to the intact forest blocks. However, impending threats from the hydropower schemes may warrant elevation to critical status. As the tribal populations shift from a subsistence lifestyle to a more material one and as the populations continue to increase rapidly, conflicts are beginning to occur with conservation interests and authorities. These problems must be addressed in a timely manner. In a previous analysis of conservation units, Rodgers and Panwar (1988) divided the Deccan Peninsula into five biotic provinces. This ecoregion largely corresponds to the Rodgers and Panwar biotic province 6E, the Central Highlands.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons shows a painting of Gaur (Bos gaurus) or Indian Bison on the Pachmarhi Hills. Pachmarhi is the name of a hill station developed by the British. Popular as the ‘Queen of the Satpuras’ the town lies south of the Narmada, in the forested heart of Central India. This region was called Gondwana, after the Gond people, a remote country covered by forests and rich in big game. The illustration is from Captain J. Forsyth’s book, ‘Highlands of Central India’ (published in 1872).