Chota Nagpur Dry Deciduous Forests

The Chota Nagpur Dry Deciduous Forests are located on the Chota Nagpur Plateau in Eastern India. Most of it lies within the newly formed state of Jharkhand. The Plateau is located between the Ganges’ lower basin (to the north and northeast) and the Mahanadi River to the southwest. Formed at the initial point of contact between the colliding Eurasian and Indian Plates, it is a rugged and remote region that was not penetrated by the Indo-Aryan speakers of the Ganges Basin. Its population was a mixture of Munda and Dravidian tribes who exploited the resources of the plateau, living as hunter gatherers and subsistence farmers. Even today, several parts are considered too remote and wild, and sustain a rich and diverse flora and fauna. Given below is a description of the ecoregion by the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF):

The Chota Nagpur Dry Deciduous Forests still harbor large populations of Asia’s largest predator and largest herbivore, the Tiger (Panthera tigris) and the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus), respectively. Both are still able to roam and live within the large habitat blocks of this ecoregion, a rare phenomenon in this bioregion. The Chota Nagpur Plateau also has a flora and fauna that are distinct from the adjacent areas, with several pockets of endemic plants. In the geological past, this plateau formed a link between Satpura Hill Ranges and eastern Himalaya that allowed species exchanges between these ranges.

The ecoregion represents the dry deciduous forests on the Chhota-Nagpur Plateau and lies between the moist deciduous forests of the Eastern Ghats and Satpura Range and of the lower reaches of the Gangetic Plains. It extends across the eastern Indian states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, and West Bengal. The Gondwana substrates attest to the plateau’s ancient origin. It is part of the Deccan Plate, which broke free from the southern continent during the Cretaceous to embark on a 50-million-year journey that was violently interrupted by the northern Eurasian continent. The northeastern part of the Deccan Plateau, where this ecoregion sits, was the first area of contact with Eurasia.

The plateau receives less rainfall than the adjacent ecoregions that support moist deciduous forests. Therefore, the vegetation is drier than in the adjacent ecoregions. The dry deciduous forests typically are composed of three stories, with an upper canopy reaching 15-25 m, a high understory at 10-15 m, and an undergrowth at about 3-5 m. The vegetation is characterized by Shorea robusta, usually in association with Anogeissus latifolia, Terminalia alata, Lagerstroemia parviflora, Pterocarpus marsupium, Aegle marmelos, Syzygium operculatum, Symplocus racemosa, and Croton oblongifolius. Lianas are common in denser forests.

A dry deciduous scrub that grows to about 3-6 m in height is a common habitat type in this ecoregion. This scrub includes bamboo and shrubs such as Holarrhena and Dodonaea. At higher altitudes, there are shola-type forests characterized by Phoenix robusta, Pterospermum acerifolium, and Clematis nutans. The ecoregion also includes patches of moist deciduous forests and swampy areas, with several interesting plant species (Syzygium cumini, Manilkara hexandra, Ficus spp., Mallotus philippinensus) that are typical of moist deciduous forests.

Although Aglaia haselettiana, Carum villosum, and Pycnocyclea glauca are endemic, endangered plant species in this ecoregion, Diospyros melanoxylon, Madhuca longifolia, Butea monosperma, and Shleichera oleosa, are more economically useful species. The ecoregion’s fauna is neither exceptionally species-rich nor distinctive. The ecoregion’s mammal fauna includes seventy-seven species, but none are endemic to it. Nevertheless, several of India’s large charismatic vertebrates, including several that are threatened such as the Tiger, Asian Elephant, Wild Dog (Cuon alpinus), Sloth Bear (Melursus ursinus), Chousingha (Tetracerus quadricornis), Blackbuck (Antilope cervicapra), and Chinkara (Gazella bennettii) (IUCN 2000), are found here. Importantly, unlike in many other ecoregions in this bioregion, there still are large areas of habitat capable of supporting viable populations of these species. These habitat blocks are included in two Level I TCUs that extend into the ecoregion.

There are almost 280 bird species, but none are endemic to the ecoregion. However, it harbors several species that are of conservation importance, including the globally threatened Lesser Florican (Eupodotis indica). Some of the hornbills, notably the Indian Grey Hornbill (Ocyceros birostris) and Oriental Pied-Hornbill (Anthracoceros albirostris), which need mature trees for nesting, should be focal species for conservation management.

More than half of the natural forests in this ecoregion have been cleared; however, extensive areas of intact forest remain in the northern areas. The thirteen protected areas in the ecoregion cover more than 6,700 sq km, representing about 6 percent of the ecoregion. The average size of a protected area exceeds 500 sq km, and two-Sanjay and Palamau-are larger than 1,000 sq km. These large protected areas provide the essential core areas for the large vertebrates in this ecoregion. However, these reserves must be included in larger conservation landscapes for more effective long-term conservation of these species.

Protected Areas That Overlap with the Ecoregion

  • Sanjay
  • Lawalang
  • Koderma
  • Hazaribagh
  • Palamau
  • Topchanchi
  • Ramnabagan
  • Dalma
  • North Simlipal
  • Bhimbandh
  • Gautam Budha
  • Tamor Pingla
  • Semarsot

Like many of the other ecoregions in this bioregion, livestock grazing has greatly affected the vegetation. However, extensive areas that are being mined for iron ore and open-pit coal mines pose very significant threats to the habitat, especially to critical migration paths of elephants and dispersal routes for tigers.

Image Attribution: The image above, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, shows the flowers of the Palash Tree (Butea monosperma). Famous throughout the world as the ‘Flame of the Forest’, the Palash or Dhak was mentioned by Rudyard Kipling in his ‘Plain Tales From the Hills’ and ‘The Jungle Book’. Its brilliant red blossoms burst forth in spring, giving the appearance of forests up in flames. The Palash happens to be the State Flower of Jharkhand. The photograph was uploaded by Gurpreet Singh.