Study warns of ungulates’ habitat vulnerability in Pamir-Karakoram due to climate change

Peshawar – A recent study on range shifts in wild ungulates at Pamir-Karakoram mountain range of Pakistan has warned about vulnerability of current habitats of Himalayan ibex and blue sheep due to climate change.

“Under the rapid climate change, Himalayan ibex will lose most of its current suitable habitat in Himalayans and Hindu Kush while blue sheep that currently exists only in Pamir-Karakoram range will be slightly affected,” the study predicts.

The study was held to investigate populations of ibex and blue sheep in the Pamir-Karakoram mountains in order to update and validate their geographical distribution through empirical data, understand range shifts under climate change scenario and predict future habitats to aid long term conservation panning.

The study is conducted under the supervision of Dr Muhammad Ali Nawaz, Qatar University, and authored by Hussnain Ali and Dr Shoaib Hameed, Zoology Department Quaid-i-Azam, Jaffar-ud-Din and Muhammad Younas of Snow Leopard Foundation Pakistan, Dr Muhammad Kabir, University of Haripur, and Dr Luciano Bosso of Wildlife Research Unit of Italy. The paper is published by PLOS ONE, an inclusive journal which publishes research based journals received from 207 countries and has published around 200,000 articles since 2004.

“The Himalayan Ibex (Capra ibex sibinica) and Blue Sheep (Pseudois nayaur) are economically important wild ungulates in northern Pakistan. Both species are threatened due to several human induced factors and these factors are expected to aggravate under changing climate in the High Himalayas,” foretells the study.

Under changing climate scenarios, both species will lose a significant part of their habitats particularly in the Himalayan and Hindu Kush ranges.

The Pamir-Karakoram ranges will serve as climate refugia for both species. This area shall remain focus of future conservation efforts to protect Pakistan’s mountain ungulates, the research document added.

Climate change impacts are most frequent in Pakistan’s northern mountain ranges, including the Pamir-Karakoram, Himalayas and Hindu Kush, where increasing temperatures, changes in cropping season, receding glaciers or outbursts and heavy flooding are leading to the extinction of several plant and animal species.

The study observed that several species of wild ungulate, including the Markhor, Ladakh Urial, Marco Polo sheep, Kashmir Musk Deer, Himalayan Ibex and Blue Sheep live in these mountains and play an important role in sustaining mountain ecosystem by influencing vegetation structure, plant composition and nutrient recycling in addition to being prey for carnivores.

However, climatic variations in recent years have impacted many ungulate specie and such impacts could have devastating effects on the ecosystem including the carnivore community.

The study was conducted in Gilgit-Baltistan through installation of 225 cameras during the period 2110 to 2016 in different months of the year at Khunjerab National Park, Qurumber National Park, Misgar Valley, Hopper and Hisper Valley.

The researchers collected 143 and 60 presence points for Himalayan Ibex and blue sheep, respectively. Around 19 climatic variables were downloaded from WorldClim to predict currently suitable areas for Himalayan Ibex and Blue sheep.

About the findings, the study says our models showed habitat shrinking for both Himalayan Ibex and Blue sheep.

In extreme climate change scenario, blue sheep lost 58 percent from the suitable areas that it has currently occupied. While the Himalayan ibex 64.80 percent.

Increasing temperature and precipitation have already impacted Himalayan flora. Alpine habitats have short growing seasons and offer relatively few species of grasses, sedges, forbs, shrubs, fems, lichens and mosses to Himalayan ibex and blue sheep.

Hence these climatic changes in alpine ranges will increase the changes of habitat mismatch for many floral species while anthropogenic effects transforming land for agriculture or afforestation, road construction and mining could further shrink habitats suitable for ungulates, potentially affecting their perpetuity and the proper functioning of ecosystems.

In conclusion, the study observed that the current suitable habitats of Himalayan ibex and blue sheep are vulnerable to climate change. There is urgent need to revisit protected areas management strategies in Pakistan to enhance their effectiveness for conservation of mountain ungulates, the authors suggested.


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